Garden Tools and Equipment

Here's what you'll need to know to get the most out of your garden tools.

The wise gardener starts with a small collection of basic tools and builds from there. Stores and catalogs are packed with both familiar and outlandish-looking hand tools. And if that weren’t enough, there are also gas- or electric-powered versions of many tools. Deciding which tools you need takes time, and the ideal collection depends on your gardening style and scope.
Your starter collection will include a fork or spade for digging, a garden rake for smoothing the soil and preparing beds, a hoe for cultivating and weeding, and a trowel for working closely around plants. Pruning tools and a lawnmower round out a basic tool collection.
Whenever it’s practical, use hand tools rather than power tools. Power tools are expensive and contribute to air and noise pollution as well as global warming. Designing your yard to be low maintenance will reduce your tool needs and increase your enjoyment of the garden. For more details on low-care landscapes, see the Landscaping entry.
Hand Tools
Hand tools form the basis for a garden tool collection. If you keep them sharp, good-quality hand tools will make your garden work go quickly and easily.
The first rule of tool buying is to avoid cheap tools at all costs. They are poorly designed and constructed, they don’t do the job well, and they break easily. Also, don’t buy cheap tools for children; they won’t learn to love gardening if the first tools they use don’t work well. Here are some other tips to keep in mind when shopping for tools:
  • The best wood for the handle of a shovel and all long-handled garden tools is North American white ash, which is strong, light, and resilient. Hickory is stronger but heavier and is ideal for hammers and other short-handled tools. 
  • Examine the lines (rings) in a wooden handle; they should run straight down the entire length of the handle, with no knots. Avoid tools with painted handles; the paint often hides cheap wood. Good-quality tools with fiberglass, metal, and even high-grade plastic handles are also available. 
  • The attachment of the metal part of the tool to its handle affects durability. Buy tools with solid-socket or solid-strapped construction, forged from a single bar of steel that completely envelops the handle, thus protecting it and adding strength. 
  • If you have arthritis, back problems, or in general want to avoid excess strain, look for ergonomic garden tools that are designed to require less bending and “elbow grease” to get the job done. Examples are loppers with a ratchet mechanism for easier cutting, trowels and other hand tools with gel-impregnated handles for less stress while gripping, and garden forks made of polypropylene that weigh much less than a standard wood-and-metal fork. 
  • If you plan on buying a rotary tiller, borrow or rent various models as a test before buying one. Wheeled tillers are always easier to operate than those without wheels, and large wheels provide more maneuverability than small ones. Look for heavy, heat-treated carbon steel blades.