Here is a listing of basic garden tools. Some are essential and some are not.
Digging is arguably the most basic of gardening tasks. From the trowel to the pitch fork and in between, choosing the proper digging tool for the task at hand makes the job easier. There are a few points that apply to most garden tools, especially digging tools. Handles come in a variety of materials. Traditionally wood has been the material of choice but metal and more recently fiberglass and polypropylene have appeared. With proper care,a wooden handle will last for a long time. The newer materials, fiberglass and polypropylene, should last forever with the added advantage of being stronger and more durable. While longer handled tools will afford greater leverage when transplanting trees and shrubs, some will prefer the shorter handled tools. Smaller tools also are coming with more ergonomically correct handles. Older gardeners will appreciate these changes. The garden trowel is in every gardener's tool box. While there are many variations on the theme, its basic use is in planting transplants, doing light cultivation and weeding. When choosing a trowel, take into account the size and feel of the handle. Look for one piece forged or cast blades and handles as opposed to less expensive welded handle/blade combination's as the latter will usually break because the weld is at the point where the most strain will occur. Handles also come in long or short lengths. A variation on the trowel is the soil knife. This garden tool is like a flat trowel with a blade on one side and serrations on the other for cutting roots.
Most people will call a spade a shovel, but there are important differences. A shovel has a straight edge and is scoop-like in appearance. Shovels are best used for clean-up work and are not well suited for digging. Garden spades are the workhorse of the garden digging tools. They can be square or round pointed, wide or narrow and long or short handled. They are used to turn the soil, cut roots, pry rocks from the soil and dividing plants as well as digging holes for transplanting. Since they do endure a lot of strain at the point where the blade and handle connection is, sturdy construction is an important consideration. Less expensive spades will have the blade and handle formed from a single piece of stamped metal.
Shovels are mainly used for handling loose materials such as sand or gravel. They are more suited for clean-up and grading because of their flat edge and scoop shape. They can come in many sizes up to so called grain scoops that can handle large amounts of material.
Garden forks are useful garden tools that perform digging tasks that spades and shovels can't. Forks are used for digging in garden beds that have been worked before. The soil can be easily broken up with the tines of the fork. Pitch forks are seldom seen in home gardening sheds but they are also a very useful garden tool. Generally lighter in construction than digging forks, they are great for working light, loose materials such as hay and other mulches. We use ours for turning the compost pile because the tines are spaced wider and they don't clog with material as easily.
For planting bulbs or setting out transplants, a dibble is a simple and inexpensive garden tool to have on hand. They work best on well worked friable soil. A dibble can be as simple as a short length of broom handle or as fancy as having a stainless steel point and teak handle. For soil that's a little harder, soil augers that work with your electric drill work great. If you have a lot of bulbs to plant, this is the way to go. In either case, marking the tools with a permanent marker every inch will help make getting the proper planting depth easier.
For the most part, if you use proper gardening practices by incorporating plenty of organic material from your compost pile, your soil will not need testing. If you are starting from scratch, have plants that have varying needs for their soil pH, or are just inquisitive, then soil testing kits can be very useful garden tool. The kits can range from simple pH testing to more complicated kits that measure the levels of Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium (N-P-K). Soil testing is also sometimes available from your local county agricultural extension office.
Shears are classified as bypass or anvil. Bypass shears usually have as a feature that one or both of the blades are curved, they cut with a slicing motion and are best for new or green growth. Anvil shears use a single blade that cuts against a flat surface (anvil) with a crushing motion and work better with old or dry growth.
For larger plants or limbs, loppers are basically shears with longer handles for greater leverage. For material larger than a lopper will handle, pruning saws are the next step up. Pruning saws usually have curved blades and their teeth are set for a wider cut than saws used for woodworking. This allows for the wetter sawdust that is formed from cutting green branches to escape from the cut, causing less binding.
Hedge trimmers can be manual, electric or gas operated. They usually are of the bypass design although the electric and gas models have a row of teeth to allow for quicker work.
For work that might be beyond arms length, pole trimmers which have a saw or shears mounted on the end of a pole for reaching higher limbs will do the trick.
Hoes come in many shapes and sizes and are one of the basic garden tools. There are short handled as well as long handled ones. The common garden hoe is the one we are most familiar with. Basically a flat piece of steel attached to a long handle, this hoe is useful for cultivating and weeding. Variations have the blade in different shapes such as diamond, V, circular and the so-called stirrup or "hula" hoes. They also include grubbing hoes with heavy forged blades and sturdy handles for removing heavy weeds and leveling dense soils. Hybrid tools that combine forks and hoes, either in hand or long handled sizes are often called cultivators. These can have as few as one tine for getting in tight spaces or weeding. You will also find these with wheels that make the tools easier to control.
Rakes are the silent warriors of the garden tool collection. They can be used as a hoe for weeding and cultivating. They help to level out the seed beds for planting and clean-up would be hard without one. The bow rake is usually of an inexpensive welded design. We prefer a rake that has a one piece rake and shank design because they are sturdier and more rigid although some might like the slightly more flexible feel of a bow rake. Landscaper's rakes are usually 24 to 36 inches in width and are made to level large areas. Leaf rakes are lighter weight tools used for general clean-up of leaves, grass clippings or any other light, bulky material. They can come in many different sizes and materials. Since the tines are usually thin springy metal, they tend to bend easily or if they are plastic they may break. Leaf rakes are usually the lightest and most vulnerable to damage of the garden tools in your shed but they will also work well even if they are missing a tooth or two. When they get to the point that they are no longer doing the job on large areas, consider trimming them down for working in close spaces around shrubs and perennial.
With the exception of a lawn mower or a tractor, most power tools that you might need are probably better off being rented. Rototillers, chain saws, chippers, etc. can all be rented reasonably inexpensively. The advantages of renting these garden tools over owning are many. They include not having to-- lay out large sums of money, store the tools the 80-90% of the time that they are not being used, maintain the equipment, store different kinds of fuel mixtures and repair the equipment. Disadvantages of renting garden tools include not having it available whenever you want it and having to transport it or have it delivered. We have a 30 year old Troy-Bilt tiller, but I wouldn't buy another because of the space it takes up and how little we actually use it. We made a concession to age when we purchased a self propelled lawn mower the last time. One of the more useful tools we have is an electric combination shredder-vac and blower. It's great for cleaning up the perennial beds as a vac and blowing the oak leaves over the hill.
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Lawn mowers come in many variations of size, type, and horsepower, drive type, push vs. self propelled vs. rider, whew! Choosing what is right for you and your yard is something we can't possibly cover here because there are so many variables involved.
Watering your garden is one of your most important tasks. The need for watering can be lessened by using mulch, but not eliminated. Watering tasks can be performed in several ways. The simplest form that we are all familiar with is the plain old garden hose and spray nozzle. The garden hose is one of the most used and abused garden tools we have. We leave it out to bake in the sun, full of water and then complain when it bursts. We yank at it when it is tangled around something or itself. The hose, used in conjunction with sprinklers can make your watering tasks easier. Hose end sprayers can be used to apply water soluble fertilizers or other chemicals if you so desire, making application to large areas easier.
A watering can is another necessary garden tool. They are useful for watering plants that may be beyond the reach of your hose or spreading compost tea. While not useful for large scale watering, a garden sprayer can be helpful for applying compost tea or other foliar fertilizers. Sprayers can also be useful for watering seedlings in the spring.
The old fashioned sprinkler in its different styles is good for watering large areas, but can be inefficient and wasteful for smaller odd shaped areas. Drip irrigation can be the most efficient means of delivering water to your garden, but it can be complicated to set up and more expensive, initially. Pressure sprayers can be used although their use is more intended for delivering fertilizers and other water soluble garden chemicals in smaller quantities than are usually needed for watering purposes. The biggest danger in using most of the hand held devices is that there isn't a large enough quantity delivered to water the plants deeply. This can result in your plants having shallower root systems that actually increase their need for water.
Gloves for working in your yard and garden can range from the inexpensive one size fits all leather and cloth varieties to those that are made in various sizes to accommodate different hand sizes and incorporate newer high-tech materials.
We always have the need to move bulk materials around in our gardens and yards. Wheelbarrows, the old standby, come in many different sizes and materials. They also have from one to four wheels. The different wheel arrangements help in moving varying size loads. If you've ever accidentally spilled a single wheeled wheelbarrow load, you will know what we mean.
Keeping a garden journal is one of the best garden tools to use to keep track of your garden from year to year. The varying weather conditions each year play a big part in garden yields. Keeping good records also help you learn which varieties work best for you. Making sketches of even simple details such as how you planted seedlings in flats are important when the seedlings start sprouting and they all look the same. The same is true for planting the seedlings out in the garden. Since plants like tomatoes as well as peppers and vine crops all look the same until they start bearing fruit, it's important to know which is which.