People new to gardening often ask what tools are needed to maintain their gardens. It's easy to become overwhelmed by the scope and variety of garden tools available in stores, online, and in garden catalogues. Even seasoned gardeners may wonder which tools are really necessary to help make their garden tasks easier and their gardens more productive. Since there are as many types of gardens as there are gardeners, there is no magic list of essential garden tools. But all gardeners need quality tools that will perform well for many years.
Deciduous trees and shrubs dictate the need for a leaf rake. The flexible metal or plastic bristles of a leaf rake allow the removal of debris like leaves and twigs without overly disturbing the soil. Leaf rakes have a large, fan-like head of tines and come in a variety of head sizes with long or short handles. Adjustable leaf rakes with telescopic handles that can be lengthened and shortened are a useful option for those with little storage space.
Hand pruners and loppers are needed for tree and shrub maintenance. There are two main types of pruners: those with bypass blades and those with anvil blades. These perform different garden jobs. A bypass pruner cuts like a pair of scissors: a larger sharper blade slips by a smaller blade to make a clean cut in living branches. Anvil pruners work like a knife on a chopping board: they have a single sharpened cutting blade that strikes down on the flat anvil blade below. Because anvils crush soft plant tissue, they are a better choice for pruning out dead wood, while bypass pruners work well on live tissue. Bypass pruners generally have much broader utility than anvil pruners. Loppers are tools with longer handles that offer more leverage and larger blades than hand pruners; use loppers to make cuts in any branch larger around than your finger. Loppers come in both bypass and anvil styles and work the same way as hand pruners.
A good-quality leaf rake, digging shovel, hand pruner, or lopper would be a thoughtful housewarming gift for someone new to gardening.
- Large vegetable garden. Long-handled tools, particularly a spade (longer and narrower than a digging shovel) and a hoe, are kind to the back and help get chores done in a shorter amount of time. Spades are not only good for digging and turning over the soil but aerate it as well. There are many types of hoes, and gardeners often have several favorites, alternating between them depending upon garden chores. Hoes are a foe to weeds and a much better garden defense than chemicals. Wheelbarrows and garden carts are also useful in a large vegetable garden.
- Raised bed garden. With beds usually no wider than four feet, this type of garden is becoming popular because of its ease of maintenance and the ability to grow more in a smaller space. A garden fork will turn the soil, aerate, and mix nutrients into the soil. A trowel will handle planting needs. A garden knife (also called a hori-hori knife) has one multipurpose steel blade useful for weeding and digging and can also be used for other garden tasks like measuring planting depths and cutting open bags. A hand plow and cultivator hoe are also helpful in raised bed gardening.
- Flower garden. A rabbiting spade and edger can make life easier in the flower garden. A rabbiting spade is narrow-headed and ideal for placing plants in containers and moving plants and shrubs without damaging the plants nearby. An edger will define flower beds. Don't forget a good quality garden hose and nozzle.
- Container gardens and house plants. Whether in the garden or in the house, plants in containers will benefit from a soil scoop. Transferring soil from the bag to the container with a scoop avoids a potentially messy cleanup. A garden knife is also a good addition, as it can be used in weeding and also for performing other tasks. Misters and watering cans keep plants hydrated and happy.
Whatever tools you choose to purchase for your gardening needs, stick to the tried-and-true designs of old-school garden tools manufactured by well-known companies. While you may be able to save a few dollars purchasing a cheaper tool, it will soon add to the landfill, because you'll have to replace it after a couple of years. With proper selection, care, and maintenance, your garden tools should serve you well for many, many years.
UC Master Gardeners of Butte County are part of the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) system. To learn more about us and our upcoming events, and for help with gardening in our area, visit our website. If you have a gardening question or problem, email the Hotline at firstname.lastname@example.org (preferred) or call (530) 538-7201.