Gardening is one of those great hobbies that not only keeps you fit, and gets you enjoying the fresh air regularly, but it’s also beneficial for your mental health, too.
It doesn’t always have to be about finding the best tree, bulb, herb, crop or flower and making them look their best.
While that’s a worthwhile and great goal to have, even something as simple as clearing away leaves and plant debris can make a huge difference to both you and your garden. You can stand back and look at what you’ve done, and notice what you’ve achieved, and how much better you can feel for it.
But without the tools, it can be tiring, frustrating, and a black hole where you’ll pour your time and effort into, and you won’t seem to get a lot back.
Here’s the thing. Gardening shouldn’t be stressful. Yes, it can be tiring or complicated, your to-do list will never be empty, and as you walk around your tiny slice of paradise or your huge green space you can call yours, you will always find more to do.
While it’s true that you do need to put time and effort into gardening, there are ways of streamlining it to make things a little easier, so you can focus on the fun stuff.
Here’s everything you need to know about the tools you should always have available, those which are nice to have when you need them, and how to make some of them last an absolute lifetime, or even longer.
Different Types of Garden Tools and Why You Need Them
While it is possible to improvise with what you have, there are some tools that you shouldn’t be without in your garden.
You don’t necessarily need to purchase everything on this list, you can borrow most from your loved ones, neighbors, or community garden if they offer this, but the golden rule is that you will absolutely need to take care of your tools, whether they are yours or someone else’s.
Chances are, someone you know probably has some tools that they are willing to give you, that they no longer use. They may not be amazing to start with, but it will get you started. It’s better to have a seasoned tool than no tool for the job.
Having the right tool for the right job will speed things up, and these tools will also make your life a lot easier, as you won’t have to work as hard, or for as long.
Depending on the size and type of your garden, some of these tools may not be needed at all, but it is absolutely worth knowing what you should use in what instance, just in case you get an allotment or a bigger garden down the line, or someone ropes you into help with theirs.
Digging and Planting Tools
Planting and digging tools are used to move the earth to create space for new plants. These tools also help you turn over the soil to keep it aerated, to interrupt weeds, and to release nitrogen into the soil.
Primarily, you’ll be digging holes with these tools, so spades, trowels and mattocks naturally come under this category.
Pruning and Cutting Tools
Cutting and pruning tools are essential for gardening. They allow you to remove dying, dead, or diseased plant parts, as well as anything that’s become too wild, allowing for better airflow around your plants.
You’ll also use them to take cuttings to make new plants, bring a wealth of color indoors with cut flowers, and to help create shape in your garden.
These tools include loppers, pruning shears or secateurs, hedge trimmers, and lawn edgers.
Raking and Weeding Tools
All tools used for raking and weeding have tines or prongs, and they’re usually metal with long handles to eliminate the need for bending, saving your back from discomfort.
Weeding and raking tools are important for keeping your garden looking tidy and healthy, used to remove weeds from beds, to help aerate and level an empty bed before planting, and removing leaves from lawns and beds, preventing disease.
Lifting and Transporting Tools
It cannot be underestimated that lifting and transporting tools will save you a hell of a lot of aching and hard work. That’s not to say that gardening can’t be hard work, but these tools will save your back from injury, so treat them well.
Lifting tools are those which are designed to help you pick things off the floor or the soil, and transporting tools will help you carry them from one place to another.
Lifting tools include shovels, garden forks, and bulb planters. Transporting tools include wheelbarrows, sack trolleys, buckets and bins.
Watering tools help you drench the base of plants in much-needed water, either to establish plants, to give them long drinks and relief from drought, or to get rid of pests.
You’re probably familiar with the garden hose and the watering can, though the former has fallen out of favor as it is inefficient, expensive, and bad for the environment.
Water butts, reservoirs or bins also fall under this category, as well as garden sprayers, which are usually only used for applying pesticides.
Power tools are those which cannot run without some form of fuel, whether that’s electricity or gas.
Most power tools in the garden are typically used to cut things down in a hurry, to make cutting plants back as quick and as simply as possible.
There are a few drawbacks to them, though. Quite a few of them are inefficient, noisy, and they take up the most room in your garage or shed.
Examples of power tools you might need in your own garden include a leaf blower, lawnmower, chainsaw, and a pressure washer.
You can largely get away with no power tools if you so wish, in which case you may need to use vintage or antique tools, which may or may not make things more difficult or time-consuming, but you won’t have to charge or fuel them.
A List of Essential Garden Tools You Should Have
Garden hand fork
If the soil in your garden has compacted, or it’s difficult to dig at the best of times, a garden hand fork will help loosen it and introduce more air into the soil.
It’s also incredibly useful for dividing plants (especially if you have two forks. If not, a fork and a trowel will do), turning the earth over in raised beds or containers, and digging up nuisance weeds.
Hand sprayers are great for washing pests away from plants without using too much water, than say a garden hose, but they are usually used to apply pesticides or fertilizers without coming into contact with the liquid.
Even so, you should use both pesticides and fertilizers only as directed and when the directions dictate, as overuse will have a detrimental effect on your plants and your garden’s ecosystem.
You can also use a hand sprayer to apply a solution of garlic water onto plants that are very vulnerable to slugs and snails, such as hostas, dahlias, and very early spring flowering plants.
Most likely, you won’t need more than one garden sprayer, but it’s worth noting that you should always use a separate tool for pest control and fertilization, as no matter how many times you wash it, chemicals can remain.
This is probably the tool that you’ll use the most out of all on this list, so make sure you get a decent one!
Remember, a good tool isn’t always one which is the most expensive, but choose the most well-made one you can reasonably afford.
Hand trowels are perfect for mixing soil and grit together, as well as digging up small plants or in cramped areas such as packed garden beds or containers.
You can also use hand trowels to weed, to divide existing plants, and to help move a plant from one pot to another, and to make holes for new plants.
Also called hedge trimmers, or loppers, they are a bigger version of secateurs for pruning scissors.
They are used for cutting back thicker plant growth, such as on shrubs and hedges, and you can also use them to shape your shrubs into topiary, to take any form you can imagine.
If you prefer, you can get powered hedge trimmers which act like a smaller chainsaw, but they are just as dangerous.
Electric hedge trimmers will do jobs much faster, but you have to take twice as much care, as they can be dangerous, and you can easily take off more of the plant than you originally intended.
Hori Hori Knife
A Hori Hori knife is essentially a garden knife, but it can be used to transplant, as well as taking weeds out of the garden.
It’s one of the most versatile tools you can have, as it can help gauge the planting depth, the good ones marked with measurements along one side, and a serrated edge on the other.
The tip can also be used to mark out spaces on the earth, on plants, or wooden canes or containers to keep track of a specific plan you might have in laying out your plants.
Now a lawnmower might technically come under the ‘nice to have’ list, rather than an absolute must, depending on your garden.
You may not need a lawnmower at all if you don’t have grass, such as a container garden, gravel garden, a concrete or balcony space. You might even do without by filling your grass full of wildflowers or flowering bulbs such as crocuses and tulips, if you prefer.
If you do have grass, and you’re not someone who likes wildflowers, or you prefer a more manicured garden, you will need a lawnmower to make that happen.
Depending on the type of grass you have and how much rain you get, grass can grow as much as an inch per week, meaning that it doesn’t take long for it to look as though it hasn’t seen a lawnmower in years.
Lawnmowers these days are motorized, and come with different settings to choose how much grass you cut off at a time. These can be electric, rechargeable lawnmowers, or powered by gas.
Electric lawn mowers are more and more preferred, as they are less expensive to run, you don’t have to worry about buying gas, and they tend to be less noisy, too.
You can also use lawnmowers to collect leaves from the lawn or garden paths, as long as the paths are smooth, and you won’t run over any stones.
Once you’ve collected the leaves in the lawnmower bin, you can transfer them into bin bags and leave them over winter to create leaf mold.
The lawn edger is usually shaped like a half-moon cutting tool, with the straight side at the top, like a spade. You can also get them shaped like scissors, too.
Like the name implies, you use the lawn edger to create a nice crisp edge on the border of your grass, stopping it from growing into your garden beds.
A mattock, which looks very much like a pickaxe, is great for clearing ground manually, especially if you’re struggling with hard soil that’s full of clay.
It’s also perfect for stopping soil from cascading down into the hole you’ve just dug, as that’s frustrating as heck.
There are different types of mattocks, but most choose the pick mattock for gardening, which is bladed on one end, and a pick on the other.
It’s handy for loosening extremely compacted soil, to unearth particularly difficult roots or weeds, and to loosen the earth around stumps, tree roots, or rocks.
For when pruning scissors just won’t do the job, but the job doesn’t need a chainsaw or an electric trimmer, the pruning saw is the tool to go for.
The pruning saw will make short work of branches which are a maximum of 5cm thick. You can probably cut branches thicker than this, but you will struggle, and it would be much quicker and easier to use an electric trimmer for those.
The pruning saw has a serrated edge along a curved blade, usually as a folding saw. It’s useful for cutting away diseased branches, branches that cross each other, or those which are growing in a direction you don’t want.
Pruning scissors (Secateurs)
If you’ve ever find yourself working as a gardener in a plant nursery, sharp pruning scissors are the most important tool you’ll have. It’s also incredibly useful in garden settings, too.
You use pruning scissors, shears or secateurs to make clean cuts on soft branches, to deadhead spent flowers, trim back dead growth, and to shape plants into a more defined form.
While it’s not always worth splurging out on tools, if you get a decent pair of pruning scissors, and you look after them, they will last you for years to come.
Some come with holsters too, to attach onto your belt, and this is far more useful than you’ll think.
It’ll stop you wondering where on earth you’ve left them, or going back to where you left them when you spot a dead flower or an errant branch in need of a good trim.
Don’t underestimate the humble rake. While it may not look like much on the surface, this tool is incredibly useful.
The tines are capable of clearing the soil’s surface with just a few strokes, and the same can be said for clearing lawns of leaves and twigs, too.
You can also use a rake to make parallel trenches in raised beds when planting certain seeds, but this can be done just as easily with a trowel and a spare, straight bit of wood.
While shovels can be used to create new garden beds, they are usually used to move soil around, dig large holes to plant larger plants, and to split large clumps of perennials or bulbs.
It is important to note that a spade is different from a shovel. Shovels tend to have rounded or pointed tips to the blades, helping to dig the earth just a little bit easier.
The spade is the tool you go for when you need to create a much bigger, deeper hole with straight sides.
Spades are typically used for when you want to plant trees or large shrubs, rather than bedding plants or herbaceous perennials.
You can also use a spade to edge your lawn if you don’t have a lawn edger.
One thing it doesn’t do as well as a shovel is shifting soil from one place to another. It can still perform this function, saving you having to walk back to fetch your shovel, but it just won’t do it quite as well.
This might not be one of the first tools on your list, but it’s very handy. It’s perfect to go after dandelions, to get the roots out of the soil without breaking part of the roots and leaving them behind.
A telescopic weeder is perfect for hard-to-reach areas, avoiding any branches scraping you, or having to fight other plants to squeeze into a small space.
It also means that you don’t need to bend as often to grab the weeds. You can just release the spring, and the weed will get into the bin.
Two watering cans
You need two. No matter the size of your garden, two watering cans are a must. You can choose plastic or galvanized, whichever you prefer.
Galvanized watering cans are more environmentally friendly, but they are substantially more expensive, and they are noticeably much heavier than plastic watering cans.
You need two for a number of reasons. Firstly, if you grow plants from seed, you’ll need to use distilled water to soak the soil, as young plants are very sensitive to chlorine and other chemicals.
They also don’t do well with water collected from water butts. Keeping separate watering cans when you are growing plants from seed eliminates watering with the wrong kind.
If you don’t grow plants from seed, keeping another watering can is useful for when you want to fertilize your plants using a diluted solution.
Water butts are incredibly useful for gardening, as they help save on your watering bill, which can be astronomical during the hot summer months.
They also help save the planet, collecting rainfall. You will need to attach them to gutters, as that’s the only way these water butts collect the water. You’ll also need to use them regularly to keep the water butts clean.
It cannot be understated exactly how useful wheelbarrows are. They are primarily used for transporting soil, plants, or even a mixture of both, or plant debris from one part of your garden to another.
You can also use wheelbarrows in summer to help relieve thirsty plants, by filling them up with water. This helps conserve water, as you are using much less water than if you water each plant individually, while also saving time.
Watering plants by leaving them to soak is also a lot less intensive, as you can get on with your other gardening activities that are already on your to-do list.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
While gardening is an enjoyable hobby, it isn’t always a safe one. Accidents do happen, and while these can be minor cuts or scrapes, they can be something more serious.
You do need to be careful how you garden, and it’s always best to play it safe, making sure to wear the right equipment where possible to avoid any injuries.
It’s also important not to take any risks, as the one time you don’t wear gloves, or the one time you don’t wear goggles when you’re cutting something could be the time that you come to regret it.
Here’s what you need to know.
Gloves are probably the one piece of equipment you will use pretty much every time you garden. You will also go through too many pairs of gloves to count. This comes with the hobby!
While it’s helpful to get your hands into the soil occasionally to help keep your microbiome healthy, it’s equally important to wear gloves in some situations.
If you are pruning roses, for example, or clearing dead plant matter away from plant beds, or scooping up leaves, it helps to wear gloves to protect your hands from scrapes and cuts.
They also protect you when you’re using chemicals or fertilizers, making sure that you don’t get them anywhere near your eyes.
Goggles are invaluable for protecting your eyes, whether that’s from fumes, thorny branches, debris when you’re using an electric hedge trimmer, chainsaw, or you’re cutting back plants by hand.
Face masks help protect your face from fumes or splash back from pesticides, fertilizer, or any other potential harm.
Long Shirts, Trousers, and Hats
It’s also worth wearing longer clothing and even a hat when gardening, if you’re cutting back large overgrown areas, or you’re wading through long grass.
This will go a long way in protecting your skin, not to mention helping protect you from sunburn.
Nice to Haves: Tools You Don’t Necessarily Need, But You Should Get or Borrow
Other things that you might want, but might not have to start with, include a seed tray tamper, a kneeler, a soil test kit, and a seed dibber.
Seed tampers are useful only if you grow plants from seed, but they help the seeds make contact with the soil’s surface, helping with germination.
Kneelers, although sometimes a little bit old-fashioned, or you might reserve them for older people, are great for making sure you don’t get your knees wet if the soil is damp, as well as cushioning them if you’re kneeling to weed for a longer period of time.
Other Things to Consider
Depending on what you want to grow in your garden, it will help to have some all-purpose fertilizer to hand.
Choose organic where possible, as this will prevent the roots of your plants burning, and you should always make sure the plant has been watered before you feed it.
While you should only use pesticides sparingly, it helps to have some in your shed or garage for when big infestations strike.
There are different kinds for different pests, and fungicides for fungal disease and infections. Most are synthetic, but you can make your own using dish soap for most complaints.
How to Take Care of Your Garden Tools
While you may think that caring for your garden only concerns the plants, it’s helpful to take care of your garden tools, too.
Not only will this help extend the life of your tools, but the life of your plants too, and it will also save you money.
The better care you take of your tools, the longer they will last.
For example, keeping your pruners, loppers, and knives sharp will ensure a clean cut to any plant, helping to prevent disease.
The most important and simple thing you can do to look after your garden tools and your plants, is to keep them clean.
After every use, make sure to clean them, as the blades will come into contact with all sorts of plant matter, soil, disease, and fungi.
You don’t want to contaminate any plants with anything, or spread infection or disease that you’ve been getting rid of.
Once you’re finished, never leave your tools lying out, open to the elements, as you’ll spend ages searching for them, at the very least.
Water and Soap
Each tool you use should be sterilized with soap and water once you’re finished, and this will go a long way to protecting your plants and your tools.
You will need to dry them completely, and this will help eliminate the risk of rust, which would quickly make any sharp blades deteriorate.
Get into the habit of putting them in the same place when you’re not using them, and you’ll reach for them automatically when you need them.
It’s also worth making sure containers, buckets or bins are completely clean and empty once you’ve finished.
If you’re planning to use them for compost or transplanting new plants later, cleaning them goes a long way in helping to prevent cross contamination.
Sanding, Sharpening, and Oiling
Tools which have wooden handles can get rough when constantly handled in wet or damp conditions. Make sure to dry your tools once you’re finished.
If the handles get rough, you can sand them down lightly when they are fully dry, but over time, the great thing about wooden handles is that they’ll eventually mold to your hands.
If you do choose to sand them, you’ll need to varnish them too, to help protect the wood.
Wooden handles also benefit from being oil with linseed oil from time to time. This helps to clean them, while keeping the wood moist, preventing any cracks.
Any rust appearing on any tools can be fixed by removing the spots with a wire brush, and keeping your metal tools away from moisture where possible. Never allow water to sit on the metal.
Make sure to keep your cutting tools sharp. You can buy tool sharpeners that you can run across the blades, but make sure you wear gloves when you do, preferably goggles too.
If you find your wheelbarrow is squeaking, you can use a little oil to help lubricate the bearings.