When I was a new gardener, I owned not-so-great tools. What I know now but didn’t know then was that it would have made more sense to save my money and buy fewer, higher quality tools rather than several cheap ones. When you use a cheap or wrong tool, you waste time and put extra strain on your tendons. For instance, I used a hack saw to clumsily cut branches, because of this I later had to prune more to clean up the cuts. I also had a thin trowel whose blade cracked within a few months after purchase. This holiday season, if you’re a new gardener or know someone who is, do that person a huge favor and buy them a good set of tools. There aren’t a lot of them for a beginner. Just a handful. But the right ones make all of the difference.
Hori hori. This is the only handheld digging tool you’ll ever need. Stiff, strong, serrated. This has been in my holster for years. In fact, I love it so much I dedicated an entire post to it two years ago.
Felco bypass pruners. I don’t recommend buying another, less expensive brand (especially one from a big box store), but rather, Felco. Felco pruners come in different sizes for different hands. They’re made of tough steel. Yes, they’re heavy but that’s because they’re virtually indestructible. You can snap a branch easily off with these. You can cut quickly too. You can clean and sharpen the same blade and parts until you die. But the best feature of Felco pruners is you can easily close the lock on them with your thumb, leaving your other hand free to do something else.
A pair of Corona, heavy duty, bypass loppers. It’s worth it to seek out the Corona brand here. Instead of the loppers turning and slipping and peeling the bark of a branch, these will slice cleanly through. The ones with the longer handles are better, trees grow tall and the less you stretch, the less you strain.
A large pruning saw. Big blade. At least 14″. Corona or Felco. I’ve found the wooden handled ones are too large for my hands and the Coronas have a wider variety of curved blades. You use this when you have a 2″ or bigger branch to remove. The blade gives you a quick, clean cut. Another nice feature is the blade’s replaceable. The foldable saws are handy as they fit into a back pocket but you’ll spend more time sawing with a foldable saw.
A quality pointed shovel. Could be a Bully brand, A.M. Leonard, or Corona. Bully has a nice big “shelf” on which to set your foot and push in to the soil. I would suggest making sure to get a composite or fiberglass handle and not wood. Wood can crack, especially if you leave it outside over winter. You also want a shovel with at least a 48″ handle for better gripping and balance. I’ve never understood why people use the short-handled shovels. They’re hard to maneuver and often slip.
A rake with metal tines! I can’t tell you how many family members and clients have shown me their plastic-tine rakes, which immediately get clogged with leaves and when it’s super cold, break from freezing. Rakes with metal tines have better action, they spring and snap back into place. They also capture and grab better.
Lastly, I recommend having a plastic, all-purpose tarp, 6′ or 8′ by 10′ in your tool kit. It’s a lot easier to rake leaves or toss a pile of weeds onto a tarp, rather than wrestle with the narrow opening of a paper, lawn bag. And when you collect material on a tarp, you bend down fewer times to empty it into a bin. Less repetitive motion equals less ache and fatigue.
Two more optional additions would be a leather tool holster or sheath (for the hori hori and pruners) and a proper root saw. The holster helps avoid losing your tools in the grass or dirt, and a leather one in particular stretches to hold both tools. The kind I use clips onto your pocket. Also, if you use your pruning saw on a root ball in the dirt, it will dull the blade immediately. So if you think you’ll transplant multiple shrubs, it’s worth spending the extra ten dollars on a root saw. Oh, and did I mention gloves? Perhaps that’s obvious. Nitriles give the best grip.
If your budget’s limited, I recommend splurging on the hori hori and Felco pruners. They will be of good use to you for many years. Happy shopping and happy holidays!