I started gardening with a very sad gardening tool kit. I used a rusty shovel, rickety rake, and a cheap trowel. While they served me well enough, I wish someone would have told me to save my money and buy fewer, higher quality tools. Here’s why.
When you use a cheap 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. If I’d had the right basic gardening tool kit, I could have gotten a lot more done with a lot less effort.
Here are my favorite tools to help you create a pretty garden.
This Japanese tool is the only handheld digging tool you’ll ever need. Stiff, strong, serrated. So versatile. It’s been in my tool holster for years. You can dig down and pop out that dandelion root easily. And because of that thick blade, you can lift out an old staple from wood or a landscaping pin from compact soil.
Also, you can cut roots with the serrated side, break up thick soil with its point, and divide root balls with the smooth side. You can also plant bulbs with that long blade. Some come with a ruler inlaid into the steel, which is useful as well. These are pricey but utterly worth it.
Built from tough steel and quality parts, the Swiss-made Felco pruners are virtually indestructible. They come in varying sizes to match your hands, which makes them comfortable. You can prune branches cleanly and easily. I also love them because you can scrub the blade with steel wool and sharpen it with a sharpening rock. You can also buy replacement blades if you accidentally knick it. The best feature of Felco pruners is you can quickly swing the lock closed with your thumb, leaving your other hand free to hold or keep steady a branch.
Buy bypass pruners for pruning trees or shrubs, anvil pruners for cutting back bamboo or dead fallen branches.
I recommend Corona or Fiskar heavy duty loppers. You can buy Felco’s as well but they get pricey quickly. You just want a reliable quality brand. You don’t want dinky loppers because when cutting, they can turn and slip. That means the blade scrapes bark off a branch and maybe even skin from your wrist, leaving both you and the plant with wounds.
I like loppers with extending handles. Trees grow tall and the less you stretch, the less you strain. By the way, always make sure to cut at a branch crotch and never leave a stub of branch. Otherwise, disease will get inside and move through tree’s vascular system.
A quality pointed shovel. The brand doesn’t matter as much if you make sure to buy a heavier duty shovel. The Bully brand one has a nice big “shelf” on which to set your foot and push in to the soil. I’d make sure to get a composite or fiberglass handle and not wood (unless it’s thick). Wood can crack, especially if you leave it outside in rainy or wintry weather.
Also, you want at least a 48″ handle for better gripping and balance. I’ve never understood why people use short-handled shovels. They’re hard to maneuver and often slip. Plus, the crouching hurts your back.
A Metal Rake
A rake with metal tines! I can’t tell you how many plastic rakes I’ve seen, which immediately get clogged with leaves. Also, when it’s super cold, they crack from freezing. Rakes with metal tines have better action. They spring and snap back into place. They also capture the detritus better.
Brand here doesn’t matter as much as the metal tines. I like tines that are flat at the end, which more effectively scrape the ground.
Lastly, an all-purpose tarp. A 6-, 8-, or 10-foot rectangular shaped one is a must in your gardening tool kit. It’s a lot easier to rake leaves or toss weeds on 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 in a bin. Less repetitive motions equal less ache and fatigue. Plus, if you have a raised deck or patio, you can lay out the tarp on the ground and just rake off the steps or patio onto it.
If you want to splurge, buy a leather holster or scabbard for the hori hori and pruners. The holster helps you avoid losing your tools in the grass or cut material. A leather one in particular stretches to hold both tools. I love this set up. I’m never searching the ground for my tools because they’re always on my person. The kind I use clips onto your front pocket.
Also, you’ll use a decent-sized (at least 14″) pruning saw for years. I like Felco’s as the blades are stiff, durable, and cut thicker branches well. Plus, wooden handled saws are too large for my hands. Another nice feature is the Felco blades are replaceable. Foldable saws are handy as they fit into a back pocket but you’ll spend more time sawing with a foldable model.
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. You’ll use them for decades. Happy shopping and happy planting!