Whether you’re growing flowers or vegetables, planting your very first garden or your 20th (and even if you’re a self-sufficient homesteader), there are certain tools that every amateur horticulturist finds to be essential. As a dedicated gardener for nearly four decades, I’ve bought and relied on dozens of tools — and tested probably a hundred more for Popular Mechanics and other magazines. Below are the eight that I rely on most.
Before we get to that, though, there is one important thing to remember: Your tools will take care of you if you take care of them. During gardening season, I like to clean each tool of any caked-on dirt a week. And each month, I sharpen dull edges with a mill file like this one and brush off all rust with a little steel wool or a wire brush. It keeps them working — and working well. If your garden doesn’t appreciate it, at least you will.
Three of the most essential of all gardening tools, packaged together in a convenient, economical set. It includes a garden trowel for excavating shallow holes and trenches, three-tine cultivator for loosening up hard soil, and a measured transplanting trowel for digging holes to precise depths, which is especially important when planting bulbs. Each tool has a contoured, comfort-grip handle permanently affixed to a polished cast-aluminum blade that’s extremely durable and rust-resistant.
If you’re new to gardening, you might not consider gloves an essential tool, but your hands most certainly will. Gloves keep your hands clean, but more importantly they protect you from cuts, scrapes, and punctures, all of which are virtually impossible to avoid while excavating, sowing, pruning, weeding, and harvesting. Rather than buying simple cotton gardening gloves, which offer only a modicum of protection, invest in these 18-inch-long, professional rose gardeners’ gloves. The gloves are made of synthetic leather that’s puncture-resistant and much more supple and comfortable than animal leather. The elbow-length gauntlet cuff shields your wrists and forearms from injury, and extra padding is provided across the knuckles and fingertips.
The Smart Shovel is a much-improved version of the standard garden spade. It has a commercial-grade, 14-gauge tempered-steel blade and a virtually indestructible fiberglass handle reinforced with steel. But what makes this shovel unique is its built-in soil grater conveniently positioned at the base of the handle. Instead of wasting the soil that clings to the roots of discarded plants, you can scrape it off the grater — and salvage it to use somewhere else in your garden.
This is a bypass pruner, meaning the top blade slices pass the bottom blade, resulting in very quick, clean cuts. (With anvil pruners, the other common variety, the top blade chomps down onto the bottom blade.) The durable titanium-steel blades are polished to razor-sharpness and can slice through stalks, branches, and saplings up to ¾ inch diameter. There’s even a special sap groove that helps channel away sticking sap that can gum up and stall the pruner.
If you’re using a standard leaf rake to smooth soil and clear debris from your garden, you know the frustration of trying to fit it into tight spaces and between narrow rows of plants and vegetables. This lightweight aluminum-alloy rake features a variable-width head that you can easily adjust from 7½ inches to 21¾ inches wide. When the steel tines are adjusted to the narrowest width, you can easily rake under hedges and between perennials without damaging the delicate plants. At its widest, it can be used as a standard leaf rake. The telescopic handle is also adjustable — from 37 inches to 68 inches long — to accommodate gardeners of various heights.
One of the easiest and very best ways to water a garden is with a watering wand. Unlike a standard hose nozzle, a watering wand delivers a soft, soaking shower — not a damaging blast. This particular wand has a 24-inch curved aluminum shaft that makes it easy to reach over, between and under closely spaced plants in order to saturate the root zone. Its long-reach design is also ideal for watering overhead hanging baskets and flower boxes.
Garden scissors have very thin, supersharp blades that are specifically designed for cleanly snipping flower stems, trimming buds, deadheading (the removal of dead flowers), harvesting herbs and vegetables, and pruning houseplants. It’s not meant to replace a hand pruner but to complement it. This pair of garden scissors features Teflon-coated, nonstick blades; and large, ergonomically designed handles.
With this simple handheld device, you can quickly monitor the three most important factors in maintaining healthy garden soil: water, sun and pH value. Simply plunge the two steel probes into the ground, and the easy-read meter will indicate if it’s time to water, whether the plant is getting enough sun, and if the soil is acidic or alkaline. (You always want neutral soil.) This versatile, three-in-one meter needs no battery and can be used monitor virtually any plant, including flowers, vegetables, lawns, even houseplants.