The right equipment for gardening




'I'm a Jersey girl," says Sally Corcoran, which means she grew up in the Garden State. She also has had gardens in England and, before that, in Australia and now she tends to 10 partially wooded acres in East Sarasota, where she is a Master Gardener. So she knows a thing or two about garden tools and is happy to make some recommendations for beginning gardeners and homeowners who may already have a garden.

Most important when you are considering garden tools is that they feel comfortable and balanced to you. The angle of a trowel, the weight of a pruner and the handle length of a shovel, hoe or rake can make a difference in your gardening experience. As you look at and hold various tools, try to think about how they will feel after an hour or so of use. Heavy tools may be sturdy and efficient, but unwieldy for someone with a small hand. By the same token, lightweight tools may break in the hands of someone stronger.

Buy the best tools you can afford. That doesn't necessarily mean the most expensive. An investment in high quality tools that don't have to be replaced will save you money in the long run.

As tempting as it may be, it is not necessary to start out buying all the tools you think you may ever need. Start with the basics, and if the gardening bug bites, you can always add to and upgrade your collection.

Ask your gardener friends for recommendations and ask them if you can try out their tools.

Buy tools from a reputable local or online dealer who will guarantee their performance. Also, check the tool company's warranty. Tools with steel blades are strong enough to last for years without bending. Stainless steel is even better, because it won't rust. Spades, shovels and forks with hard ash handles are unlikely to splinter or break.

You may not think of color in relation to garden tools, but it can prevent you from having to replace tools that have gone unnoticed and been buried in the mulch or compost or even misplaced somewhere in the yard. Some companies make the handles of their tools in bright colors like fluorescent yellow, orange and green. Corcoran's favorite Okatsune pruners and snippers have red and white handles.

(If your garden tools have green or brown handles, consider wrapping them with colorful tape or tying a strip of bright cloth to them so they can be easily spotted.)


Basic hand tools

Pruners: Consider the sizes of what you will be pruning. Master Gardener Sally Corcoran has different pruners for small, medium and large jobs. Depending on your garden, you might not need that many. In a new garden, one pruner for medium-size jobs may serve all of your needs. Scissors, instead of small pruners, can be used to trim small stems and flowers. They are also handy for cutting vegetables, string, seed packets, bags and boxes.

Anvil pruners have a sharp straight blade that cuts against a flat surface. They can crush the branch at the cut, making it susceptible to infection, so anvil pruners are best used for dead wood and woody stems. The curved blades of bypass pruners make them harder to sharpen than anvil pruners, but they make a cleaner cut.

Loppers are pruners with long handles for extra leverage. Some can cut limbs up to two inches in diameter.


Trowels and spades: These are used for precision digging in small spaces, for turning soil and installing small plants. Some are marked at 1-inch intervals to measure holes for bulbs that have to be planted at a certain depth.


Weed fork: Designed to penetrate the soil and loosen weed tap roots, the weed fork looks like a long screwdriver with a notched end. It is also useful for cleaning weeds and debris from between bricks and pavers.

Hand cultivator: A short-handled cultivator or claw will break up soil in small spaces and under shrubs and other low-growing plants.


Child-size tools: Among the most important tools in your collection are child-size pails, brooms, rakes and spades. Besides providing the opportunity to nurture a budding gardener, they keep youngsters busy while you garden and allow them to explore and discover on their own the wondrous things that take place in the garden.


Gloves: While it is fun to feel the soil between your fingers, a good pair of gloves will protect your hands from thorns, some bacteria, cuts and blisters and will help preserve your manicure. The ones with rubberized palms and fingers not only offer protection, they provide a much-needed firm grip for pulling weeds and carrying heavy pots. Some brands are washable. Or you can buy them a dozen at a time when they are on sale and use them until they wear out. Getting them a size larger than you need allows you to take them off and put them on easily.


Knife: A sharp long-handled kitchen knife comes in handy for cutting pot-bound roots and for pruning and shredding fleshy fibrous bird of paradise or banana leaves, which go into the compost pile. Thrift stores always have a good supply of these.


Carriers: Corcoran finds a holster good for keeping trowels or pruners handy. And her carriers of choice aren't fancy compartmented canvas bags, but an aluminum pail for small tools and a large plastic tub for bulky ones. Either can be emptied and turned over to provide a garden-level seat.


Basic large tools

Shovels: Round-point shovels cut into the soil and have a rim on the top to allow you to push with your foot. Generally, the wider the rim, the more comfortable your foot will be. Square shovels are good for moving materials.

Rakes: A fan-shaped leaf or broom rake with flexible steel or poly tines sweeps up leaves and grass clippings. The sturdy garden rake's strong tines are designed for moving or removing heavier debris or working the soil for planting. Turn it over, and the top edge can be used to level soil.

Forks: Round-tined or hay forks are useful for moving large amounts of large material such as compost, mulch and hay. Spading forks, with their flat tines, are designed for turning soil and lifting plants or bulbs. Digging in rocky soils is less stressful with a spading fork than with a shovel.

Hoes: A weeding hoe's blade is flat on one end for chopping and has two points on the other end for pulling up weeds by the roots. A Warren hoe, shaped like the prow of a ship, has a dual purpose. The pointed end is used to dig furrows and the top closed part can cover the furrows. The most familiar hoe, with its solid square or rectangular blade at right angles to the handle, is used for chopping.


Also ...

Once you've decided to invest more time in your garden, you might want to also invest in these:

Pole pruners reach where loppers cannot. Operated by a rope and pulley, they allow you to cut overhead branches from ground level.

Pruning saws come in standard and bow styles. Standard saws work in restricted areas. Bow saws make quick cuts on large unobstructed limbs.

One of Corcoran's favorite pruning tools is a reciprocating saw, which enables her to cut large limbs. Battery-operated, it is completely portable and requires no electrical cord or gasoline. One caution: To avoid stripping healthy bark, which would expose the tree to infection, cut from the underside of the branch.

Grass shears are good for trimming around trees, bushes and bed borders.


Other things to consider adding to your tool box:

Insect spray, wide-brimmed hat, sunscreen, twine, stakes, drinking water and a basket to collect clippings or flowers. One source even suggested a radio or iPad.


Last modified: January 31, 2013
All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be published without permissions. Links are encouraged.