A shovel is the number one tool in most gardeners' sheds, and it's probably the most versatile. An angled blade makes the shovel ideal for moving piles of soil, sand, and other materials. A good shovel also is typically the gardening tool of choice for digging plants out of the ground. And you can use it to wave dramatically about as you chase deer, rabbits, or other unwanted critters away.
Test Garden Tip: Sharpen your shovel's blade every season to make digging much easier. And take note of how well the shovel's handle is attached to the blade. That junction is usually the weakest point of the gardening tool.
Although many think of spades and shovels as interchangeable, they're not the same gardening tool. A spade features a flat, squared-off blade and often is short-handled. It is ideal for edging beds, slicing under sod, and working soil amendments into the garden. In a pinch you can even use a spade to chop ice on frozen sidewalks.
Test Garden Tip: Look for stainless-steel blades -- they resist rust. Also, the highest-quality spades usually have steel heads that are firmly connected to the handle. Spades where the blade is riveted to the handle tend to come apart more easily.
Different types of gloves protect hands from various injuries, so keep several pairs around. Choose leather or cotton gloves to avoid blisters from tasks such as sawing, pruning, and shoveling. Wide-cuffed or long gloves coated with nitrile or plastic protect your wrists and forearms when you're working with thorny plants, such as roses. Latex or rubber gloves keep your hands dry.
Test Garden Tip: Select garden gloves that have reinforced knuckles and padding in the palm. They're a little more expensive but do a much better job of protecting your hands from fatigue and injury.
A must-have gardening tool, a trowel is perfect for planting bulbs, seedlings, and other small plants. Trowels are available with sturdy handles and cupped metal blades with tapered tips. Some have serrated edges along the side of the blade, making them useful for cutting through small roots or other debris. You also can use a trowel to dig out shallow-rooted weeds, such as plantain.
Test Garden Tip: There's a seemingly endless variety of trowels available. Before purchasing one, hold it in your hand and see how it feels. Is it too big or too heavy? Also consider the handle -- some trowels feature coatings, such as rubber, that are easier on your hands than a wood handle.
Kneeler and Kneepads
While one of the many attractions of gardening is the opportunity to play in the dirt, getting up gracefully can become a problem, even without knee or back problems. Kneelers of various kinds cushion the contact with the hard ground, and low gardening seats (on metal frames or on wheeled tool carts) also ease back and knee strain. Some kneepads strap over pants to protect your knees and keep your pants clean at the same time.
Test Garden Tip: Kneelers that have a metal frame with tall side bars help you stand up. Many types will fold up, making them easy to transport around your garden and store.
Also known as a spading or potato fork, this a perfect gardening tool for turning and aerating soil, especially clay. Use it to break up chunks of ground and to work organic matter, fertilizer, and other amendments into the soil. Forks are ideal gardening tools to cope with buried roots or rocks. It comes in handy for dividing clumps of perennials, too.
Test Garden Tip: Some forks feature a step, or wide lip where the handle meets the tines. This step can make it easier to use your fork, especially in heavy soil. If you have tough-to-work soil, invest in a fork with heavy-duty tines so they don't bend.
An old-fashioned gardening tool that never goes out of style, a hoe is perfect for cultivating soil and removing young weeds. It's also useful for breaking up soil clumps. Tilt it at an angle and the corner of the blade traces neat planting furrows in prepared soil. Like shovels, most hoes work best if you sharpen the blades as they become dull.
Test Garden Tip: Several different types of hoes are available. Some have heads with a flat blade. and others feature a pointed blade that gets in between small plants more easily.
Use a garden rake to dress and smooth out mulch or soil in a planting bed. The tines of this gardening tool simultaneously break up small clods of soil and corral small stones and debris. Use a flathead style to level the soil for planting; just flip the rake over so its bridge scrapes along the surface of the soil.
Test Garden Tip: Garden rakes are made from a variety of materials. Lightweight rakes, such as those made from aluminum, are easier for many gardeners to use than heavy steel rakes.
This gardening tool is basically a miniature hoe. While it's harder on your back to bend down with it, a hand weeder gives you more control than a long-handled hoe for getting weeds in tight spots or close to desirable plants. There's a tremendous variety to choose from -- some have a single flat blade; others have a pointed, triangular blade; and yet others come to a single point or hook (like a finger).
Test Garden Tip: Make sure the handle fits well in your hand. You'll get tired more easily if the handle is too wide or narrow.
As much an ornament as it is a gardening tool, the watering can retains its classic form to deliver moisture to your plants. Originally made from galvanized metal, watering cans now come in a variety of materials, including brass and lightweight plastic. When shopping, choose a can that feels balanced when it's full and holds a generous amount of water without straining your arms as you carry it.
Test Garden Tip: Many newer watering cans have measuring marks so you know how much water is in them. This can be especially helpful if you mix fertilizer into your water. Don't throw an old watering can away; turn it into a charming planter instead.
A hose is indispensable for maintaining plants in any yard or garden larger than a few square feet. A good hose will save you from carrying a watering can during hot weather. Choose a rubber or vinyl hose constructed of several layers of mesh and with sturdy connectors to ensure long life.
Test Garden Tip: Kinking is this gardening tool's biggest drawback. The thicker the hose, the less likely it will be to kink. Though they cost more, professionals' hoses are usually worth the money.
A magic wand when it comes to watering (especially container plants and hanging baskets), this gardening tool acts like a long-distance watering can. To keep from wasting water, make sure your watering wand has a shutoff mechanism. Many wands feature foam or rubber coverings around the handle; they help insulate your hands from the cold water and make the wand easier to grip.
Test Garden Tip: Some watering wands feature a squeezable, lever-type water shut-off mechanism. Many gardeners find these easier to use than traditional switch-type shutoffs.
Connect your sprinkler to a watering hose and you can give parts of your garden or landscape a deep soaking without having to stand there for long periods or make multiple trips with a watering can. Better yet, attach your sprinkler to an automatic timer. It will turn on and off and you won't have to lift a finger.
Test Garden Tip: Sprinklers that have multiple spray options offer more versatility. But consider how many choices you really need. You may be able to save money by purchasing a sprinkler with five spray options instead of 13.
Yards and gardens generate a lot of debris destined for the compost pile. And garden beds benefit from loads of organic matter and mulch. Garden carts and wheelbarrows make these jobs and many others much easier. Use a stable, two-wheeled cart with high sides for large, bulky loads. The smaller, nimbler wheelbarrow is easier to maneuver around tighter spaces.
Test Garden Tip: If you have trouble keeping a wheelbarrow balanced, select a model that has two tires instead of one. Also, watch for carts and wheelbarrows with pneumatic tires, which do not go flat.
The business end of this gardening tool, sometimes called a lawn rake, is a fan of flat, flexible tines made of metal, bamboo, plastic, or even rubber. Use a flexible rake to gather light debris in beds, lawns, and walks, and, of course, to rake up fallen leaves. It's also handy for smoothing out freshly worked ground.
Test Garden Tip: Many newer rakes have ergonomically designed handles so you can use them for long periods of time without straining your back.