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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 attacking piles of soil, sand, and other materials you need to load or move. It's also typically the tool of choice for digging plants out of the ground and is great for waving dramatically as you chase deer, rabbits, or other unwanted critters away.
Here's a hint: Sharpen your shovel's blade every season; this will 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 tool.
Although many gardeners think of spades and shovels as interchangeable, they're not the same 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.
Here's a hint: 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.
Also known as a spading or potato fork, this a perfect 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. A garden fork copes easily with buried roots or rocks and comes in handy for dividing clumps of perennials, too.
Here's a hint: 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 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.
Here's a hint: Several different types of hoe are available; some have heads with a flat blade. 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. Its tines 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.
Here's a hint: 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.
The business end of this rake, 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.
Here's a hint: Many newer rakes have ergonomically designed handles so you can use them for long periods of time without straining your back.
A must-have hand 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 can also use a trowel to dig out shallow-rooted weeds such as plantain.
Here's a hint: 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.
This 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).
Here's a hint: 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 a garden ornament as it is a 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 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.
Here's a hint: 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; it can make for a charming planter.
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.
Here's a hint: Kinking is a watering hose'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 tool essentially 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.
Here's a hint: Some watering wands feature a squeezable, lever-type water shut-off mechanism. Many gardeners find these easier to use than traditional switch-type shut-offs.
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.
Here's a hint: 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.
Here's a hint: 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.
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.
Here's a hint: Select garden gloves that have reinforced knuckles and padding in the palm to help keep your hands in good shape. They're a little more expensive, but do a much better job of protecting your hands from fatigue and injury.
While one of the many attractions of gardening is the opportunity to kneel down close to the soil, 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.
Here's a hint: Kneelers that have a metal frame with tall side bars help you stand up afterward. Many types will fold up, making them easy to store and transport around your garden.
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