There's no denying that gardening is hard physical work. But it's pleasurable hard work, made all the easier by good-quality, appropriate garden tools. Here's a list of the best garden tools for your yard.
Today's gardening tools are ergonomically designed to spare backs, shoulders, and wrists.
A spade is not the same tool as a shovel. A spade is short-handled and has a flat, squared-off blade. It is ideal for edging beds, digging planting holes, slicing under sod, and working soil amendments into the garden. In a pinch you can even use a spade to chop ice on walks. Its versatility makes it a staple in the tool shed.
A garden shovel typically has a dished (concave) blade that is rounded or mildly tapered at the tip. Most shovels are long-handled, although you can buy them with short handles, too. Because the blade is canted at an angle to the handle for greater leverage, a shovel is ideal for attacking piles of soil, sand, and other materials you need to load or move.
Dig into the soil with the four straight, sturdy steel tines of a garden fork. Also known as a spading fork, it's a good tool for turning and aerating the soil. Use it to break up chunks of soil and to work organic matter, fertilizer, and other amendments into the soil. A garden fork copes easily with occasional buried roots or rocks and comes in handy for dividing clumps of perennials.
Cultivate the soil and remove young weeds in a garden bed with a hoe. The simplest hoe is basically a straight-edged, square blade attached at a right angle to a long wooden handle. It's useful for chopping clumps of soil and scraping the soil surface to cut off sprouting weeds. When tilted at an angle, the corner of the blade traces neat planting furrows in prepared soil. There are many different types of hoes. A swan hoe has a curved neck. A diamond hoe has a head that is diamond-shaped, perfect for pulling weeds from between plants.
The basic garden hand tool for digging, a trowel is indispensable for planting bulbs, seedlings, and other small plants in a garden bed. Trowels are available with sturdy handles and narrow or wide, cupped metal blades with tapered tips. Different sizes -- widths and lengths -- suit different planting jobs.
The business end of this rake, sometimes called a lawn or leaf rake, is a fan of flat, flexible tines. Typically bent at their tips, the tines are made of lengths of metal, bamboo, plastic, or even rubber in a variety of styles. The tines are attached to a long handle for easy control. Use a flexible rake to gather light debris that is spread out on beds, lawns, and walks, and to rake up leaves.
This tool is basically a miniature hoe, which most gardeners use for down-and-dirty weeding. The short handle at the end of a flat, straight-edged blade allows you to maneuver between plants in a bed. The blade may be square or triangular and mounted at various angles for flexibility. Position the blade on the soil and draw it toward you to cut weeds off at -- or just below -- the soil level. Or turn the blade upward, so its corner digs deeper to dislodge stones or pry out larger weeds.
Some essential gardening and yard care tools don't always fall into the traditional tool category. However, they are as useful and labor-saving as familiar tools such as shovels and pruners.
Because water is crucial to the well-being of plants, the watering can is an old standby. Originally made from galvanized metal -- and now in a variety of materials from brass to plastic -- it retains its classic form. A bucket-like reservoir that holds the water is flanked with a bowed handle on one side. On the opposite side, a long spout capped with a sprinkler head, or rose, protrudes. Choose a can that feels balanced when full, and holds a generous amount of water without straining your arms as you carry it.
A nozzle, which used to be made of brass and now comes in a variety of materials, sizes, and shapes -- is essential to control the stream of water coming out of the hose. A watering wand, a long tube extension with a sprinkler head at the tip, converts the hose to a long-distance watering can. Use it to water containers, hanging pots, and beds. The wand should have a shutoff at its connection to the hose to prevent wasting water. Another key tool is a sprinkler, which you attach to the hose and place on the ground. It oscillates or rotates to deliver water to beds and lawns. The best sprinklers have timers and adjustments for the stream width and direction of the stream.
A hose is indispensable for maintaining plants in any yard or garden larger than a few square feet. At every life stage, plants need water for good health, and a hose at the ready can bridge periods of scant rainfall. Buy the best hose your budget will allow. Choose a rubber or vinyl hose constructed of several layers of mesh and with sturdy connectors to ensure long life. It will save you from carrying a watering can during hot weather.
Fertilizers, tonics, fungicides, insecticidal soaps, and many other products are water-soluble and most effective if sprayed on plant foliage. Although many come packaged ready-to-use in spray bottles, they are more economical in concentrated form that you mix in water. Sprayers that attach to the hose and dilute automatically are convenient. You might want to have a one- or two-gallon pump sprayer for small jobs. Larger backpack units are useful for spraying fertilizer over broader areas such as lawns.
Special glasses made from sturdy plastic are a must. Choose from various styles that feature wrap-around lenses to protect eyes from flying objects while mowing, sawing, chopping, or tilling. Some models are designed to fit over prescription eyeglasses. Others may be tinted for work in the sun or attached to a hard hat for construction or arbor work. Be sure they fit snugly over your ears to prevent slipping.
Different types of gloves protect hands from different injuries. Have several pairs available for yard-care tasks. Choose leather or cloth gloves to avoid blisters from repetitive tasks such as sawing, pruning, and shoveling. Wide-cuffed or long gloves coated with nitrile or plastic protect wrists and forearms when you're working with thorny plants. Latex or rubber gloves protect against soil-borne fungi that cause dermatitis. Check the fit by making a fist, then feel for finger fit at the tips of the glove fingers.
Lawns are high-maintenance landscape features. However, for those of us who grew up with front and back yards covered with grass, it's difficult to imagine not having at least some lawn. That beautiful surface of emerald green is greedy for water, fertilizer, your time, and regular mowing.
A gasoline- or electric-powered rotary lawn mower is appropriate for lawns over 4,000 square feet. If the lawn is configured as a large expanse, self-propelled models are particularly helpful. Today almost all power lawn mowers are designed as mulching mowers with a special blade and higher bell that suspends clippings long enough to be cut several times before they fall back into the grass as a mulch. There's no need to collect them.
While one of the many attractions of gardening is the opportunity to kneel down close to the soil, getting up gracefully afterward can become a problem as age takes its toll on your knees and back. Kneelers of various kinds cushion the contact with the hard ground. Those that have a metal frame with tall side bars also help you stand up afterward. Low gardening seats -- either on metal frames or on wheeled tool carts -- also ease back and knee strain. Some knee pads strap over pants to protect your knees and keep your pants clean.
Rotary spreaders broadcast seed or granular fertilizer in a wide, circular pattern. When you push the spreader, a spinner -- under the hopper that holds the material -- rotates, throwing out the seed or granules at a rate regulated by a lever on the handle. Because the spreader casts the material widely on both sides of it, there's no danger of missing areas that show later as streaks in the lawn. To ensure uniform coverage, make vertical and horizontal passes over the area.
The old-fashioned lawn mower has been updated for modern times. It's made of lightweight space-age materials -- most models feature pneumatic tires, easy blade-height settings, and handle-length adjustment. The horizontal blades on this mower always give a superior cut. They are mounted on a reel that's geared within the wheel assembly, and they slice the grass against a lower, rigid bar. Spectacularly quiet and, of course, pollution-free, these manual mowers are especially useful for smaller lawns.
A hand edger consists of a sharp, straight-edged steel blade mounted at the end of a long wooden or Fiberglass handle. This English-style version has a rounded semicircular blade with a broad top edge that forms a tread for your foot. Place the tool along the edge of the turf where it meets pavement, then push the blade downward to cut a neat border.
For edging long stretches of lawn along walks and driveways, a powered edger is most efficient. If you have a large property or a lot of lawn that you want to keep perfectly edged, this tool's for you. Electric-powered edgers are available in corded and battery-powered models. Before choosing one, consider the length the electric cord need to be to reach the nearest electrical outlet from the farthest area you will be edging. When using a powered edger, you want to be aware of where any shallowly buried electric or water lines may lie -- a consideration if you have an in-ground irrigation system for the lawn. You don't want to cut any lines accidentally.
The steel tines on this special rake penetrate the thatch layer on a lawn. They are mounted on a sturdy bridge that's attached to a long wooden handle. When you pull the tines through the grass with a raking motion, they snag the matted strands of dead grass plants that make up the thatch layer. They bypass the healthy grass and loosen and pull up only dead material. On some models, you can adjust the angle of the row of tines.
Hand core-aerators consist of two or more hollow tines connected by a narrow, steel bridge that serves as a food plate. A waist-high, steel handle, topped by hand grips, attaches to the bridge. When you press your foot against the steel bridge, the 6-inch-long tines penetrate moist turf and fill up with a core of soil. Then when you withdraw them, each one leaves a narrow hole in the turf that admits air and moisture to the root area. Each time you press the tines into the turf, a soil plug pops out the top and lands on the lawn where it decomposes in the rain.
For each of these tasks there is a tool. Sometimes a simple hand tool does the job. In other instances, a powered version is your best choice.
Also known as secateurs, this pruner works one-handed. Its two steel blades bypass each other -- the top, sharpened blades slices through twigs and stems up to 3/4 inch thick. Some models have soft-grip or swivel handles.
Its sharpened top blade cuts by pressing twigs and stems against the thicker lower blade in a crushing, rather than slicing, action. Although this type isn't as versatile and maneuverable as a baypass pruner, it's more stable. And it requires less wrist and hand strength to operate.
This long-handled tool with 8- or 10-inch-long carbon steel blades cuts twigs and branches up to 1/2 inch thick. Use it to clip hedges and cut back ornamental grasses.
This 14- or 16-foot-long tool is ideal for pruning low-hanging tree branches up to 1-1/2 inches thick. It typically has telescoping or extension handles made of wood or fiberglass. The very sharp steel saw at the tip easily slips between foliage-covered branches.
This type of pruner, although touted to cut almost anything, is best used on twigs and stems less than 1/2 inch thick. It was designed for people who lack the hand strength to operate other types of pruners. The racheting action allows you to keep squeezing the handles until the blades cut through the stem.
Essentially long-handled pruners, loppers require two hands to use. Available with bypass or anvil blades, they cut small branches and stems as thick as your thumb. They also extend your reach and give you improved cutting leverage.
The extremely sharp teeth on this compact, wooden-handled saw make quick work of medium-sized stems and branches. Models that allow the blade to fold into the handle are equipped with a latch to prevent it from folding while you're using it.
The light weight of this saw makes it useful for cutting fallen branches. Its thin, toothed blade is attached at each end to a curved metal handle with a grip at one end. It quickly cuts any log that's no thicker than the length of the replaceable blade.
Once the workhorse for cutting major limbs, this straight-edged saw has been eclipsed by the chainsaw. But it still comes in handy when you don't want to use the chainsaw to prune one or two large limbs. Some models offer a choice of coarse teeth on one edge, fine teeth on the other.
Various models have 18- or 24-inch-long blades -- the longer ones typically on heavy-duty models -- with moveable cutting teeth. Some feature double blades that move in opposite directions to cut twiggy hedges more efficiently. The motor gets its power from an electrical cord or a portable battery pack.
Chainsaws cut with teeth linked together on a chain that's propelled around a grooved guide bar. They are powered by either a gasoline engine or electric motor at speeds up to 45 miles an hour.
Shopping for a watering device can be quite a challenge. In fact, you can choose from literally dozens of sprinkler models for any situation. Make sure you water at the right time of day.
As its nickname suggests, this rotating sprinkler throws water in a distinctive arcing pattern as its arm rotates from the force of the water coming out of the hose. Because the stream of water is interrupted by the action of the arm, it covers the areas both in the vicinity of the sprinkler and at some distance away from it. The spray is in larger droplets and falls fairly low to the ground.
As if it has a life of its own, this sprinkler travels as it delivers water. The force of the water propels the rotating sprinkler head on wheels guided by the hose. You can adjust the speed to vary the amount of water that reaches the area it traverses. Its watering pattern is not as wide as that of impulse sprinkles, but it's quite effective on broad, open lawns.
Water from a fixed-spray sprinkler extends high into the air creating an umbrella pattern on small areas of groundcover or lawn. The fine, rain-like spray falls on foliage and soil, and some of the water is inevitably lost to evaporation in its travels. Choose a model with a stable base so it won't tip over.
Mounted on either a flat base, a ball tripod, or a spike you insert into the soil, these sprinklers throw rhythmic pulses of water over a wide area, relatively low to the ground. They can cover an area around their entire circumference or in just one sector. They are ideal for lawns and under trees and shrubs. Their low arc minimizes evaporation.
This device is typically part of a professionally installed automated sprinkler system, and is most common in warm areas of the country, where lawns require frequent moisture or on very large properties. The sprinkler head is permanently installed, flush with the ground. When the water is on, it pops up and sprays water in a fixed pattern. It can be programmed to deliver different amounts of water in different patterns.
Use to cover wide lawn areas or beds of tall plants best watered from above. It emits regular arching sprays of water from holes in its oscillating bar. You can adjust it to water on just one side in varying degrees or to swing in a full arc, from one side to another. On some models, you also can adjust the width of the spray patterns.
It seems that weeds are always with us, no matter what the weather. Their seeds lurk in the soil for decades, remaining viable, and lying in wait for a chance to see some sun so they can germinate.
Also called a fishtail weeder, this traditional tool is designed to penetrate deeply into the soil to capture and pry out taproots of plants, such as dandelion and thistle. It is also useful for prying weeds from narrow spaces. You can buy it in either a short- or long-handled configuration. On the best models, the wooden handle is ergonomically shaped at a slight angle to give you an especially good grip. The notched blade at the tip is typically made of steel and has a sharp edge.
This tool is part knife, part weeder. It's available in either long- or short-handled models and is strong and solid. The business end consists of an acutely angled steel tip that's thick and flat at its base, then tapers to a point as it curves upward. This weeder is ideal for levering shallow weeds from soil, or scraping them from cracks in narrow spots between stones and in walks.
This heavy-duty tool is easy on the back. Sturdily fabricated from steel, it features a set of five round, pointed prongs mounted on a spring-loaded steel plate. This assembly is, in turn, attached to a larger steel foot plate with a tread on the back. Insert the prongs vertically into the soil by pushing on the waist-high wooden handle. Then step on the foot plate to lever the prongs upward, popping the weeds out of the soil.
This traditional tool was the original weed whacker. It has a wooden hand grip on a strong metal shank, angled so its metal cutting piece is flat to the ground. The cutting piece is serrated on both edges so it cuts whether you're moving it forward or backward. Swing the whip -- a mini scythe -- as you would a golf club to cut tall rangy weeds down to size.
Power weed trimmers typically have an electric motor -- either corded or battery-operated -- but may be gas-powered, as well. They power a whirling piece of nylon string that resembles fishing line. As it continuously feeds off its spool at high speed, the line knocks off the tops of grassy weeds. It's especially useful along walls and drives. When you tilt it, this type of trimmer will edge around stepping stones and along walks. Replacement spools of nylon line are readily available. Take care not to use it too close to trees or shrubs -- it's easy to cut the bark or stems, injuring or killing the plants.
This high-tech version of the traditional fishtail weeder is easier on the back. It has a waist-high handle of wood or steel, tipped by a ring of steel prongs. Center it over the weed and apply pressure to the foot plate attached to the handle base. This action inserts the prongs into the soil. Then use the knob or lever mechanism at the top of the wooden handle to trip the levered action, closing the prongs and trapping the crown of the plant. Finally, tug on the handle to pop the weed out, root and all.
Yards and gardens generate a lot of debris that you need to transport to the compost pile. They also benefit from the loads of organic matter and mulch you haul in and distribute. Garden carts and wheelbarrows do these jobs and many others. Use a stable, two-wheeled cart with high sides for large, bulky loads. It can handle up to 500 pounds on its pneumatic tires. The smaller, nimbler wheelbarrow -- available in one- or two-wheel models -- is easier to maneuver around small spaces.