Must-Have Outdoor Power Tools
A garden auger takes the backache out of planting by digging holes for you. Most bulb-size models attach to a household drill, while larger power augers are available for planting trees and shrubs.
Test Garden Tip: Drill-attachment models are best used with corded drills. If your drill is battery-operated, be sure that it has at least 18 volts of power.
Prune hard-to-reach areas with an electric or battery-powered pole saw. When you're buying a pole saw, look for one that's light and easy for you to hold. Since you're mainly using these to work over your head, comfort is an important factor. If you select a gas-powered model, ensure it has a vibration-damping system.
Test Garden Tip: Pole lengths vary from 8 to 27 feet, so choose according to the height of your trees. Saw bars also vary in length from 6 to 17 inches; opt for the longer bar if you're dealing with thick branches.
Electric Hedge Trimmer
Save time and effort when sculpting shrubs by using a power trimmer. A model with a heavy-duty blade will let you cut branches that are too thick for traditional pruning shears, eliminating the need to use several tools to shape your hedges.
Test Garden Tip: Electric models are more powerful than most battery-powered options, but a cord restricts your range. Look for lightweight models to save on arm fatigue; some models even offer vibration-damping systems. For the most power, look for a model that has two flat blades instead of one.
Battery-Powered Hedge Trimmer
Battery-powered hedge trimmers are more environmentally friendly than gas-powered ones and allow you to trim freely away from an outlet. However, they're often more expensive than comparable corded models.
Test Garden Tip: While battery-powered models are more convenient, they tend to be less powerful than electric corded or gas models. Also keep in mind that batteries will run down as you work, so long periods of trimming might be interrupted by charge time. Consider purchasing an extra battery so your work time isn't interrupted when a battery dies.
Blast dirt and scum from siding, decks, ponds, and patios with a compact pressure washer. Models come in different sizes, so get a sense of what you'll use it for before you purchase one.
Test Garden Tip: Choose between cold-water and hot-water washers: Hot washers are typically more expensive, but they are better if you're dealing with exceptionally grimy areas. If portability is key, opt for a gas-powered model over electric.
Use an edger to create crisp, clean lines between your lawn and walkways, driveways, or other areas. For large lawns or those with aggressively spreading grasses, this tool is essential to achieving a manicured look. When edging, be sure to avoid shallow electric or water lines.
Test Garden Tip: Electric edgers tend to be lighter weight and vibrate less than gas-powered models, making them easier to use.
Battery-powered edgers free you from the restriction of a cord and are better for the environment than gas-powered versions. However, they typically have less power than gas or electric models -- and the battery will limit how long you can use it at one time. That makes battery-powered models better for small lawns.
Test Garden Tip: For more comfort and less vibration, look for models with a T handle.
Gas-Powered or Electric String Trimmer
A string trimmer is a must-have to keep lawns from looking rough around the edges. Use it to keep grass from growing too tall next to walls, birdbaths, and other objects in the lawn.
Test Garden Tip: Hold a trimmer in the store before you purchase it; different models balance differently. Look for one where the weight is evenly distributed from top to bottom.
Battery-Powered String Trimmer
Enjoy more freedom with a battery-powered string trimmer, which doesn't have a restrictive cord. It's also more environmentally friendly than gas-powered trimmers, as it doesn't produce noxious fumes.
Test Garden Tip: A curved shaft can ease pressure on your back, but a straight shaft makes trimming under low branches and shrubs easier.
This handy power tool loosens soil in small garden spaces and is especially useful for cultivating around pre-existing plants and shrubs.
Test Garden Tip: A small cultivator works best in soft soil. If you're dealing with hard, compact soil or you have a large work space, a tiller might be a better option.
A power tiller saves you time and effort when preparing large spaces for planting. Front-tine tillers have wheels in the back and tillers in the front, making it easy to push through your yard.
Test Garden Tip: Front-tine tillers work best in soft soil and are good for medium or large spaces. Because the blades are in the front, some front-tine tillers pull you forward, so they can require a bit of physical strength.
The most powerful tiller, a rear-tine model is best for large spaces and breaking up hard soil. Because these can be pricey, opt for renting rather than purchasing if you plan to use this only once or twice.
Test Garden Tip: Most models have a bar that allows you to adjust the depth the tines till to. Make sure you select a tiller that allows you to work the soil as deeply as you need.
Gas-Powered Chain Saw
A good chain saw is essential for tree maintenance and cleanup. Select a model that's large enough to cut the kinds of branches you'll deal with but is still light enough for you to use comfortably.
Test Garden Tip: Although gas-powered models are the most powerful and efficient saws, they are usually the noisiest and heaviest. They also require a mixture of gas and oil. And they're typically more expensive than similar electric or battery models.
Electric Chain Saw
Electric chain saws are lower-maintenance than gas models and give you plug-and-go capability. But you need to be careful not to cut the cord or get it tangled in branches as you work.
Test Garden Tip: Electric models don't require you to mix gas and oil, but they are tethered to a cord and therefore an outlet. If you're a beginner, look for a lightweight model, as they're easier to control.
Battery-Powered Chain Saw
A battery-powered chain saw is the lightest and most portable model. Because they're smaller, they won't cut branches as large as gas- and electric-powered models will.
Test Garden Tip: Constant use will run down the battery life -- and you'll need to recharge the battery between uses. Try out chain saws for comfort before purchasing -- especially if you're a left-handed gardener, as most are built for right-handed folks.
Toss your rake aside and give your body a break with an electric leaf blower. Look for different types: Backpack-type models fit in a harness you wear on your back and are easier to use, especially if you're blowing a large area. Handheld models are more popular and convenient -- and are often lightweight.
Test Garden Tip: For added capability, look for models with vacuum and leaf shredder attachments -- that way you can get several tools in one!
A gas-powered blower is more powerful (but also heavier and louder) than an electric model. But it supplies greater mobility since you don't have the restriction of a cord.
Test Garden Tip: Think about what you'll use your blower for. If you need to move pinecones, wet leaves, or dense materials, you'll probably want the power of a gas-powered version. Also, handheld models are great for making a quick job of cleaning gutters.
For the toughest cutting jobs, power loppers are the way to go. With a 4.5-amp motor, this handy tool can take down limbs up to 4 inches in diameter.
Test Garden Tip: The power lopper is handy because it holds onto a branch during the cutting process, but it otherwise performs the same function as a chain saw -- so you might not need both types.
Make your own mulch or get homemade compost faster with a wood chipper or leaf shredder. If you're going to be dealing with only leaves and small twigs, a leaf shredder is probably your best bet. If you're cutting up branches, then select a wood chipper.
Test Garden Tip: The screen within a shredder determines the density and size of what you can shred, so models that allow easy screen changes offer more versatility. Some models come as dual shredders and vacuums, so you can forego the time and strain of raking.
Use an aerator to loosen compacted soil so your lawn's roots can thrive . If the area is large (more than 10,000 square feet), a power core-aerating machine is a worthy investment.
Test Garden Tip: For small lawns, renting an aerator might be more cost efficient.
The quintessential outdoor power tool has gone even more high-tech, with options such as cruise control and self-direction. Environmentally friendly reel mowers are also available and are becoming more popular.
Test Garden Tip: Mowers are available in walk-behind, riding, and self-directed models, and you can choose your power: gas, electric, or batteries.