When I think of gardening I almost always think about the plants. I consider style and structures of a garden, but don’t usually spend lots of time thinking about tools.

 Yet this is one of the most important things to consider if you are serious about gardening.

A good tool makes the difference between a job well done and  a struggle, or even a botched job or injury.


Or if you are edging a border, what is the tool you reach for? Do you use a regular shovel, a straight-sided garden spade, or a halfmoon edger? I’ve used all of those at different times.

It depended on what was available to me, but through the years I have come to appreciate the right tool for the job. Which one do I choose for edging now? The halfmoon edger  for established garden borders or to define a walkway.

There are the tined edgers and the mechanical ones, but I have always been content using the old fashioned edgers and was satisfied. I’d rather spend my money on the plants or tools which are a great benefit when powered by energy: like hedge shears or leaf vacuums. But if you have physical limitation or lots of this task to accomplish, labor-saving tools are worth the investment.


When using pruners,which is the best choice?

Usually, the bypass shears will give a clean cut necessary for a good pruning job. The blade and bill of this kind have a scissor action. This type is for cutting through living plant tissue.

A pruning knife for grubbing out tree bud growth, or small shrub branches.

The anvil type is better for removing dead branches. It crushes the branch and not as likely to get jammed up.


If you have to dig into hard ground, move dirt, and need leverage, a round pointed shovel, preferably with sharp serrated edge is the one to grab.

If cultivating in border, edging a short space, lifting and dividing plants, an English spade with straight sides is a top choice. The shorter D handle makes the work easier and the tool simpler to haul around the garden. Best for removing sod, too.

Getting in tight spaces, transplanting, and getting to the root of things? I find a poachers spade, or as I called it, a transplanting spade, is one of the handiest shovels, and one hardly ever on a “must-have” list. but it should be. If you have a typical sized yard I would get this one instead of a square border spade.


My Garden Tool Wishlist

Even though I have had more than twenty years of accumulating tools, with a number of replacements, a few multiples (so I can have my helpers work with me), there are still some things on the list.

A self-propelled leaf vacuum. Hands-down, when buying a mower or a leaf vacuum, go for the self-propelled type every time.

I wish I had a mechanical hedge trimmer instead of manual hedge shears.

I do have a Mantis tiller, and wish we had bought this type in the first place. The big, unwieldy back tine tillers were hard work and they broke down more often than they should have. Are you going to hoe your garden by  hand ? Some discussion of the many different hoes available.   

Newbie Gardener?

Or if you are just starting out as a gardener, do you know what tools are most important to buy first? When are power tools the best choice? Use this page to guide your tool expertise.

Sharpen Your Tools

After awhile, most tools will need sharpening. My dad always had a grinding wheel and numerous files. As a kid I liked this job, but I got rustier than my tools and now I have to refresh on the technique and get all my tools in order. So I looked up some helpful tutorials on how to get my tools sharpened. Glad I inherited my dad’s tools!

Here is what we need to sharpen and maintain a tools edge, according to the Garden Association:

  • Wire brush
  • Fine steel wool
  • Medium-grit sandpaper
  • Safety glasses
  • Whetstone
  • Mill bastard file and/or whetstone
  • Light machine oil
  • Boiled linseed oil
  • Rags
  • Stiff-bristled brush

Martha Stewart had one of the simplest tutorials on taking care of a garden tool, here.    All these experts recommend cleaning and maintaining tools after every use, but let’s get real here. I don’t know about them, or even about you, but I sometimes work until I feel downright exhausted, and it takes about all I can muster just to haul my tools back to the porch and not leave them in the yard. And yes, sometimes I have left them in the yard. Don’t do that, by the way! But if you happen to  have dirt left on the tools, or the edges are dull and not cutting well… take the better late than never attitude and set aside some time to catch up with those tasks. The important thing is to keep them working for you.


I own a Mantis tiller. It seems to be all the power necessary for my large vegetable garden, but I am no longer needing to till up new ground with lots of grass.

We used large back tined tillers during the years we did that work, and I don’t know how the Mantis stands up to that kind of demand. For all my home gardening, this is the tool for the job. It is fairly lightweight, which makes a big difference moving it within the soil and when putting it away.




Many uses, a tool basic. Dig planting holes,trenches, turn earth, move plants.
garden fork


Forks for digging, dividing plants, turning compost, loosening soil.

Pruning Shears

I use pruning shears constantly. It pays to get good quality. Take off small branches, cut back roses and shrubs, deadhead.

Top Weeding Tools

I’ve used all types from old kitchen knives to dandelion weeders, to a hand adze and beyond. I love a good weeding tool, and often carry around several when I am seriously cleaning up the garden. Basically, I want a narrow sharp tool for in between pavers and bricks, something with a broader edge when there is a large space with many sprouting weeds, a trowel for prying up matured weeds. Sometimes I use a shovel or a hoe, especially if the plant is large or in the vegetable garden.  

cape cod weeder This is one of the most used implements in my weeding arsenal. It holds a sharp edge and cuts the roots, pries out stubborn plants, and gets between crevices.
Why so many types of weeders? Because the various roots and places they grow requires tools that will dispatch them as easily as possible. The claw is ideal for grass weeds and cultivating soil, which removes new sprouts.
  Chops through clods of earth, removes rooted weeds and makes quick work of a larger patch of weeds that got away from you. If I’m not using the Cape Cod, I’m probably using the Dutch hoe.
Some gardeners swear by this tool. It serves as a blade to cut roots, gets into crevices, pries out long roots. Tough, double edged, it can tackle most any garden job.
 A specialized tool that does its job well. Nothing is easier to use when delving deeply into the soil to remove tap rooted dandelions or thistles. You might think to skip this one, but think again.
A big improvement on the old kitchen knife, this strong blade is good for getting between tight spaces. I use it when weeding the flagstone walk, and the brick edging.

Tool Tips In My Newsletter