Master Gardeners of Grays Harbor and Pacific Counties, Washington

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Basic Gardening Tools

hand cultivator

There are many different types of gardening tools available, both hand and power operated. You don't have to buy the most expensive tools available when starting to garden; if you find later that you either don't need a specific tool, or don't care for gardening as an activity, you will not have lost a large investment. Later you can upgrade to the better quality tools, if desired.

Handles:

  • Long-handled tools usually offer greater leverage and reach, and often allow working from a standing position. The handle may be either straight or have a D-shaped hand grip on the end. With some tools, such as long-handled pruners, handle extensions may be available.

    long-handled tools

  • Short-handled tools are lighter in weight, usually less expensive, more compact to store than the long-handled varieties, and allow one to work efficiently in confined spaces or while kneeling. Common short-handled tools include hand pruners and clippers, hoes, garden trowels, and cultivators.

    short-handled tools

  • Handles are commonly constructed of wood (requires some additional maintenance to keep splinter-free), fiberglass or plastic (check for cracks), and sometimes metal (check for corrosion and cracks).

  • If a handle or any other part of the tool is damaged or loose, it should be repaired or replaced immediately. Pay particular attention to where the handle fits into the tool for looseness or damage.

Hand Tools:

In no particular order, some of the more common hand gardening tools are listed below (the same tool may have several different common names). This is only a basic list, for there are many styles and variations of these and other tools available to the home gardener.

  • Spading Fork. These have heavy, flat tines and often a D-shaped handle. They are used to open up the ground, dig bulbs, incorporate soil amendments, and turn compost.

    spading fork

  • Hoe. A hoe is used for weeding and scraping the surface of the soil. Garden hoes include the traditional flat scraping/chopping types, along with the newer loop, scuffle or stirrup styles.

    hoes

  • Pitchfork/Manure Fork. Pitchforks and manure forks have long, thin tines which are not as heavy as those on a spading fork. They are used for picking up and moving loose materials.

    pitchforks

  • Round-nosed Shovel. Used for heavy digging and mixing, such as when incorporating soil amendments or preparing planting holes.

    round-nose shovels

  • Square-nosed Shovel. The flat blade allows it to be used to scoop up materials, level high spots in the soil, and cut straight lines through sod and soil.

    square-nose shovels

  • Bow or Garden Rake. This is a heavy rake with short, stiff tines supported by a flat or bow-shaped metal frame. It is used for raking heavy materials, removing rocks and other debris from the soil, and smoothing the soil in preparation for planting.

    garden and bow rakes

  • Leaf Rake. A light rake with long, thin, flexible tines designed to gather leaves or other light materials.

    leaf rakes

  • Garden Hose. Used to provide supplemental water to your plants, clean items, and sometimes to assist in applying fertilizers or pesticides. Follow this link for more information on garden hoses.

    garden hose

  • Cultivator. A tool with heavy curved or bent tines, or sometimes multiple spinning blades, designed to open up and aerate the soil. The cultivator styles with tines are also used to mix materials and to effectively loosen weed roots.

    hand cultivators

  • Hand Pruner. Used for removing flowers, light-weight foliage, and small branches. They may have either anvil or bypass blades.

    hand pruners

  • Long-handled Pruner/Lopper. These are long-handled versions of hand pruners, and provide greater reach and leverage, allowing for larger items to be cut. They may have either anvil or bypass blades, and some of the heavy-duty versions have ratchet mechanisms for additional power.

    long-handled pruners

  • Pruning Saw. These are hand saws designed for efficient garden pruning. They may be either a single blade with a handle, or utilize a metal or wood frame. Pruning saws may also be mounted on long handles which allows higher branches to be cut from the ground (these styles often have a rope-controlled lopper in addition to the saw).

    pruning saws

  • Garden Knife. Useful for cutting twine and plant ties, opening bags, plant propagation, opening up plant root balls, and general garden use. The safest styles have a sturdy fixed blade (often with serrations) which will not collapse on your fingers during use.

    gardening knives

  • Axe/Hatchet. Axes and hatchets are used to do rough chopping. Some axes have a double blade, others a flat end on the head which is used to carefully drive wooden stakes (not metal, which might make the tempered axe head chip), while others have a flat, transverse grubbing blade on the head for the removal of roots (these are called a Pulaski, garden or grubbing axe). Hatchets are smaller, short-handled versions of axes.

    axes

  • Clipper/Shears. These are used to remove a layer of vegetation from the surface of a planting, hedge, or turf grass. Grass clippers trim turf grass, and hedge shears are used to shape hedges and shrubs.

    clippers and shears

  • Wheelbarrow/Garden Cart. These are not only used to move heavy and/or bulky materials such as soil, garden debris, compost and plants, but also as portable mixing containers for materials such as soil amendments and even concrete.

    garden carts

  • Mattock/Pickaxe. The mattock is a heavy, flat-bladed tool designed to dig or grub in the soil. The pickaxe, with its sharp points, is used to break up heavy or rocky soils. Often a combination tool is found, which has a mattock on one end of the tool head, and a pickaxe on the other end.

    mattocks and pickaxes

Power Tools:

When using power tools read and follow all use and safety instructions, keep them in good working condition, and remember that hot surfaces, spinning blades, excessive noise, and thrown material may cause serious injury to the operator and those nearby. Use eye and ear protection, and be sure to keep children, other persons, and pets away from these tools when in use. With electric tools be careful not to damage the cord or get things wet, and always use and store gasoline and other liquid fuels in a safe location and manner.

  • Lawn Mower. These are used to cut turf grass. Walk-behind mowers may be powered by gasoline or electricity; some power mowers may be either self-propelled or riding mowers. Power mowers often can be configured to mulch or "grasscycle" clippings (returning the clippings to the lawn). Large wheel, heavy-duty versions are available for cutting weeds.

    power mowers

  • Tiller/Cultivator. These are used to break up large areas of compacted soil and to quickly incorporate soil amendments. They may also be used to loosen the soil prior to grading.

    power tillers/cultivators

  • Lawn Edger. These are used to trim the edge of a lawn or bed.

    lawn edgers

  • String Trimmer. These devices use a heavy string (usually plastic) on a revolving head to trim grass and light plant material.

    string trimmers

  • Leaf Blower. Gasoline or electric, these use forced air to push light material.

    leaf blowers

  • Electric Clipper/Trimmer/Shears. These are often used to trim turf grass, hedges and shrubs. They may use a cord or battery.

    electric clippers

General Suggestions:

Here are some general suggestions to consider when purchasing and using garden tools:

  • Use the correct tool for the job. Using the wrong tool for a task is not only inefficient, but may damage the tool and endanger the user. For example, most shovels are designed for digging, but if you use one for prying it may fail, causing an injury.

  • Try to select tools that not only fit the task, but also feel good in your hands. You may be using these tools for a long time, and a tool that feels good will make your gardening experience more enjoyable.

  • Tools should be kept clean. Dirty tools are harder to hold and use, are less safe, may deteriorate faster, make it more difficult to see any tool damage, bring dirt into your tool storage area, and may transmit diseases and pests to other parts of your garden. Often a quick wipe down or rinse with a garden hose will remove most of the grime. Remember to disinfect your tools after working with diseased plants or soils (see below).

  • Edged tools should be kept sharp. Sharp tools require less effort to use, making them both safer and more efficient. However, don't make your tools razor-sharp, for too fine of an edge will chip or dull quickly under heavy use. Edged tools include axes, hoes, shears, saws, mowers, garden knives, and shovels (shovels "cut" into the soil).

  • Protect your tools. Rain, sun, chemicals, impacts and excessive temperatures can damage your tools. Keep them in a protected location and maintain them properly.

  • Keep your garden tools away from children and pets. Many garden tools are sharp, pointed and/or heavy, and children may hurt themselves if they handle these tools without supervision. Pets may also be harmed by sharp tools, and may chew on hoses and handles.

  • Be aware of your surroundings when using tools. Remember that others may be working nearby or walk up unexpectantly, there may be overhead wires or other obstructions, and there may also be underground utilities or other items buried in the ground.

  • When you set your tools down, do so in a place and manner that will prevent accidental injury or damage.

  • Purchase and use appropriate personal protective equipment, such as gloves, sun protection, eye and ear protection, work shoes, knee pads, and back braces for use in heavy lifting. Avoid loose-fitting clothing and dangling hair when working around power tools.

  • Disinfect tools and equipment after working with diseased plants. Diseases may be transmitted to uninfected plants via contaminated garden tools and equipment. Disinfect your tools by first washing them with soap and water, then wiping them down with either rubbing alcohol or a freshly-mixed 10% bleach solution in water.

Resources:

There are literally thousands of commercial web sites that discuss and sell gardening tools. In an attempt to reduce any bias towards one company or product, the gardening tool resouces listed below are all from university or research websites.

Garden Tools of the Trade. University of Vermont Extension.

Gifts of Special Garden Tools. Colorado State University Cooperative Extension. Discusses gardening tools for those with physical impairments.

Adapting Garden Tools to Overcome Physical Challenges. Oregon State University.

Winterizing Garden Tools. University of Illinois Extension.

Recycle “Useless” Items into “New” Garden Tools. University of California Cooperative Extension. A fun article that describes innovative ways that recycled items can be used in your garden.

Fall Cleaning Includes Garden Tools. Iowa State University Extension.

Choosing Garden Tools. University of Nebraska.

Root Out Lawn and Garden Tool Hazards. Underwriters Laboratories. Experts offer tips to prevent accidents with power equipment.

Take Care of Your Gardening Tools. University of Florida.

Virginia Cooperative Extension: