Gardening tools can make the difference between enjoyable puttering and back-breaking work. Yet, choosing between the plethora of garden products available might seem overwhelming. What do you really need to get the job done?
My garden gadget collection looks more like a hoarding stash. I’m in the process of winnowing it down to must-haves. Whether you’re a longtime gardener or a newbie, these are tools you won’t want to be without.
The first must-have is a bypass pruner that has two curved blades that move past each other like scissors. Used for trimming, shaping and pruning of firm stems. Quality pruners are invaluable. Find one that fits your hand — there are even left-hand and right-hand options available. With chronic tendonitis in both my arms, an easy-to-handle pruner that fits my hand makes a big difference. My favorite brands include Felco, Fiskars and Corona.
Primarily used for deadheading, compact shears, or micro-pruning snips, are narrow, sharp-tipped and available in straight or slightly curved blades. These are perfect for delicate trimming of soft, green stems. Unlike bypass pruners, they won’t work on thick or woody stems and branches. My Dramm and Fiskars snips have seen many years of precision work in my garden.
Loppers are basically stronger pruners with long handles. Typically used on branches an inch or more in diameter, loppers provide the leverage you need to cut thicker branches, and they allow you to reach farther away. Mine are made by Corona Tools and get their biggest workout when I am doing spring pruning.
If your garden includes roses or other thorny perennials and shrubs, I highly recommend investing in cut-and-hold rose pruners. Typically 2 feet long, these pruners allow you to reach in and prune thorny or dense plants while the pruner holds the stem until you release it into a bag or bucket. Essentially, they function like a scissor and tong combo so you don’t have to grasp the thorny stem. They can also be used for fruit picking. I’ve been thrilled with the performance of mine, made by ARS, available at A.M. Leonard.
I don’t set foot into the garden without my soil knife, or Hori knife. Great for cutting, digging in small spaces and trenching, the sharp point and serrated edge make penetrating clay soil much easier. It’s great for digging small holes. It can cut through weed barrier and remove small agave pups and little roots that might be in your way. There are many different brands — mine is from A.M. Leonard.
You can’t just pull weeds. Not in our Central Texas soil. (Although recent rains have made it easier, if only temporarily.) The clay and limestone we live with get a death grip on weed roots, and all your work will be for naught if you don’t take the time to loosen and pry up the root. My favorite weeder is CobraHead. Because of the way it’s made, the angle at which you use it is so much more comfortable for hands and arms. Instead of holding a straight weeder with your thumb on top, pressing down and trying to pry upward, you can use the real power of your arms to smack it down into the soil to pry weeds loose.
You might think a trowel is a trowel. Not so. When I first got my Fiskars big grip transplanter, I thought it was heavy-duty and didn’t know if I would need that large a trowel. Now, I can’t be without it. Like the soil knife, its beveled, sharp, pointed end is perfect for slicing into unforgiving soil. And it’s big — it holds a lot of soil for a trowel and works well for digging a hole too large for the soil knife.
Gardening is messy. You’ve got to have a broom and a blower. I used to have three blowers. I started with the standard electric model, but the cord was always too short or in the way. Then, I bought the lightest-weight gas blower I could get. That was a mistake. Always messing with the pull cord and the primer and the fuel mix … ugh. The third one is just right. It has a little less power than the others, and the battery lasts long enough to clear off my front porch, sidewalk and really long driveway on one charge. It’s lightweight and easy to handle. My blower is from Earthwise, and it comes with a rechargeable battery. When the battery isn’t able to hold the charge for as long as it did when you got it, just take it to Batteries + for reconditioning and it will be good as new.
I also recommend using nitrile gloves. Unlike traditional cloth or even leather gloves, these are form-fitting, and the rubbery fingers provide a good grip, making weeding and doing detail work much easier.
No one should garden in Texas (or anywhere) without a good hat. The threat of skin cancer is real, and while I loathe getting hat head, I’ve found beautiful hats effective at protecting against the sun. Tula Hats are known for their SPF 50, sustainable fiber natural hats. Located here in Austin, they’re sold across the U.S. and Canada in many garden shops, clothing stores and even at H-E-B.
When I discover fabulous tools, I give them as gifts to my gardening family and friends. You will find the soil knife, pruners and blower at my parents’ house. Other tools have even found their way into friends’ Christmas stockings!