All the Tools You Need to Start Gardening

Itching to get your hands in the dirt, or gift a beginner gardener? Start with these must-haves.

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August 12, 2021
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Photo by: Barebones


For every hands-on hobby or at-home task, success is simpler if you have the right tools. Gardening is no different. In fact, good gardening requires a certain set of go-to tools to get the job done and done right. Basic items like shovels, pruners and hoses come to mind, but there is more to it than making a list. Selecting the right shovel for the job, or the very best pruners or the most convenient hose makes a difference in the long run. As a professional gardener with 25 years of hands-in-the-dirt experience, I know what you need to succeed in your own front yard or vegetable plot. Here’s my list of must-have garden tools broken down into five key categories.

Personal Protection

Cloth gloves with nitrile palms are the closest thing to gardening barehanded, allowing you to perform even the most delicate tasks. The cloth breathes well while the nitrile coating protects fingers and palms. For tougher tasks choose goatskin gloves. They are supple yet strong.

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Waterproof boots like Wellies or Muck Boots are useful and popular, but any sturdy, medium-weight, ankle-high book will work. Some people garden in sandals or rubber clogs, which are fine for light chores.

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Straw or mesh hats with wide brims are best to keep sun off your face and neck while keeping your head cool. Hours in the sun add up while gardening, so sun block designed to stay on when you sweat is crucial to protect your skin.

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For most of us who are allergic to poison ivies, sumacs and oaks, the prospect of a painful, itchy rash makes washing up with this specialized soap after gardening a ritual of precaution.

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Developed as a moisturizer for the udders of milking cows, this is the stuff farmers swear by to keep the skin on their hands from cracking.

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Bed Prep and Planting


The pointed metal blade on a long handle is the perfect tool to break new ground. Wooden hickory handles are sturdy, but heavy, so find one with a fiberglass shaft if you will use it a lot.

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An eighteen-inch steel trowel with an elongated handle makes quick work when digging holes in compacted or prepared soil. Or skip the trowel and graduate to a soil knife, or Japanese hori hori. They cut into the ground with ease and make planting small plants a breeze.

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The eighteen-inch-wide business end with fourteen to sixteen stiff, curved tines is the perfect tool to effectively spread and level soil with a brisk back-and-forth action. Once again, a fiberglass handle is the smart choice.

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Plastic barrows are lighter and easier to maneuver than metal but strong enough to hold loads of mulch, soil and stone. A two-wheeled barrow is even easier to work with.

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Sold by the square or roll, I use burlap as a mat when kneeling on bare ground, to keep the lawn clean when digging or dumping soil, or to carry a plant, root ball and all, when transplanting.

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Pruning and Harvesting


Either holstered at your hip or tucked into a pocket, these are for those countless clips to shoots and roots, as well as opening bags, trimming string and cutting most everything. Invest in a top-quality pair that can be dismantled, cleaned and repaired. Felco hand pruners are hands down the best brand around.

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Great for smaller, softer stems, a good pair of sharp scissors is a must in the herb or flower garden. Once again, quality is key, so invest in an exceptional pair.

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This tool is for cutting branches larger than a pencil but no more than two inches in diameter. When used on limbs larger than that, the result is a jagged cut or damage to the tool. The longer the handle the bigger the branch the loppers can tackle.

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Used for efficiently cutting large swaths of thin or soft stems, shears are for hedging, cutting back large ornamental grasses or masses of perennials. The most important trait in shears is weight. Lighter is better so find a pair with aluminum handles.

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For cutting branches too big for loppers and up to six inches in diameter, depending on your strength and stamina. Razor teeth designed to cut on the push and pull get the job done fast. An eighteen-inch fixed blade in a scabbard is great, but small folding saws are handy for impromptu jobs.

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Feeding, Watering and Weeding

This long-handled, hinged hoe is the most useful kind you can buy. Its dual-edge blade can be pulled back and forth to strike down weeds or work fertilizer into the soil.

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This unique collapsible bushel basket is great for carrying smaller tools and accessories or can serve as a handy depository for weeds and clippings.

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The new expandable cloth hoses are the way to go. They are light and easy to handle, and when not in use they shrink for compact storage.

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This three-foot aluminum pipe with a shutoff valve on one end and a shower head on the other is the simplest way to hand water pots or garden beds from a hose. Find one with brass fittings and it will last a lifetime.

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Look for a one-gallon can with a long spout and a water breaker at the end. Metal is best, but a sturdy plastic can is fine too. Make sure there is a handle on top and on the back to make handling easy when the can is full.

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Lawn Care


Advances in battery technology makes electric lawn mowers a very real option for small suburban lawns. They can do everything a gas-powered mower can do, but without all the noise and pollution.

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Lightweight and easy to maneuver, cordless, battery-powered trimmers are the best choice for cleaning up those edges of the lawn along planting beds and paths. They pack the same punch as gas trimmers, but are infinitely quieter, less likely to breakdown and are easier to maintain.

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Oscillating or pulsating sprinklers that hook up to a hose can be positioned right where they’re needed for supplemental water during droughts or for lawn renovations with sod or seed.

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A fan with flexible tines made of metal or plastic, is the perfect tool to sweep debris or leaves from lawns.

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Made of durable nylon, an eight-foot square or larger tarp is a handy way to haul light materials like autumn leaves to the composting pile.

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