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Gardening hand tools come in a wide range of shapes, sizes and uses which reflects how varied gardening is. In order to decide what gardening tools are best for you can be tricky at first. The key is to decide what kind of gardener you are, how big your plot is and what you will be growing. The biggest determining factor is the size of your plot. If you only grow in pots such as a city or balcony gardener a basic hand tools will be effective.
If you have a larger garden and growing in soil your hand tool collection will be much more substantial. Activities such as digging, pruning, clearing and tidying require their own specialised gardening hand tools.
These staple activities will also be accompanied by more specialised gardening activities within your preference. For example if you develop an interest in propagating new plants you will need propagators and hand trowels. Fruit growers will need good quality pruning and cutting tools.
Generally though all gardeners including the most regular weekend gardeners will all need a good selection. Hence we have put together our step by step guide of garden hand tools describing each ones uses. This will enable you to browse through and decide what ones you need.
Digging and working the soil is one of the most labour intensive gardening activities. Although hard work, digging and working the soil is a fundamental part of gardening.
Digging allows you to add beneficial particles to the ground including organic matter and sand or grit for drainage. Turning the soil also adds air which assists reaching a friable texture where plants roots can spread with ease. Turning the soil, conditioning, weeding and planting are some digging activities which need specific garden hand tools
Probably one of the most common garden hand tools the spade is a typical digging tool. Spades consist of a long handle with a flat metal digging plate at the end.
It has foot rests either side of the blade which allow you to excerpt downward force to penetrate the ground. Once the blade is submerged using the mechanical force of leverage soil can separated from the surrounding ground.
It is typical for soil to be dug out in clods and turned over or carted away. Some primary uses of this garden hand tool are planting shrubs, digging out old shrubs and double digging. The spade being a primary digging tool can be used for all sorts of gardening and landscaping projects.
Very similar to spades shovels also consist of long handles and a flat blade. Shovels are forged at a slight angle with a larger, slightly cupped blade. This allows for more scooping type work for example clearing out loose earth or aggregate materials. Generally shovels are used for manual loading materials such as sand and clearing up garden waste.
Post hole diggers
These rather odd looking garden hand tools are an essential gadget especially for landscape gardeners. They are made up of two spade like tools hinged near the blades. This allows for them to be rammed into the ground with a great downward force.
The handles can be then be pushed together to collect loose soil. This motion is perfect for digging long, narrow holes perfect for planting and erecting fence posts. Even though these garden hand tools are meant to dig they are not good at loosening tough ground.
For deeper holes it is common to loosen tough ground with a spade or iron bar. It is a good idea to wear steel toe cap boots when using this tool to avoid accidental impacts to feet.
Forks are a garden hand tool that is common to many gardeners’ sheds and garages across the land. These are called into action when the ground is exceptionally dry and compacted.
The four pronged spikes allow you to push down a lot of force on a very small surface area. This makes it easy to push down deeply and dig over the soil. Digging over the soil with a fork leaves the ground rough and open to the elements. This is the first step to working the soil into better condition.
Pitch forks are similar to garden forks but used for lighter, usually loose green material. These garden hand tools have longer handles and spikes that conventional forks. This makes them perfect for shifting green materials such as garden waste, manure, bark mulch, hay and hedge clippings. Pitch forks are also very effective for turning compost.
Grafts consist of a long iron bar with a robust small spade at the end. These are very effective at breaking apart compacted ground chopping out large roots. This garden hand tool is commonly used for fencing work and deep excavations. Its length and sturdy rigidity means it can very useful for heavy jobs requiring leverage
A mutt is effectively a huge metal scrapping and chopping tool with a long sturdy handle. Many speculate that this garden hand tool does not have a specific purpose. It is nonetheless extremely useful for a whole variety of different uses. In the garden it is great for chopping out roots, edging and trenching the ground.
Mattocks are often mistaken for pick axes but they are in fact quite different. Mattocks are shorter and more compact with an axe head on one side and a wide copping head on the other. These are great for working with hard ground full of roots and rocks. The chopping head can cut out large portions of soil while the axe can chop and be used as a leaver. This is a great garden hand tool for demolition and groundwork’s.
Pick axes utilise the swinging motion of the user to generate enough force to penetrate difficult ground. They are similar in form to mattocks but have longer, thinner heads. Pick axes are used for harder ground where there are obstacles such as loose aggregate and concrete in the ground. Pick axes are used to firstly penetrate the ground and then using leverage pull up and loosen the substrate.
One of the most fundamental parts of gardening is planting the plants you love. Whether it’s germinating new seedlings and potting them on or planting larger shrubs.
Planting successfully is a skill all of its own, once you have dug the hole you need to plant and consolidate the soil but not compact. Then the plant must be watered in to settle the soil around the roots. In the northern hemisphere the planting season is from November to March.
The reason for this is plants are dormant at this time of the calendar with re-planting causing less stress. There are a few staple garden hand tools you will need for planting we have listed below.
Hand trowels are an essential part of the gardener’s tool kit. They allow you to get close to the soil and plant your plants with ease. They do come in a wide range of sizes and quality but all do the same job. Some hand trowels have a longer, narrower blade which is ideal for weeding and sowing seeds.
Hand augers give you a little more power when digging out ground for planting. Augers are effectively a large drill bit which you can rotate into the ground to bore out a planting pocket. As well as hand augers you can also buy power drill auger attachments for quick and easy excavations.
These very useful garden hand tools can take the top layer of ground away where bulbs are going to be planted. This is particularly useful on garden lawns where sections of lawn can be neatly replaced afterwards. Bulbs are usually planted at two and a half times the depth of the bulb. Bulb planters regularly have measurement makers on one side to aid accurate planting depths.
There is no doubt that most gardening jobs are recurring as trees and shrubs they never stop growing. Add to this the seasonal surges of growth and death and there is always a need for garden clearance. Whether its autumn or spring gardeners will always require garden hand tools to clear up waste material. From hedge cuttings to clearing dead growth these are some of the gardeners’ essentials.
Garden rakes all come in a variety of styles and shapes however they all do the same thing. The long handle, widely fanned head and long prongs allow a gardener to gather waste material up with ease. Rakes are especially effective on rough ground such as grass on collecting autumn leaves and general clippings.
Brooms are very recognisable garden hand tools and certainly one of the most common. For gardens it is best to choose a robust broom with thick bristles. These landscaping brooms are much more robust and effective at clearing large garden debris.
Grabbers come in many forms and materials but are very effective at clearing up garden waste. This is particularly true of autumn leaves which can amount to significant piles at the end of the season. These garden hand tools can be used as extensions of the hands to collect rubbish at an amazing rate.
Extremely relevant to follow on from grabbers are large garden bags. Not really thought of as a garden hand tool but nonetheless an essential part of the gardeners tool kit. These robust bags can hold large volumes of waste for easy transportation. The robust woven material means there is no chance of tearing and puncturing.
Weeding is a job gardeners just cannot escape from at the best of times, the truth is it comes with the territory. Weeds come in two main forms, woody perennials and annuals.
The annual weeds are usually blown in on the wind and can become a persistent nuisance all summer long. The only way to deal with these is very high frequency weeding or doing little often. Perennial weeds can also be a nuisance but are better at spreading slowly.
These are exceptionally difficult to get rid with deep roots and a persistent nature. There is one thing that is for sure, weeds are here to stay! With the correct garden tools however weeding can become much, much easier.
Weed pullers work on the concept of sinking prongs deep around deep rooted weeds in order to pull them out. Commonly it is three prongs which grip around the roots and using leverage pulling them out.
This is a very effective way of getting stubborn deep weeds like dandelions. Pullers are very good for ridding lawns and flower beds but not the best at accessing hard to reach places.
When many new gardeners look at garden hoes they often wonder what in the world they could be used for. Hoes basically consist of a long pole with a small cutting blade at the end. They are in fact one of the best ways of weeding your garden ever invented.
This garden hand tool is best utilised for the high frequency method of gardening. By using a back and forth motion the blade cuts roots off an inch or two under the ground. This leads to weeds simply shrivelling up and dying.
It has to be noted this should be done in warm dry weather as rain can mean weeds re-growing. The concept is if you only disturb the top inch of soil it stops submerged weed seeds coming to the surface to germinate.
Weed burners are basically a gas bottle with a blow torch attachment to literally burn your weeds away. This is not one of the typical garden hand tools but does make weeding much easier.
These are especially effective on annual weeds and those which invade patios and pathways. The disadvantage with these is after a while the bottles empty and loses pressure.
This can mean continuously buying expensive replacement canisters. These weed burners do not always perennial weeds to the roots.
Thermal weeding devices are electrical garden hand tools which blast weeds with an intense wave of heat. This toasts the weeds to the core making them shrivel and die within a couple of hours.
These can become hot after a about 10 minutes of usage and you are advised not to use it for extended periods of time. What is good about them is the intense heat can penetrate the soil killing more of the root and consequently the whole weed.
Pruning tools are a necessity for gardens of all sizes. Unless you are only growing herbaceous annual planting then you are sure to have to prune at some point.
The activity of pruning can range from cutting away perennial plants all the way to cutting established trees. Typical pruning however usually involves annual trimming such as pruning roses and fruit bushes.
Some plants respond to pruning very well even on relying on pruning to encourage extra flowering and fruiting. Below we have put together the essential garden hand tools to prune successfully.
Pruning knives are a very useful tool for quick and intricate cutting around the garden. Usually pruning knives are only used by serious gardeners as they are not essential for most pruning.
Knives have traditionally been used for grafting and taking clones both of which are horticultural delicacies. Pruning knifes however can be used for other jobs such as dead heading and cutting twine.
Pruning saws are a hand held saw which folds like a large pen knife or comes with a protective sheath. These garden hand tools are very effective in cutting tree branches up to 4 inches think.
Perfect for fruit trees, pruning saws are effective for intricate cutting where it is too cramped and awkward for chain saws. Typically used by professional tree surgeons pruning saws are good to have in the tool kit.
Bow saws are a more familiar garden hand tool and used for large, green trees and large shrubs. These consist of an adjustable metal bow frame with a long blade in the centre. The advantage with bow saws is the blade can be replaced when it becomes blunt. This is probably not a hand tool you will use every day but always useful to have to hand.
Secateurs are a effectively a pair of robust gardening scissors which can be used with one hand to prune thick stems. Secateurs are adequate for cutting stems up to 1.5 cm making them perfect for pruning roses and medium sized shrubs. These garden hand tools do not change much in design across the board but will vary in quality greatly. They are notoriously sharp and should be sharpened regularly.
When it comes to garden hand tools, traditional garden shears operations have generally been replaced by mechanical means. There are still some major advantages of owning garden shears over petrol and electric hedge trimmers.
Hand shears have long blades which can handle softer foliage at the top to thicker stems at the bottom. Garden shears are easy to sharpen with good quality ones lasting a life time. Mechanical trimmer blades are more difficult to sharper and can fracture if they hit harder objects in a hedge.
Mechanical blades often become slightly forced apart over time leading to poor cutting of thinner foliage.
Loppers are hand held garden tools which are ideal for cutting thick stems and branches from 1cm up 4cm. larger branches can be cut depending on the density of the cutting species. Loppers have long and sometimes telescopic handles for long reach pruning. Their secateur like cutting blades mean they are perfect for fruit trees.
Long handled pruners
Long handled pruners consist of a very long handle shaft with a pruning saw on the end. Some varieties also have secatuer blades under the saw engaged by a pull cord.
This pruner is perfect to cut up in high and awkward foliage where a ladder will not go. These garden hand tools can also be of good use to disabled and elderly gardeners. They come in a wide range of lengths and styles.
The perfect lawn is an ambition of many a gardener but it is not always easy to turn existing grass into a masterpiece. Successful lawn care is actually a monstrous topic with so many considerations and systems to implement the perfect lawn.
As with most gardening pursuits the best results will be achieved over time. Typically a series of garden hand tools and lawn care gadgets is needed to reach the perfect lawn. We have listed the best tools for lawns below.
An edging spade has the basic construction of a spade but with a half moon shaped blade at the end. This allows for a gentle rocking motion which can easily slice into turf. The blade is thin and sharp allowing you to edge the law with ease.
Edging shears operate exactly the same as other garden shears but with a right angled sideways motion. Lawn edging shears allow you to cut the grass crisply to the turfs edge. This makes for a very neat lawn which prevents grass from spreading into flower beds. These garden hand tools are essential as there is no mechanical method of cutting lawn edges.
Lawns regularly become over compacted and devoid of nutrients. The only way to improve a lawns structure by adding oxygen, drainage and fertility is by aerating. One of the best garden hand tools for this job is a lawn core aerator.
Using your feet by sinking the spikes into the lawn you can pull out cylindrical sections of soil. This leaves you with many small holes inside the lawn. These are then filled with sand and compost to add drainage and alleviate compaction.
Hand tool sets
When it comes to gardening tools there are some very effective and compact garden hand tool sets. These contain most of the small gardening essentials such as hand folks and trowels. We have displayed this example on Amazon below.
Health and safety
When using any garden hand tools it is important to follow health and safety procedures. We have linked to a good video on garden safety here.
Garden hand tool maintenance
Good quality garden tools will last for many years if you take care of them properly. This is best done when the gardening season comes to a close in late autumn. We have linked to an informative video on garden hand tool maintenance here. If you want to read a good article on garden tools for beginners there is a link here. Alternatively see our article on gardening tools for beginners here. Happy gardening!
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Paul Nicolaides is a Landscape architect and garden builder with over 30 years experience in designing, building and maintaining gardens. Contemplating just how important garden space is for nature and recreation he created 'Cool Garden Gadgets' to explore the best gadgets for enhancing outside spaces. From outdoor dining ideas to the latest garden technology we break it down for you here.