clock menu more-arrow no yes

Garden Hand Tools

Photo by Laura Johansen

A beautiful garden rarely grows by itself. You have to get in the dirt and churn the soil, bed the plants, and pull pesky weeds. For that, you need some basic tools: a cultivator to turn the earth, trowels for digging and planting, and a weeder for attacking invaders.

"You have to get well-made hand tools because they really take a beating," says Roger Cook, This Old House landscape contractor. Look for tough handles and thick metal blades, and make sure the blade-handle connection is strong, because that's where tools usually bend and break. "If the handle wiggles in the store, don't buy it," Roger advises. Brightly colored tools also help because they're harder to lose.

Once you've got the basics, add extras to suit your situation. If you have a rock garden, consider a narrow trowel for tight spaces. Heavy clay soil can be easier to plant with a dibber to punch seed holes. Roger's must-have extra is a pocket multitool that has a knife, screwdriver, and pliers to help him maintain his garden tools while he's working.

The gardener's basic kit should include, from left, a cultivator, a dibber, and a trowel. The ones shown here are from a set of six hand tools from Restoration Hardware, approx. $49. Restorationhardware.com

Preparing the Soil

Photo by Laura Johansen

HAND HOE

For: Breaking up soil; making trenches; slicing out weeds from between plants. Comes in several shapes, including heart and circle.

Shown: Generic hand hoe, approx. $3.

Preparing the Soil

Photo by Laura Johansen

CULTIVATOR

For: Breaking up and mixing soil before planting; weeding between plants.

Shown: Cultivator, from Oxo Good Grips, approx. $9.Oxo.com

Digging and Planting

Photo by Laura Johansen

TROWEL

For: Digging to break up soil or make planting holes.

Shown: Lifetime Trowel, from Gardener's Supply, $15. Gardeners.com

Digging and Planting

Photo by Laura Johansen

TRANSPLANTING TROWEL

For: Scooping plants from pots, flats, and cold-frames for transplanting; digging in tight spaces in rock gardens (but not for prying rocks).

Shown: Softouch transplant trowel, from Fiskars, approx. $6.Fiskars.com

Digging and Planting

Photo by Laura Johansen

WIDGER

For: Prying out small seedlings for transplanting; sliding seeds down blade groove into a hole.

Shown: English widger, from Rittenhouse, about $11. Rittenhouse.ca

Digging and Planting

Photo by Laura Johansen

BULB PLANTER

For: Lifting out a perfectly sized plug of soil from prepared beds to plant bulbs.

Shown: Heirloom bulb planter, from Smith & Hawken, approx. $19. Smithhawken.com

Digging and Planting

Photo by Laura Johansen

DIBBER

For: Poking holes in prepared soil to plant seeds (a finger or broken tool handle could do

in a pinch).

Shown: Heirloom dibber, from Smith & Hawken, approx. $12.

Weeding and Cleaning

Photo by Laura Johansen

HAND RAKE

For: Cleaning between plants without damaging them. Some hand rakes have an adjustable harp to change the width

of the head.

Shown: Gardena hand rake, from Smith & Hawken, approx. $15.

Weeding and Cleaning

Photo by Laura Johansen

CAPE COD WEEDER

(also known as a Yankee weeder or crack weeder)

For: Scraping weeds out of cracks between paving stones

or rocks.

Shown: Cape Cod weeder, from Rittenhouse, about $25.

Weeding and Cleaning

Photo by Laura Johansen

TAPROOT WEEDER

(also known as a grubber or

dandelion weeder)

For: Levering out thick roots

or tenacious weeds.

Shown: Daisy grubber, from

Rittenhouse, about $11.

Weeding and Cleaning

Photo by Laura Johansen

FISHTAIL WEEDER

For: Levering small weeds out of the ground by the root.

Shown: Groundbreakers weeder, from V & B Manufacturing, approx. $2.50. Vbmfg.com

Gardener's Protection

Photo by Laura Johansen

If you're going to garden with hand tools, get yourself something to protect your hands and knees: gloves supple enough to let you manipulate tools, and knee pads or a cushioned mat to give your joints some relief from the hard soil.

Shown: Womanswork Original Glove, $25; UltraLight knee pads (about $8) and kneeling cushion (about $4), both from Fiskars. Womanswork.com