Garden Hand Tools
Choosing and using tough, reliable tools that will take a beating in your yard.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
CAPE COD WEEDER
(also known as a Yankee weeder or crack weeder)
For: Scraping weeds out of cracks between paving stones
Shown: Cape Cod weeder, from Rittenhouse, about $25.
(also known as a grubber or
For: Levering out thick roots
or tenacious weeds.
Shown: Daisy grubber, from
Rittenhouse, about $11.
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