Essential Tools for Gardening

Convenient gardening gadgets are everywhere; take it from the experts and learn what basic tools you need to start with.

| July 2018

  • Sometimes the simplicity of fewer tools is more convenient than a large collection of gardening gadgets. Know your needs and preferences and use that as a guide along with some advice from seasoned gardeners.
    Photo by Pixabay/HOerwin56
  • “Gardening in the Humid South” by Edmund N. O’Rourke Jr. and Leon C. Standifer covers everything from the weeds to the blooms of gardening, and does so with plenty of humor along the way.
    Courtesy of Louisiana State University Press

Gardening in the Humid South (Louisiana State University Press, 2002) by Edmund N. O’Rourke Jr. and Leon C. Standifer shares the gardening wisdom of two “old crotchety professors” of horticulture. The pair taught many beginning to advanced gardeners at Louisiana State University on proper planting, pruning, and patience techniques for a successful garden. Although O’Rourke and Standifier’s humorful guide focuses on the southern, humid climate they know best, their tips of the trade can be appreciated by anyone eager to learn gardening. The following excerpt looks at the necessary tools of the trade.

Every visit to the garden center takes you past a wide array of new tools and gadgets that seem to be just what you need to make gardening easier. By now you should realize that we are old-fashioned; we think you need only a few tools to have a good garden. The first part of this chapter is a summary of our thoughts and those of our gardening friends as to what you really need. In compiling this we discovered that there is no real uniformity about what the various tools should be called. It seems likely that the tool manufacturers have their own set of terms. Well, they did not write this chapter, and we use terms that local gardeners know.

Beginning with Basics

The first laboratory session of a general horticulture course includes a lecture on caring for tools. It is usually a simple demonstration on using the right tool for the job, washing it when you finish, oiling it, and sharpening dull edges. We discuss more than that here because these are your tools and they should have been expensive. “Should have been expensive” is a good place to start. Always buy the best quality, and buy only tools that you really need. That is sound advice that we all tend to forget. “That’s an interesting tool and it’s on sale.” You take it home and discover why it was on sale; it breaks easily, does not do the job, or you do not really need it. With expensive equipment, such as a power tiller, consider how often you will use it and the storage space it will occupy. You will probably decide to rent rather than buy. An even better idea is to borrow one from your neighbor.

With basic tools such as shovels, hoes, and rakes, you should look for quality. Soft metal will need frequent sharpening, and spot-welded tools often break. Before making a shopping trip decide what you really need, then look at several stores, comparing quality and price. “But a shovel is a shovel, why pay more?” There are many kinds of shovels, and some of the better ones may be too heavy or inconvenient for your use. Often the best advice is that if it feels right for you, buy it; but look for quality. We will give some other suggestions when discussing specific tools.



First, some thoughts on maintenance. Develop the habit of cleaning the tool before putting it away. You may be tired, running late, and have a hoe that is caked with mud. Take the time to clean it off, partly for appearance but largely because mud will rust the sharp edge and make hoeing more difficult the next time. Many good gardeners dry the tool after washing and wipe it with an oily rag. Some have a bucket of oily sand to dip it in a few times, which is a messy procedure but it protects the metal. At the very least, you should wash your tools before putting them away.

Keep all tools sharp, because a dull tool makes the work twice as hard. Each of your tools — hoe, shovel, or lawn mower blade — has a cutting edge bevel. The angle of this bevel differs with the tool, and when sharpening you should usually keep that original bevel. Making the angle smaller will result in a sharper tool but the edge is more likely to be nicked. A shovel will come with a wider angle than that of pruning shears, but the shears are for cutting wood and are not likely to be nicked on a stone or bit of metal.






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