Key Garden Tools – Part One

Indispensable Garden Tools

What makes a garden tool indispensable? 

The essential garden tools The essential garden tools

The right garden tool should feel comfortable in your hands, be  well balanced, have a good grip, and have a smooth, well finished handle.   A good gardening tool should just feel “right”.  If a tool feels clumsy, unbalanced, or heavy initially-it will feel even more awkward when using it for many hours in the garden. It is important to select a tool that fits your height, weight, and strength. Quality, indispensable tools are the ones that hold a sharp edge and don’t get lent to just any gardening friends.  These tools are the ones that feel like they are doing the work all by themselves.  They definitely make the job much easier.  Non-gardeners have a hard time understanding the strength of the bond that forms between a gardener and their well-used, trusty set of tools.

Spades and shovels come in many shapes and sizes.  Choosing one will depend on the intended task.  The border spade is a compact digging tool with a waist-high “D” handle and a  flat, straight mouth.  It is great for digging and dividing perennials.  In a pinch, it can also be used as a sod lifter for removing small sections of turf.  Compared to the garden spade, the border spade has a shorter handle, and narrower, and flatter blade. Garden spades are often larger versions of border spades.  A shovel is great for moving mulch, gravel, digging holes, or for prying out rocks.  The bottom can be flat (for mulch or gravel) or round (for digging holes).  The handles for shovels are either a “T “or a “D”.  Most shovels have “D” handles and this type is favoured as it is less likely that your hand will slip out of it. The “T” handle though, will allow for greater downward force to be applied. These tools need a good quality steel blade and a handle that will not break, even when considerable pressure for leverage is used. The shaft should be strong yet lightweight (most are made of ash or hickory) that won’t break when you lean on it. Check the grain and finish of the shaft.  It should have an even grain and a smooth finish that glides easily in your hand.  The best spades or shovels have a stainless steel blade, steel shaft and plastic handle, all or which will not rust or break.

Cultivators are a necessary tool for gardens that contain mulch free beds of annuals.  The biggest difference between cultivators is the size of the tines.  Most cultivators have 3 tines while occasionally one with 4 tines might be found.  Consider the width between plants before buying a cultivator. It should fit easily between two rows of plants without getting close enough to damage (or uproot) them. Some cutivators have removable tines for situations where you might need a narrower tool. 

Hard rakes are tools that seem to come in low – and medium-quality lines.  The nature of their design makes them prone to “loosing their head”.  When selecting a hard rake, look for a secure way to fasten on the head to the handle.  The frame should also have quality welding of the cross-pieces.

Fan rakes are destined to have short lives in the horticultural industry.  They will barely last an entire season because of the nature of their design and the harshness of the job.  Raking heavy, wet leaves or twigs are necessities of gardening life and will shorten the life of a fan rake.  Fan rakes often loose their teeth over time and may also loose their head if it is not secured to the handle. 

Garden forks also come in different sizes.  They are available in various widths for different tasks.  The border fork is narrow and has a short handle for use when working in close quarters around plants.  The manure fork has long, thin, round tines and is used for transporting manure or straw, and is not strong enough for heavy soil digging.  Garden forks have 4 flat sturdy tines and can tolerate working heavy clay soils or lifting plants.  A less expensive fork will have tines that bend out of position when heavy clay or stones are encountered.  Once the teeth bend and are straightened, they are prone to bending again.  Top-of-the-line forks have tines that spring back into position if they hit an obstruction like a rock or tree root. 

Hoes seem to offer the biggest selection of innovative designs.  Hoe blades can be shaped like a “v”, be hollow, solid, flattened, or look like stirrups.  Once again, the purpose will dictate the design.  Use a “v” shaped hoe for making the rows for small annuals. Use a 90 degree solid chop hoe for cutting down young weeds.  A stirrup hoe is used for pushing under the soil and knocking down seedling weeds.

Vertical or horizontal grass shears are handy to cut grass around signs when the job does not warrant using a line trimmer.  They can also be used to cut the grass that falls over the edge of a flower bed.  Check the length of the handles to see if they are long enough for use or you may have to bend over to use them.

A selection of half moons or sod edgers are often hard to find to purchase.  Usually one type with a low handle will be available.  Keep looking if it does not feel comfortable when you try it out at the store.  It’s almost impossible  to find one that has a long enough handle to save back strain.  The half moon should have a slight angle to the blade.

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