Buying garden tools is always fun. So many places offer a real variety of tools, all aimed at solving specific problems in the garden. There are weeders that grab hold of a weed and (theoretically) yank it up and out of the ground. There are lawn edging shears, for precise trimming or people without a strimmer. But what are the most useful, all round tools you can use? Hand tools specifically – power tools are another beast. and with a far higher quality -> price ratio.
5. A digging spade
A spade is an essential garden tool, but they come in various types. A digging spade is a full sized spade, smaller than a shovel, but big enough to be versatile in almost any situation. Things to look for when purchasing: A good solid handle. A comfortable grip – some prefer wooden, I personally favor the ergonomic handles. If you garden frequently, and require a little extra grunt, you can’t go far wrong with a Spear & Jackson digging spade. You can get them with a bent edge to help you get your foot into it, which is very useful is you have the common gardening foot condition of Plantar Fasciitis. Bulldog is another great brand to go for. But there are many out there, and as long as you follow the advice above, you will find one to suit you, and it will become your best friend in the garden.
4. A spring tine rake aka lawn rake
This is actually a really versatile tool. Before becoming a gardener, I thought its only use was for clearing leaves. But actually it is one of the most used tools I own. You can scarify lawns with it (small ones, mind!) and rake away the tops of weeds after hoeing (see later on) as well as rake soil into a very fine tilth. Brands I recommend vary wildly on this one. I use Spear & Jackson, but frankly any decently made metal spring tine rake will do. I don’t personally get along well with the plastic ones. Pro tip: consider mulching your bests with compost and spreading it out with a rake, and creating a fine texture on the soil after wards with the spring tine rake. It creates such a lovely effect, and brings tired borders back to life in no time.
3. A border fork
A very useful tool for all kinds of garden work, but quality of build is more important here than anything other than a spade. If you need to take out a well established shrub, its my experience that the cheaper, own-brand forks bend wildly. I’m currently favoring Bulldog Tools british-made border forks. No bending, so far! This like the spade is something to really shell out the extra coins on.
2. A mattock
This is what I turn to if I just cannot get a shrub out of the ground with a spade or fork. Swing it like a pick, and drag it along to create a trench. The other end has an axe, great for cutting tough roots. I cannot recommend one enough, though it is not for the faint of heart. You need to be very careful as its heavy and dangerous. Take regular breaks. When not swinging it with anger at that stubborn root you can’t get out, try the softer approach. Use it to create a trench to plant potatoes in, or to make rows for other crops. The only brand I trust with this, is Roughneck. With such a dangerous tool, you need quality, and that’s what Roughneck offers with this mattock.
1. A dutch hoe
Why get a bad back from leaning over and weeding? Cut the heads off all but the toughest weeds (garden elder, bindweed etc, need to be dug out still) and then either rake them up with your spring tine rake, or leave them to dry out in the sun and rot back into the soil. Disadvantages are that it won’t, like I say, rid you of the tougher weeds, but for annual weeds, it is perfect. Recommended brands: as always, spear and jackson, bulldog tools, and a new one into the mix – wolf garten tools. I use them, as I bought a handle that is the right height for me (I am a small gardener – and no amount of tomorite is going to change that!) and the dutch hoe head just click in, and can be changed to another head when needed. So, I’d recommend getting one thats the right height for you. The biggest key though, is it being sharp. Some are covered in this black, mottled coating, and are a real issue to sharpen properly. Make sure the head is sharp or can be sharpened easily and you will find weeding on a sunday afternoon is an absolute breeze.
That concludes my recommended hand tools for the serious gardener. Always remember to wear the correct safety wear when using the tools. Buy a pair of steel toe capped shoes – you can get trainers too with steel toe caps these days, for extra comfort. Even wellies can have them! For the mattock in particular, eye protection is requires in case of flying earth and stones when using it like a pick. Look out for future tools advice from me, and if you have any questions, I’m contactable on twitter @GardensByBen