Over the years I’ve tried my share of gardening tools. Along the way, I’ve spent (and wasted) a lot of money. But it hasn’t been a total loss. Some of those purchases have resulted in the tools I can’t live without, including what I consider my top 12 tools to make your gardening life easier too.
As I prepared for this episode, I narrowed the focus to those primary tools needed for the basics we all face no matter our experience or size of land under our watch. With that in mind, here are some of my must-have tools with specific preferences for tackling those never-ending tasks, including pruning, digging, sowing, weeding, hauling, composting, growing and taming, and even keeping up with the weather.
To start, I imagined what I’m grabbing every time I head out the door for my next gardening adventure. I’ve become so attached to a few essentials, I have duplicates stationed by every door. Suffice it to say, I’d feel naked in the garden without them. So join me as I take you into my garden and share what I’m using and loving to facilitate some of those tasks we’re all facing as gardeners and weekend warriors.
When I think of comfort and functionality for my feet, it’s Muck Boots. I was first introduced to them many years ago by a gardening friend. She wore them all the time—not just in the garden. They were her all-the-time shoes because they were that comfortable. But their greatest attribute is keeping your feet totally dry and warm in the muddiest conditions, combined with the ease of slipping them on and off at the door. I have pairs in two styles and I love them both. Built to last and worth every penny, I consider my Muck Boots as the ultimate gardening and anything-else-you-can-think-of-outside shoe.
I’m not sure gardening gloves count as tools, but every gardener has a pair or two and I’m no exception. But, there’s really only one pair of gloves that I wear for all but the toughest jobs: Atlas Gloves. They fit like a surgeons glove and have all the feel you’ll ever need. They’re surprisingly durable, ergonomically snug and incredibly comfortable.
Almost like a second skin, they’re perfect for sowing seeds, planting, and weeding. The Nitrile coated palm and fingers are tough and impervious to soil and water (although not designed to withstand thorns; nothing’s perfect). Tossing them in the washing machine makes clean-up a breeze! I can’t imagine a day in the garden without them. They’re remarkably long-lasting and at such an affordable price, I always have multiple pairs on hand.
If you asked any serious gardener and horticulturist about their favorite piece of equipment, it’s a safe bet that the most common response would be their pruners. In fact, we actually did just that in a recent survey and that’s precisely what we found. And it’s true for me as well.
The industry standard and a workhorse for gardeners and weekend warriors alike is a well-made pair of bypass pruners. (They’re called bypass because, during the cutting stroke, the top blade passes by the bottom “hook” as it slices through the plant part).
Part of what differentiates a good pair of pruners is the balance and the way they feel in your hand. Two of the most popular brands are Felco and Corona, both have very similar styles, including models designed for lefties. I also like that all parts are replaceable. Buy them once and you’ll have them for a lifetime. “Joined at the hip” takes on a whole new meaning when you finally find that pair of pruners you love.
Most pruner styles (including Felco and Corona) have a locking mechanism to keep the tool closed when not in use. It’s typically located near the pivot point. You engage and disengage it with your thumb. While it’s convenient, it’s not for everyone. For that reason, there’s a third option I like – Okatsune Buypass pruners, the number one choice of professional gardeners in Japan.
Okatsune pruners locking mechanism is located at the bottom of the tool and out of the way (not up by the fingers as with Felco and Corona). So it keeps the blades from accidentally locking closed when in use. The razor-sharp blade cuts like a dream. However, the blade and parts are not replaceable (unlike Felco and corona). Fortunately, they hold their edge and only require occasional sharpening to restore them to their original state. They come in three sizes (small, medium and extra large and are especially suited for people with smaller hands. If you buy these, I suggest you get the next size up from what you think you need.
Soil Knife (and so much more)
I am forever searching for that one tool that truly does it all—weeding, digging, cutting, dividing, scraping, measuring, prying, and even opening my beer at the end of a productive day. Okay, the bottle opener feature doesn’t exist yet, but here’s hoping it’s in the next revision of A.M. Leonard’s stainless steel soil knife.
If you know the classic Hori Hori knife, you have a good idea of what I’m describing. The soil knife is as close as it gets to a single tool that does so many things in the garden. Like the Hori Hori, the six-inch stainless steel blade is very stout. But here’s where the A.M Leonard design wins me over. The composite handle is very comfortable in my hand. I also like that its handle is an easy-to-find high-visibility orange and not made of wood. With a lifetime guarantee, this knife packs a lot of big features at a very affordable price. I can say with certainty, this is the most-used tool in my entire arsenal.
Sheath to hold them
The dual soil knife and pruner sheath is one of those accessories that you don’t fully appreciate until it’s missing. And then you’re obsessed with getting it back. While every good pair of pruners needs a good sheath, every good gardener knows that’s not all you need on your hip at the ready. As you know by now, the other must-have is a great soil knife. The trick is having both tools in one place.
Enter the Dual Soil Knife and Pruner Sheath. I can’t imagine one without the other by my side and the dual sheath makes that possible in the most efficient way. The unique value of this convenient combo was made quite apparent when a viewer of Growing A Greener World wrote me to ask where he could get the very same thing he’s seen by my side many times on the show. It caused me to reflect just how much I use (and love) my dual sheath, and how I can’t recommend it strongly enough.
With no shortage of weeds for trialing tools to remove them, I’ve likely given most of them a workout. And I’ve finally settled on a favorite. The scuffle hoe, aka winged-weeder or diamond hoe reigns supreme. Its three or four-sided, steel blade slides smoothly along the soil surface while severing roots on the push and the pull. Surface rooted weeds are no match for this easy to use weeding tool.
While several companies make a version of this tool, finding the proper handle angle and length are key factors for peak efficiency with the least effort. I find a long handle and angle where the tip meets your breast bone provides the ideal combination.
My scuffle hoe of choice is the DeWit Diamond Hoe (model D20). Unlike other versions I’ve seen, the 74-inch handle includes a “pistol grip” at the end of the handle that provides extra leverage and makes using this tool even more of a pleasure.
For a hand-weeding tool, I have two favorites. The first is also made by DeWitt. It’s called the Cape Cod Weeder (aka Japanese Hand Hoe). It’s the popular New England based design with a small blade on the inside of the surface that cuts on the backstroke.
My other hand-weeding tool of choice is the CobraHead, especially for tap-rooted weeds. Without the right tool to extract them, the weed will quickly grow back. That’s no longer a problem with the CobraHead. I like the design in how you approach the weeds from the backside and pull towards yourself. I actually derive great pleasure in popping tough tap-rooted weeds out after plunging the CobraHead into the soil and under the weed and roots.
The Cobrahead feels great in your hand, is fun to use and is even designed for precision weeding around tender plants. And between hard surfaces such as sidewalks and driveway cracks, it’s like a steel fingernail. It also comes in a long handle version if you’d like to do your weeding from a standing position.
Speaking or the CobraHead weeding tools mentioned above, its inventor is also responsible for another tool that I consider an essential factor in my soil success. These days we’re hearing more and more about prepping or amending soil or preparing a new garden bed without the use of a tiller. Using a no-till or no-dig method is fast becoming the option of choice for many organic farmers and gardeners who love their soil and want to protect it from the destructive impact of ripping into it.
I too embrace this philosophy. However, there are times when I want to create opportunities for more air and amendments deep into the soil than by simply topdressing. Accordingly, I’ve adopted what I call broad-dressing.
The technique uses my CobraHead broadfork to open deep pathways into the soil, with minimal disturbance. Consider it a soil-friendly alternative to a tiller. The only soil disturbance is the insertion of the broadfork tines that pierce easily into the soil. A slight rocking back and forth with the handles is all that is needed to loosen the subsoil and create deep access for a subsequent topdressing of compost.
While a quality broadfork is pricy, no other tool does what this can to open up the soil with minimal disturbance. And while it’s not something you’ll use all the time, if you’re serious about your soil, you will be glad you made the investment.
If anyone is asking what you’d like for Christmas, birthday or any special occasion, or if you ever want to treat yourself to a garden tool you’ll love for decades to come, get a garden cart. You’ve seen them. They have bicycle tires and a wooden box structure. I was gifted my first cart over 25 years ago. It was (and still is) one of the best tools I’ve ever owned. The Carts Vermont garden cart I fell in love with over 25 years ago was only recently retired. My cart hauled more things than you can imagine, lived its entire life outdoors and was nearly as reliable and dependable in the 25th year of service as the day I bought it.
The classic cart comes in two sizes: large and mid-size. And believe me, you can’t go wrong with either (or both!). Carts Vermont gives you the option on the tire style you chose, solid rubber or inflatable. I have the solid tires on my medium cart and the inflatable tires on my large cart. I’ve found that the inflatable tires definitely make the cart lighter to pull, push and maneuver. The downside will be having to deal with an inevitable flat tire sooner or later. Like with all things, there are tradeoffs for every option.
These durable, colorful, lightweight garden tubtrugs have earned their keep as an indispensable resource here at the GardenFarm. Virtually indestructible, they’re perfect for even the toughest jobs. I use them for hauling, harvesting, weeding, mixing soil, storing, and so much more. Their flexibility provides incredible versatility for any gardening task.
Speaking from experience, one is never enough though… so do yourself a favor and buy several in various sizes. The colors will brighten up any garden while adding a touch of personal flair and unlimited utility in and around the garden.
I’m a big composter and a huge fan of mulch. I use both all the time. Nearly 20-years ago, I discovered a tool that I’m still crazy about, and it still lives in my compost pile this very day. And when I need to spread mulch or scoop up either, I use this same tool – the Unifork. It’s part garden fork, part shovel, combining the best of both worlds.
Unlike heavy metal forks and shovels that can rust, and stainless steel that can be expensive, the Unifork is made of very strong, lightweight plastic so it can be left outside (right by your compost pile) with never a concern of rusting. The sides of the Unifork are slightly raised to work much like a scoop or shovel. And the rounded tips provide a better way to scoop mulch or compost from the surface without getting the prongs stuck in the ground. The D-style handle provides the perfect leverage and balance too. If you’re a composter or user of mulch, I am certain you will love this tool too.
Growing and Taming
If you’ve ever marveled at the way velcro works, you’ve likely found many uses for it. Well, back in 2003, I came across my favorite application for it as plant ties.
Velcro® Brands Plant Ties have become an indispensable way for me to secure plants to stakes, tame wayward tomato branches back to their cage, and so much more. You name it, and there is a use in the garden for it. Moreover, they last for years. Literally. I am still using the same pieces of ties that I first used years ago.
Recently, I came across another option that I’m now using in a similar way. Soft-ties are rubber-coated wire that you cut to your desired length. The soft coating protects your plants and the wire interior makes it very strong yet easy to secure in place. For large, unruly tomato vines, I especially like working with the soft-ties. While I’ve only been using them for one growing season, I can see many more years of use from my original investment.
More Cutting and Pruning
Imagine having your favorite bypass pruners with an extra-long reach (62 inches) and even more cutting power. That’s what you get with the Long Reach Bypass Pruner from Corona. I am forever pruning small branches that are well out of reach of terra-firma. And I loathe having to drag out the ladder to do so. Nor do I want to wrestle my extra-long pole pruner with the rope that always seems to get tangled in the branches and around my feet.
After discovering this tool a few years ago, it’s been my go-to extended-reach pruner of choice. It’s long enough to get most of what I need without getting on a ladder. The blade will easily cut through branches up to 1.25 inches and the overall weight is under three pounds. It’s easy to use and store. And my favorite part; no dangling rope to get in the way. And for the perfectionist out there (like me), the cutting head tilts, swivels, and rotates 360 degrees for unlimited cutting positions.
Another option when you need to cut through thicker branches, or you just want to be right where the action is, is a pruning saw. Over the years, the one that lives on my hip for just such times is Corona’s RazorTOOTH folding pruning saw. It’s fast, efficient and a pleasure to use. The blade is made of high-carbon steel and is also coated for rust prevention and reduced friction during the cutting process. I also like this style because when not in use, the saw locks in a closed, folded position for easy and safe transport. This saw is available in a variety of blade sizes and can be replaced without having to buy a whole new tool.
While we can’t change the weather, most gardeners have an obsession with wanting to know what’s happening with it; past, present, and future. That interest is certainly understandable; it has much to do with the success and failure of nearly everything we grow. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth pounds of harvest (or something like that).
While I know there are many choices for home weather monitor, I can tell you I’ve been very happy with the one I have – the Acurite Weather Monitor station. It measures temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, rainfall, wind speed, and direction. The separate display is bright, colorful and easy to read, and the free app makes accessing that data from anywhere via your desktop or phone a breeze- anytime, anywhere. I am constantly referring to mine and I love having access to all the real-time data no matter where I am. For the gardener who thinks they have it all, this will be a welcome addition.
As I noted earlier, culling the list to a few essentials wasn’t easy but it was necessary to keep this conversation manageable. Rest assured, I have plenty of other tools I love and would happy to share with you again soon. You can count on that.
In fact, in preparation for my upcoming Master Seed Starting course launching in January, I’ve been testing all kinds of indoor lighting options and doing comparison studies to find out what equipment is worthwhile and what’s just a waste of money. I’m also comparing which growing mediums are easiest to maintain and promote the healthiest seedlings. And I’ll tell all in the course.
If it’s related to growing plants from seeds – no matter which technique you choose – this course will answer your questions and have you mastering the art of growing your own plants from seed for many seasons to come. I’ll also be inviting students to live Q&A webinars to ask any followup questions or help troubleshoot. So, don’t miss it!
You can sign up now to be notified once the course has launched and check out more details.
Don’t miss this recording either. You can scroll to the top of the page and click the Play icon in the green bar under the page title.
In the meantime, do you have a favorite must-have tool? I’d love to hear about it. Simply leave your comments below. I’m looking forward to reading what you love too.
Links & Resources
joe gardener Amazon Storefront: More of my favorite gardening tools, gear, and gadgets (including everything mentioned above)*
joegardener Online Academy: Master Pests, Diseases and Weeds – Just $47 for lifetime access! Watch for my new course on seed starting coming in January!
*Disclosure: Some product links in this guide are affiliate links, which means we would get a commission if you purchase. However, none of the prices of these resources have been increased to compensate us. None of the items included in this list have any bearing on any compensation being an influencing factor on their inclusion here. The selection of all items featured in this post and podcast were based solely on merit and in no way influenced by any affiliate or financial incentive, or contractual relationship. At the time of this writing, Joe Lamp’l has professional relationships with the following companies who may have products included in this post and podcast: Rain Bird, Corona Tools. These companies are either Brand Partners of joegardener.com and/or advertise on our website. However, we receive no additional compensation from the sales or promotion of their product through this guide. The inclusion of any products mentioned within this post is entirely independent and exclusive of any relationship.