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340-My Favorite Gardening Gear and Gadgets Update

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With holiday gift shopping season upon us, I am sharing my top gardening gear picks for the gardeners in your life — the tools, accessories and books that you may also want to pick up for yourself.

In a nutshell, these are the items that I consider to be the must-have gardening gear — just to make your gardening life easier and more enjoyable. I’ve narrowed down the list to 12 to call extra attention to, but if you are looking for even more ideas, you can download my comprehensive gift guide, The Best of the Must-Haves™, updated for 2023-2024, with 30 recommendations.

 

Joe Lamp'l watering in his garden

This holiday shopping season, pick up gardening gear for the gardeners in your life — or for yourself. This week I am sharing my top picks for gardening must haves, and offering book recommendations.

 

Let’s face it: There are some garden chores that we don’t particularly love, but when you have the right tool, it really can make it more tolerable or even enjoyable. In addition to gardening gear,  I’m also going to share with you a few book recommendations for the upcoming winter reading season when we’re spending more time inside. 

Unifork

The Unifork has been the longest-running item on my annual list of must-haves. It is one of my all-time favorite items.

What is a Unifork? Think of it as part garden fork, part shovel, with a long shaft and a D-shaped handle. It’s made from super-durable plastic. You can’t break it or wear it out. In fact, I have been using the same Unifork since 2007. I leave it outside all year, 24/7, often by the compost bin or leaf mulch pile, and other than some sun-fading, it is in the same condition as when I got it.  

A Unifork is one of those tools that just makes any job less taxing or more fun. I look forward to using it. Whenever I have an opportunity, it makes me smile. I like it so much, I bought a second one so I can have one nearby wherever I am working. It’s unique, and I’ve gotten lots of messages and emails over the years from people thanking me for making that recommendation because they wouldn’t have known about it otherwise.

 

Unifork

I’ve been using the same Unifork since 2007. Other than a bit of fading, it works as well now as the day I got it. This fork is great for turning and scooping compost and many other uses around the garden. (Photo credit: Nancy Suttles)

 

Soil Knife & Sheath

A stainless steel soil knife is like a hori-hori knife with a few tweaks. The one I prefer to use has a plastic handle rather than wood. It’s orange, so it’s hard to lose, and the handle is ergonomic. Whatever style you choose, you want something that is high-quality stainless steel, so it will never rust, and is comfortable in your hand.

My issue with the true hori-hori knife is that the wooden, squared-off handle is not that comfortable. Plus, it’s a brown handle. You put that down in the garden, good luck finding it again. 

If you’ve watched my videos on YouTube, you’ve probably seen me with the same soil knife I am recommending here. I keep it in a sheath worn on my hip. It’s a safe place to keep it and ensures that the soil knife is always at my side when I need it. 

You can purchase the same 6-inch soil knife with the sheath included. However, I can’t imagine being without my pruners in the garden, so I recommend getting a dual soil knife and pruner sheath. Having your soil knife and your pruners on your belt in one sheath will bring joy to your gardening life. When people see me wearing my dual sheath on television or YouTube, they reach out to ask: Where did you get that?

These products are really well made and will last a lifetime.  

Folding Pruning Saw

Pruners will only cut up to a certain diameter — maybe a quarter of an inch or an inch. For anything bigger, you need something more robust, and that’s where a folding pruning saw comes in. 

You won’t need a pruner nearly as often as you use pruners, but when you do need to cut a branch, you need the right tool for the job. I like a folding pruning saw because it’s compact when not in use. The saw part folds into the handle, making the tool small enough that it can be worn on my hip in its own sheath next to my soil knife and pruners. I can go out for the day and get a lot of work done with the tools right there at the ready. 

I use a Corona Tools 10-Inch RazorTOOTH folding saw. It’s a nice size, super convenient and not expensive. It works on the push and the pull, and when you’re done, you just fold it into the handle and stick it in the sheath.

As an alternative to a pruning saw, you can use loppers, which are like long-handled pruners. Depending on the model, loppers can cut up to 2 inches in diameter or even 3 inches. For anything bigger than your loppers are designed for, you’ll need a saw.

 

pruning saw

The folding pruning saw is a handy tool whenever you find a tree branch or limb that needs cutting.

 

Diamond Hoe

A diamond hoe is a weeding tool with numerous alternative names: scuffle hoe, winged weeder, etc.

I consider this a must-have in the gardening toolbox because I love weeding. The scuffle hoe has a stainless steel flat blade in the shape of a diamond. It is sharp on all four sides. It has a long-handled, 60-inch shaft, which is important because you get more leverage and don’t have to bend over. What really makes this tool special is a pistol grip on the end of the shaft. You can push and pull with maximum efficiency and minimum effort. The diamond blade cuts through surface-rooted weeds like butter. 

When it comes to tap-rooted weeds like dandelions or wild onions, a diamond hoe won’t remove the tap root, so those weeds will return unless you get in there with a weeding tool that is designed for deep roots. The good news is the majority of weeds you encounter will be surface-rooted weeds.

A scuffle hoe remains sharp for a long time but you will need to resharpen it from time to time to maintain its efficacy. Take good care of this high-quality stainless steel tool with a hardwood handle and you will be passing this tool down to the next generation gardener in your family. 

The diamond hoe is the best weeding tool I have ever used, bar none.

 

Diamond hoe weeder

A diamond weeder or scuffle hoe makes quick work of weeds.

 

Water Right Hose

I’ve struggled for years to find the hose that I just really love — the one that doesn’t kink, the one that’s not so heavy, the one that coils up easily and lasts a long time. That hose is the Water Right Hose. It has all of these qualities and comes in some cool earthy colors, including eggplant, wine and mocha.

Water Right makes hoses from food-safe polyurethane material, so the hoses are resistant to UV and ozone exposure. I never put my hoses away so they sit outside 24/7/365, and years later they still work and look as good as new.

Water Right hoses come in various lengths too, which is much more convenient than having to hook multiple hoses together to get water where it needs to be. You can get a 25-footer, 50-footer or 100-footer. These hoses are also a small diameter so you can wind them up on a hose reel with ease.

 

Water Right soaker hose

Water Right makes high-quality garden hoses and soaker hoses.

 

Tubtrugs

Garden tubtrugs are lightweight, flexible, durable plastic tubs with handles. They come in a variety of vibrant colors and are practically indestructible. In all my years of using tubtrugs, only once have I broken a handle, and that was only after hauling countless heavy loads of garden material. 

I have tubtrugs all around the garden and use them every day. On any given day, I may be hauling mulch or compost in them, and I also use them for mixing and diluting organic liquid fertilizer such as fish emulsion in one large batch. This is a real time-saver.

I still use the name “tubtrugs,” because that is what they were known as when I first started using them. Now a company called Red Gorilla makes them and calls them Gorilla Trugs. They come in a variety of sizes, all affordable.

 

Joe Lamp'l pouring compost out of a Tubtrug.

Tugtrugs, also known as Gorilla Tubs, have all sorts of uses around the garden. When I’m not using mine to mix liquid fertilizer, they come in handy for carting compost, soil and waste.

 

Squirrel Buster Plus Bird Feeder 

When I am not listening to podcasts while gardening, I am listening to the sounds of the birds. One way I attract birds to my garden is with a bird feeder, which means I contend with squirrels that try to steal all the bird seed. After trying numerous bird feeders, I have found a squirrel-proof feeder that I love:  Squirrel Buster Plus. It’s the only one I use now.

I’ve been known to have several bird feeders at a time. I like to hang them from a hook outside my office so I can both listen to the birds and watch them as I work. For the longest time, the one I preferred had a wire mesh cylinder, and the cylinder had multiple ports, each with its own perch on the outside where birds could stop at the feeder. The problem with those little ports all up and down the wire tube was they allowed all that expensive birdseed to fall out as the birds put their beaks in. I was going through bags of birdseed every week — the expensive stuff that birds love, with the sunflower seeds already shelled.

I was going broke buying birdseed for this favorite bird feeder. So I finally realized I needed to look for something better. That’s when I came across the Squirrel Buster Plus. This one has a solid plastic tube, and the seed is only dispersed at the bottom in four dedicated ports. Birds land on a hoop around the base. Because they are so light, the ports stay open. If a squirrel gets on the feeder, its weight causes the ports to close.

Now I only buy a new bag of seed once a month rather than once a week. The Squirrel Buster Plus is approximately $120 and pays for itself by reducing wasted seed. I’ve had mine for years, and it’s just as good as new.

The bird feeder is attractive, well-made and easy to fill. It also lacks a tray at the bottom to catch any excess seed — and this is a good thing. Trays collect water when it rains and then mold grows in them, which is unhealthy for the birds. This feeder never has that problem. 

 

Squirrel buster plus bird feeder

The Squirrel Buster Plus has a solid plastic tube, and the seed is only dispersed at the bottom in four dedicated ports. Birds land on a hoop around the base. Because they are so light, the ports stay open. If a squirrel gets on the feeder, its weight causes the ports to close.

 

One-Touch Watering Wand

Dramm produces really nice gardening products, made in the USA. My favorite is Dramm’s watering wand with a one-touch feature that turns the water on and off using your thumb. The valve is part of the wand and leak-free. No separate valve is needed between the wand and hose.

Dramm is the company that revolutionized the water breaker nozzle — the perforated grid where the water comes out in a shower pattern. This is the brand that the nursery industry uses, and Dramm water wands don’t break easily like the knock-offs you find at the big box stores.

They sell for around $30, plus or minus two bucks, and come in a variety of fun colors. If you’re hand-watering, this is what you want to be using.

 

Joe Lamp'l with a Dramm watering wand

Dramm watering wands are the industry standard in nurseries. You want a real Dramm — not a knock-off.

 

Winstrip Air Prune Trays

New to the list this year is an item to help you with your seed starting: Winstrip air prune trays. These mimic seed blocking, but in a tray format.

My friend Conor Crickmore of Neversink Farms invented Winstrip trays. He sent me a few to try out, and I fell in love with them. 

The design of the trays looks a little odd, but the design is why they work so well. Between each cell of the Winstrip seed tray is some air space. In a traditional seed tray, it’s just a bunch of 2-inch squares connected to each other in a 10-inch-by-20-inch tray, with a little hole underneath for drainage. Winstrip trays have a special grid pattern that leaves an air gap between each cell, which allows for air circulation, which translates into bigger, better roots.

Since I’ve been using the Winstrip trays, I’ve had the best seedlings ever, the best roots ever and faster growth across the board. The trays come in 50-cell, 72-cell, 128-cell and 288-cell varieties. 

And just like soil blockers, Winstrip trays eliminate the use of disposable plastic. Winstrips are made of tough, rigid plastic that you can stand on or drive a truck over without it breaking. You’ll reuse these for many years to come.

Winstrip trays are easier to use than soil blockers because the soil media and moisture ratio doesn’t need to be so precise to keep the media together. 

 

Joe Lamp'l with Winstrip trays

Winstrip trays work just like soil blockers. When the roots get to the edge of a block or cell and are exposed to air, they stop growing in that direction. They “air prune” rather than becoming rootbound.

 

Root Trainers

If you grow vegetables with a taproot, such as carrots, beets, or parsnips; or other deep-rooted crops, such as peas; or crops that don’t like to have their roots disturbed, such as cucumbers, you will benefit from owning root trainers for seed starting. 

These cells are very deep — about 6 inches — and each root trainer has four cells that open up in a clamshell design. When it comes time to transplant the seedlings, the clamshell opens to expose the entire root ball in each of the four cells. You can take the whole root ball in your hand and drop it into a pre-dug hole, and the seedling doesn’t even know it’s been transplanted. The roots have been happily growing in the root trainers and don’t notice any disturbance. 

If you have ever grown carrots, you know the seed packets say to always directly sow the seeds and never start the seeds indoors. But if you are like me, you enjoy experimenting. Root trainers take something that is not recommended and often unsuccessful, and transforms it into a successful growing method. These are a game-changer.

My garden soil often becomes too hot and too dry before most of my carrot seeds can germinate, so I get very poor germination. I wanted to find another way that would give me better control, and the answer was root trainers. 

I have seen reviews that say the plastic is flimsy. The plastic is light weight, yes, but I have not found this to be an issue. You only open and close the clamshell once or twice a year, so they should last years despite being made of thin plastic.

A root trainer kit comes with eight four-cell deep clamshell containers held in a bottom frame that they sit in nice and neat. A plastic humidity dome covers the 32 seedlings. 

 

Joe Lamp'l with roottrainers

Rootrainers make it possible to start seeds indoors that normally are directly sown in the garden.

 

Farmers Defense Sleeves

Farmers Defense makes products that protect farmers and gardeners from scratches, sunburn and other injuries. Farmers Defense sleeves are just that — sleeves only, made to be worn with a short-sleeved shirt while working outdoors. Farmers Defense sleeve will provide SPF 50 UV protection so you don’t have to worry about reapplying sunscreen to your arms periodically, and if you are working around brambles or harvesting okra or squash, you won’t scratch up your arms.

I saw this product pop up on social media for a few years before I tried it myself. I was hesitant to get the sleeves because I wasn’t sure they would actually benefit me around the garden. Now, I’m mad I didn’t try them sooner. 

I have four pairs of Farmers Defense sleeves: a green pair, a black pair, a hot pepper pair and a multiple vegetable pattern pair. They have many more solid colors and patterns to choose from and come in several sizes.

When you put on a sleeve, there is a hole to put your thumb through, and the sleeve will stay snugly in place, protecting your arm from your wrist to halfway up your bicep. They are very tough and also washable. 

You can assertively harvest your okra or prune your roses with no worry about getting scuffed up. But even when I have no fear that my arms will get scratched, I still wear a pair of sleeves in the garden, especially in the summertime. The sleeves keep my arms cooler than with the sleeves off.

 

Joe Lamp'l stays cool in the garden.

Farmers Defense sleeves provide protection from scratches and sunburns while working in the garden. (Photo Credit: Tobi McDaniel)

 

Book Picks

As we head into the cold, wet and snowy time of year, what’s better than cuddling up inside with a great book? I am sharing three recommendations of books for gardeners — not how-to books, but enjoyable reads with a gardening story. 

Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer

This book opens your eyes to the reverence that Native Americans and generations before us had for nature and seed. It’s a matter of respect for the earth and appreciating what it has to offer without being greedy.

 

"Braiding Sweetgrass" by Robin Wall Kimmerer

 

The Comfort of Crows: A Backyard Year” by Margaret Renkl

This book, released in October, has short chapters quite like a journal chronicling the world around the author, as it relates to nature, over the course of a year. Margaret is a New York Times columnist who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. She isma great writer and I love listening to her observations and her respect for nature, life and the seasons. I am scheduled to interview Margaret soon, so you can look forward to that podcast episode in the near future. 

 

"The Comfort of Crows: A Backyard Year" by Margaret Renkl

 

What We Sow: On the Personal, Ecological, and Cultural Significance of Seeds” by Jennifer Jewell 

If you are a regular listener to “The joegardener Show,” you heard my recent interview with Jennifer on “What We Sow.” She is the host of “Cultivating Place” and an incredible communicator, especially in the written word. She writes about seeds and takes the subject in directions you’d never expect. She frames it through a year in the life of seed, uncovers surprising history and explains why seeds are so important in our lives, 

This was a pleasure read with a lot of good takeaway information. This is a good one to sit down with when you have some extra time to absorb all the gold in the book.

 

“What We Sow: On the Personal, Ecological, and Cultural Significance of Seeds” by Jennifer Jewell 

 

If you haven’t listened yet to my rundown gardening gear and other gifts for gardeners, you can do so now by scrolling to the top of the page and clicking the Play icon in the green bar under the page title. 

What are your recommendations for must-have gardening gear? Let us know in the comments below.

Links & Resources

Some product links in this guide are affiliate links. See full disclosure below. 

Episode 030: Best Gardening Products Ever: Gear, Tools & Resources We Can’t Live Without

Episode 082-Finding the Best of the Best Gardening Products and Tools

Episode 131: My Top 12 Tools to Make Your Gardening Life Easier

Episode 140: The Successful Journey of a Market Farmer: Conor Crickmore of Neversink Farm

Episode 184: More Must-Have Books for Every Gardener: Encore (Hybrid) Presentation

Episode 336: What We Sow: The Significance of Seeds, with Jennifer Jewell

joegardenerTV YouTube: How to Save Time While Fertilizing

The Best of the Must-Haves™ Resource Guide

joegardener Online Gardening Academy™: Popular courses on gardening fundamentals; managing pests, diseases & weeds; seed starting and more.

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Organic Vegetable Gardening: My new premium online course. The course is designed to be a comprehensive guide to starting, growing, nurturing and harvesting your favorite vegetables, no matter what you love to eat, no matter where you live, no matter your level of gardening experience.

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Seed Starting: Everything you need to know to start your own plants from seed — indoors and out. 

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Beginning Gardener Fundamentals: Essential principles to know to create a thriving garden.

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Growing Epic Tomatoes: Learn how to grow epic tomatoes with Joe Lamp’l and Craig LeHoullier. 

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Master Pests, Diseases & Weeds: Learn the proactive steps to take to manage pests, diseases and weeds for a more successful garden with a lot less frustration. Just $47 for lifetime access!

joegardener Online Gardening Academy Perfect Soil Recipe Master Class: Learn how to create the perfect soil environment for thriving plants.

Earthbound Expeditions: Discover South Africa with Joe Lamp’l

joegardener Newsletter

joegardener Facebook

joegardener Facebook Group

joegardener Instagram

joegardener Pinterest

joegardener Twitter

joegardenerTV YouTube

Growing a Greener World®  

GGWTV YouTube

Harold Moore Extended D-Grip Unifork

A.M. Leonard Classic Soil Knife 

A.M. Leonard Classic Soil Knife with sheath included

A.M. Leonard sheath for soil knife and pruners 

Corona BP 7100D Forged Steel DualCUT Bypass Hand Pruner

Corona Tools 10-Inch RazorTOOTH Folding Saw

Corona 33-inch bypass loppers

Water Right Hose

Water Right 25-foot soaker hose

Water Right 50-foot garden hose

Water Right 50-foot soaker hose

Water Right 100-foot garden hose

Dramm One-Touch Watering Wand

Winstrip Trays

Farmers Defense sleeves 

Greenhouse Megastore – Our podcast episode sponsor and Brand Partner of joegardener.com – Enter code JG10 for 10% off your order

Disclosure: Some product links in this guide are affiliate links, which means we get a commission if you purchase. However, none of the prices of these resources have been increased to compensate us, and compensation is not an influencing factor on their inclusion here. The selection of all items featured in this post and podcast was 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: Corona Tools, Milorganite, Soil3, Greenhouse Megastore, Territorial Seed Company, Earth’s Ally, Proven Winners ColorChoice and Dramm. 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.

About Joe Lamp'l

Joe Lamp’l is the creator and “joe” behind joe gardener®. His lifetime passion and devotion to all things horticulture has led him to a long-time career as one of the country’s most recognized and trusted personalities in organic gardening and sustainability. That is most evident in his role as host and creator of Emmy Award-winning Growing a Greener World®, a national green-living lifestyle series on PBS currently broadcasting in its tenth season. When he’s not working in his large, raised bed vegetable garden, he’s likely planting or digging something up, or spending time with his family on their organic farm just north of Atlanta, GA.

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