Planting and maintaining a garden, or caring for your houseplants, is much easier with the right equipment. But with so many different products and choices available, it can be difficult to know which garden hand tool is a necessity, which one you can do without, and how much you should spend.
As a longtime gardener I've amassed a nice garden hand tool collection, and in the process have become something of a connoisseur. The first thing you need to understand is that garden tools are an investment. With proper use and care, top-quality, well-made garden tools will last you a lifetime. Buy inferior tools and you'll need to replace them often, so resist the temptation to grab the cheapest ones you can find.
What follows is a list of indispensable garden tools I believe should be in every gardener's shed.
The most important garden hand tool to own is a good pruner. Ideally you should have more than one, because you use different types for different chores. When it comes to pruners, buy the very best you can afford.
Bypass pruners have two sharp blades that slice through stems like scissors. They can cut stems up to ¾" in diameter. Ratchet pruners are great for people with limited hand strength, as the ratcheting mechanism holds the branch while you squeeze and release, cutting progressively deeper each time. Anvil pruners have one sharp blade that cuts against a flat piece of metal. They're light and easy to use, but they smash one side of the stem even when sharp, so most gardeners avoid them. Loppers are long-handled, heavy-duty pruners used to cut larger tree branches and thick rose canes. Lightweight snips or scissors are handy to have for cutting off spent flowers, dead foliage, etc.
Trowels are versatile multi-purpose garden tools used for digging small planting holes, scooping soil into pots, breaking up dirt and removing weeds. The best are made from carbon-coated steel or heavy-duty aluminum with wooden handles. Transplanters are similar to trowels but are narrower and easier to use for slipping a plant into its pot.
Three-pronged soil cultivators are used to "rake" in fertilizers and soil amendments, break up hard dirt and remove small rocks. They can also be used to remove shallow-rooted clumps of weeds.
The fishtail weeder (also called dandelion fork) is a very handy garden hand tool to own. They are excellent for lifting out weeds with long taproots or reaching into tight spaces. Money-saving tip: a table fork works almost as well, and if you don't have a spare one, thrift stores sell them for about a dime.
A plastic spray bottle is not really a garden tool, but you should have several on hand for applying insecticides and disease controlling sprays.
The Trake is an innovative two-in-one tool that could be called the garden equivalent to the spork (spoon + fork) utensil. The Trake has a pointed trowel on one end and a small three-prong cultivator/rake on the other. You can get by without this garden hand tool but it's fun, and useful.
Bulb planters dig perfect, round holes at the correct depth with one easy push. They're not an essential garden tool, but if you plant a lot of bulbs they are nice to have, and are relatively inexpensive.
You should now have a pretty good idea of which garden tools you need, and the only thing left to do is to get growing!