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Tool Primer

Gardening Tools for the Vegetable Garden
by Margaret Nevett
April 19, 2009

Using the right tool for the job will make the job much easier to accomplish. Well-made, versatile tools will make it easy to perform the different tasks in your garden. Buy a few good tools and treat them well. Keep them sharp, clean and lightly oiled and they should last a lifetime!

Good quality is usually reflected in the price of tools, but your decision should be based on design, construction and materials – features that make tools function well.


The most important tools we use are our hands! Find gloves that fit to protect your hands from blisters, thorns and ground-in dirt. Snug fitting leather gloves protect your hands from all kinds of wear and tear. Latex rubber gloves, with soft cotton liners, keep them dry and provide a non-slip grip. Stretchy, nylon/lycra knit gloves keep hands clean, provide light protection but still allow for good dexterity. Choose bright coloured gloves that are easier to find when you put them down! Glove sizes range from kids-size to XXL.

Digging and Planting Tools

Long Handled

Efficient tools should be solid, sharp and just heavy enough to do the job. Look for:

1 Strong, long-lasting forged steel or stainless steel head.

2 One-piece head and socket that holds the handle

3 Top edge of the blade has a foot tread.

4 Hardwood handles (absorb shock much better than plastic)

5 Handles riveted at the socket.

Spade (relatively flat, rectangular blade) – Use for working soil, digging holes, edging beds and slicing through sod.

Shovel (round-pointed, scooped blade) – Great for moving soil, compost, mulch or gravel.

Fork (heavy, flat tines) – The perfect tool for loosening heavy soil, breaking up clumps, digging out roots and dividing perennials.

Rake (solid, short steel teeth) – Use to level out areas, rake off stones and plant debris to prepare seed beds.

Hand Tools

Select durable, lightweight hand tools made of stainless steel, cast aluminum or nylon/fiberglass. Foam or rubberized handles provide a cushioned grip.

Different weights and sizes are available for all hands. Children will find it more rewarding to garden with real tools geared to their size than with toy tools.

Trowel – Great for digging small holes, planting and backfilling holes, and for mixing, weeding and cultivating.

Transplanting/Bulb Trowel (narrow blade for smaller holes) – Just right for planting small cell pack plants or working in containers. Depth measurements marked on the blade are useful for bulb planting.

Weeding and Cultivating Tools

From pointed to winged, no other garden tools come in more shapes and sizes than weeders and cultivators. They are available as hand tools or with long or telescopic handles for working in a standing position.


There are basically two kinds of hoes: Chop & Pull Hoe – Used for chopping weeds, moving soil around plants or making furrows for planting seeds. Angled blades great for digging out and attacking large weeds.

Scuffle or Dutch Hoe – Used to cut off weeds at the root level without stirring up the soil to expose more weed seeds. Excellent for weeding close to plants. There are many shapes available - square, circle or a simple loop. This hoe is most effective when pushed and pulled back and forth through the soil below the surface.

Cutting Tools

Cutting tools are needed for pruning, deadheading and harvesting. There are two types of cutting heads available – bypass and anvil.

Bypass (cuts like a scissor) – The blades move past each other to make one smooth, clean cut that heals quickly.

Anvil (one blade cuts down onto a platform like a guillotine) – Some have a ratcheting feature that allows several small cuts through the wood to provide increased strength and cutting power. Best used for cutting up old or dead wood.

And for your own comfort, if you get down on your hands and knees in the garden, consider including knee pads.

Margaret Nevett is a Horticultural Therapist and Master Gardener. Her company is dedicated to helping gardeners of all abilities to keep on Gardening For Life.

article first appeared on Composting Council of Canada site

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