There are so many tools you can buy in your local garden center that it’s hard to figure out what you actually need in the garden. Therefore we like to take out some time to talk about the 7 essential tools you will need as a gardener. At the end of this blog, we also suggest a few tools that might be handy to have. All the tools mentioned in this blog are tools we actually use in the garden to grow flowers and vegetables.
In order to help you understand how and why you need the tools, we are going to look at the entire process, from building your garden (according to the no-dig Charles Dowding method) to harvesting flowers and vegetables.
1. The Pitchfork
We want to build some new garden beds in the garden and I need to move loads of compost. My favorite tool for this is the fork. “BUT WHAT FORK SHOULD I GET?” I hear you say… Garden Fork, Pitchfork, Spading fork, digging fork, Manure fork. Many names and shapes but you usually only need one in the garden… The pitchfork.
The pitchfork is also known as compost or manure fork. It usually has four or more long slender, pointed prongs that are turned up slightly for scooping or moving loose material without bending. Great for turning your compost pile or moving loose materials.
When building these garden beds we’re adding cardboard to the bottom, according to Charles Dowdings’ no-dig method. If you want to learn more about No-dig gardening you can read more about it in our blog about no-dig gardening.
2. A Rake
Now that we got the compost where we want it to be It’s time to create a level working area. For this, we like to use the rake. Rakes are best when they have a sturdy handle and the prongs are made out of one piece of metal. This way we can move our topsoil with ease without worrying about the pressure it takes. Raking for us is all about spreading out the topsoil to create a level surface and also loosening the topsoil to prepare the bed for my vegetables. This actually improves drainage and prevents water logging issues and it also allows for better water absorption in the soil adding the needed nutrients.
We are using a big yellow plastic rake (picture above) for leveling the surface and the metal one for breaking up topsoil. This is because the rake is the same size as our beds. But you can definitely use the smaller rake to do both jobs. Also as a small bonus tip, you can turn the rake around and use the back to create a smooth garden area.
3. The Trowel
Our bed is leveled and ready for some transplants. For this, we can use our trusty trowel. It’s good to invest some money in them. Because the cheaper trowels look good at first glance but break or bend easily and will probably not last you one season. Trust me we’ve been there.
This is going to be your main tool for moving small amounts of soil. Breaking up the earth… Transplanting your vegetables… Mixing in fertilizer and Weeding…
In small spaces with loads of vegetables, it can be hard to use a hoe. So we can use our trowel to do some weeding. We tend to forget we can use our trowels for so much more than scooping sand. To use it for weeding, put the trowel at a slight angle and go back and forth…… It’s really that simple…
4. A Hoe
While we are busy weeding let’s go to the next tool which is going to be our garden Hoe.
Garden hoes come in many different varieties. Dutch Hoe, Draw Hoe, Heart-shaped hoe, and many more. The most common is the Dutch hoe. But we mainly use a straight hoe. Whichever you prefer, get one with a smooth handle else you might get splinters.
A hoe is a great tool to get rid of those early spring weeds before we can fill up our beds. But we don’t like to use our hoe too much in between the plants because we are afraid to hit the roots. And let’s be honest, It’s really easy to just pull them out.
To use your hoe for weeding, hold it as you would hold a broom and angle it so the blade goes just below the surface. This way we can slice off the tops from weeds. If you use a hoe properly, it requires very little effort.
You can also use it to create trenches by holding the blade at an angle and dragging it along the surface. Or use it to cover up the seed trench by holding it upside down and dragging the soil back on top.
Once your no-dig beds are more established you will not need the weed the garden that much, and most likely the hoe will be of less use to you. If your garden is smaller, like our garden around the house it’s not really a tool you need because a regular round of picking out the weeds is much faster.
5. Watering Can
We made our beds and the vegetables are in. But boy are they thirsty. This is where the watering can comes in. There are many ways to water your garden. At home, we use a hose with a long neck spray gun and also have a drip irrigation setup. But here on the allotment, we need to water by hand. Although watering by hand can seem like quite the task. It’s a good moment to inspect your vegetables and your soil. Picking out some weeds as you go. And it’s actually quite fun to do.
We like watering cans that can hold quite a lot of water like 10 to 15 liters. That way we can do loads of work in one go and don’t have to walk too much. Pick a watering can with a nozzle that gives fine droplets.
6. Scissors / Pruners
After all your hard work and patience it is finally time! The vegetables are ready to be harvested and the flowers are ready to be picked for many bouquets. And then you realize some pruners might be handy. You don’t need to spend big bucks on your pruners. Make sure they have a comfy grip and look like they won’t fall apart after one use.
There are two main styles of pruners. Bypass and anvil. We happen to have both but like bypass pruners more. Bypass stands for the blades bypassing each other to make the cut. Anvil pruners rely on one blade slamming on top of a ridge. The reason we prefer bypass pruners is that they seem to cut cleaner and it’s important to make clean cuts with your pruners so we don’t hurt the plant. Any damage is bad to damage. If a blade goes dull, sharpen or replace it to make sure the plants can heal properly and look nice.
If you are cutting flowers don’t forget to cut the stems with a sharp knife or clippers to allow clean water to enter the stems. if you use a blunt pair of scissors you can close off the fibers and block water flow towards the flowers.
Now let’s say we are dealing with some bigger plants or trees that we would like to plant in the garden. We need to get a tool that we can use to do some heavy digging. For this, you can either get a spade or a shovel. We mainly use a spade because it’s made to really get in your soil and dig it up. Shovels usually are better at moving around sand but for that, we like to use my pitchfork.
Some spades have bend-over tops to rest your foot on which makes for a bit more comfort. But you don’t need to get one that does. Any shovel or spade that you feel comfortable working with is the way to go. Invest in a good quality spade or shovel and they will last you a lifetime.
As mentioned earlier, some handy tools that could be interesting to add to your list:
When transplanting our seedlings we can also make use of a dibber instead of a trowel. We are big fans of one with a long handle so you can really put some weight on it. But you can also use the shorter version if you want to work close to your soil. We bought a cheap handle sold for spades, shovels, and other garden tools as a dibber.
Put some weight on it and create a nice gap for your transplants. It’s really easy to pop in your plants this way. The diameter of our dibber is the same as the plugs that come out of the Charles Dowding CD60 seed trays, and the 77 and 40 cell size seed trays. This way we can transplant super fast. One of us ‘dibbers’ the holes while the other pops and plants the plugs.
9. Hedge shears
Another great garden tool is hedge shears. The name suggests it. It’s meant to trim your hedges but we actually like to use it to make quick work of trimming anything around the garden.
Dealing with some peas that are ready to go onto the compost heap? cut them down with the hedge shears and chop them up before you add them to the compost heap. This way they will turn into useable compost much faster. We never remove the roots because they feed the soil life.
10. Leaf Rake
Another great rake to have is going to be a leaf rake. Leaf rakes are great for a couple of jobs. First of all, to get rid of the leaves we keep finding everywhere in the garden. It’s good to get leaves off your grass as quickly as possible to prevent the rotting and yellowing of your grass. When the leaves are on top no light is able to get through.
You can also use a leaf rake to improve your lawn. By raking your grass and taking out old dead grass. We sometimes also use it to tidy up our wood chip paths.
We’ve got quite a big garden so for us, a wheelbarrow is needed to move all the compost and wood chips around. Most people won’t need it or only sporadically so that’s something to think about. Maybe it’s something you can borrow for a few days in order to save some money and space. We don’t have much experience with wheelbarrows. But anything will do as long as it’s sturdy. Ours was free from Nicole’s grandparents and is at least 30 years old.
To maintain your wheelbarrow just make sure it stays inside when not using it. That’s all you need to do to keep it for many years. If your shed is small you can also ‘park’ it with the handles turned up against the wall.
Now you know what to buy (and what not) next time you are in the garden center. You definitely don’t need all the tools they have available. Just a few you can rely on to do the job. If you have any other tools you use often let us know in the comments.