Essential Gardening Tools

A trip to a garden supply store can be a confusing experience with row after row of shiny new gardening tools to choose from. While many of those tools will be helpful and convenient, most basic gardening jobs can be performed with a few tools. Choose good quality tools and they can last for many years.

Spade or Shovel

Spades and shovels are both used primarily for digging and working the soil. Although the two tools are similar and are often interchangeable, a shovel has a rounded edge, which makes it a better tool for moving soil, sand, gravel or compost from one place to another. A spade has a straight edge and is usually slightly smaller than a shovel. The primary purpose of a spade is to loosen and turn the soil, and because of its straight, sharp edge, is useful for double-digging the soil in flowerbeds or vegetable gardens. Spades and shovels are available in both long-handled and short-handled styles and a variety of different weights.

Garden Fork

A garden fork may not seem like an essential tool, but once you've tried gardening with a fork, you won't want to do without it. A garden fork is useful for a number of jobs such as breaking up cloddy, hard soil, spreading compost and aerating soil. A garden fork is also handy for dividing plants, as it can be used to lift plants from the ground without damaging the roots.


Rakes come in two primary types, and both types are essential tools for the home gardener. A straight rake is a sturdy tool that is used to rake roots and dirt clods out of a new planting site. Flip the rake over and use the straight edge to smooth the area in preparation for planting seeds. A fan rake is more flexible and is often used for raking leaves. In the flowerbed or vegetable garden, the fan rake is handy for removing small stones and clods.


Hoes are an essential gardening tool, useful for weeding and cultivating the top 3 to 4 inches of the soil. The shape of a hoe allows the gardener to work carefully around plants, using the flat edge in larger areas and the sharp corner of the hoe in tight spots. While a pointed, diamond-shaped hoe, also called a "Warren" hoe is good for making vegetable rows and hoeing in small areas, the corner of a regular hoe often serves the same purpose.


Small, hand-held garden trowels are essential for a number of tasks, including planting bulbs or bedding plants in the flower bed, herb garden, patio container or hanging basket. The small size of the trowel makes it useful for digging out stubborn individual weeds.

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About this Author

M.H. Dyer is a long-time writer, editor and proofreader. She has been a contributor to the East-Oregonian Newspaper and See Jane Run magazine, and is author of a memoir, “The Tumbleweed Chronicles, a Sideways Look at Life." She holds an Master of Fine Arts from National University, San Diego.