Installing and maintaining trees, shrubs and plants in your landscape requires a collection of tools. Your commitment to landscaping will eventually be reflected by the size and appearance of that collection. Basics will get the job done, but more specialized and customized tools get the job done quicker and easier, with less strain. Karen Funkenbusch, with the University of Missouri Extension Service, suggests modifying the grips on tools to make them easier to use and to limit repetitive motion injuries. Manufacturers have heard the message and are offering new tools with ergonomic designs.
Shovels have two jobs, digging and material transfer. The basic wide dished, pointed-tip shovel with a long handle should be the first one you buy. This basic shovel will handle both digging and transfer, but won't excel at either. Ergonomic designs incorporate wider foot pads to drive the shovel into the ground, and larger, more comfortable handles.
A wide, flat-bodied, square-ended shovel with a "D" handle excels at material transfer, such as shoveling sand from a pile into a wheelbarrow. Narrower, straighter blades--often called spades--handle digging chores more efficiently.
Rakes smooth surfaces and separate debris. The classic bow rake, with teeth spaced approximately 1 inch apart, should be your first investment. The repetitive nature of raking makes this tool an excellent candidate for Funkenbusch's handle modifications. She suggests enlarging the handle with grip tape. If you form a circle between your index finger and thumb, that is the size the tool handle should be.
Supplement the bow rake with a leaf rake when it's time to expand your tool collection. They're ideal for cleaning between shrubs, as well as the autumn chore of raking up fallen leaves. A four-tined rake with 1 1/2-inch spacing makes a superb cultivation tool for the flower bed or vegetable garden.
Hoes loosen soil and chop out unwanted vegetation. There are untold variations in the design of hoes and mattocks (the hoe's double-ended cousin). Folks in areas where the soil is rocky and heavily clay-based should start their tool collection with a heavy-duty mattock. If your soil is loose and easy to work, the traditional 4- to 5-inch garden hoe would make a better first choice. Add variations as your interests and needs develop.
No landscaper should be without a pair of bypass pruning shears to clip, thin and shape trees and shrubs. Hedge clippers cut small-diameter stems to a uniform level over a wide area. Loppers handle stems that are too large for the bypass pruners. A machete can be an invaluable tool, if your property includes--or borders with--brushy woods.
Like shovels, there are material transfer forks and digging forks. Material transfer forks are the tradition "pitch fork" with very slender tines. Digging forks are used to turn soil and have much heavier tines.