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Credit where credit is due, this idea is pinched from over here: Tools that every Do-it-Yourselfer must own

What tools should every gardener own, have at their disposal (preferably essential tools)? As this is a community wiki there is no one right answer to this particular question.

Instructions:

  • One tool (item) per answer please (so they can be voted on by the community)
  • Clear formatting like this:
    [TOOL (ITEM) NAME]
    [Reason why tool is essential/useful/good]
    [Photo if it makes your submission easier to understand]
  • If you believe this tool to be one of the first tools a beginning gardener should own and master, please mark it as such and give a justification, such as "this highly advanced hoe takes the place of a rake and a shovel and a cultivator".

MOD NOTE: this is a special case list question. Polls and list questions are generally discouraged and will be closed outright. There is some precedent for this one and I see its use, but SE really is not designed for "infinite list of X" questions.

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18 Answers 18

Gardening Trowel

It must be the tool I use the most - whether it is for planting small/medium plants out; filling plant pots with compost; or even re-arranging the gravel ground cover on a 'desert' pot or the xeriscape bed.

Don't buy one that is going to break in half - but don't dig in soil with a trowel that is likely to break your trowel.

A Trowel

A trowel is a must have for beginning gardeners because it takes the place of:

  • A shovel, if your garden is small.
  • A transplanter, although it is more cumbersome
  • A weeder (for getting rid of dandelions)
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I accidentally snapped our trowel of 2 solid years (just gave it too much work) and found that an old teaspoon or desert spoon (less than 10 cents at a charity shop if you are worried about price) does almost as good a job for us now! –  Lisa Sep 14 '11 at 0:28
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Hoe

Valuable to help cut through weeds and move / cultivate soil. Comes in many types (ex. hula hoe, stirrup, flat, etc.) and most all work well to help cut weeds just under the surface easier. Used any time you need to chop, push, or pull amounts of soil or crop.

Hoe in action

A hoe is a must have for a new gardener, it can make up for the absence of the following tools:

  • Tamper
  • Row maker (these are usually makeshift anyway)
  • Weeder
  • Cultivator
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Bucket

there's a hole in my bucket

A very handy multipurpose tool. I prefer deep plastic buckets from wine kits.
Great for:

  • Weeding, put weeds in the bucket and then take it to the compost.
  • Load it up with dirt / mulch / rocks to transport to a place a wheel barrow won't reach.
  • Turn it over and sit on it (thx Peter)
  • Watering, if you don't have a watering can, or if you want to know the exact amount you are watering. (thx Jon) (see also: hose)
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Fork

We have two types of spade listed, so we should really have the fork. An excellent complement to the short-handled spade, the fork is useful when there's a lot of humus, roots or vegetation in the ground that is being dug. Eg. nothing else can really be used to empty a compost bin with its hidden half-composted twigs&roots; or areas where there are lots of roots (eg. from neighbouring trees and shrubs). They are also useful for areas with lots of surface 'thatch' and for turning single-dug gardens into double-dug gardens or double-dug gardens into triple dug gardens.

enter image description here

The fork is a must have for the beginning gardener. It can make up for not having:

  • A cultivator (the kind you stick into the soil and twist)
  • An aerator
  • A small child with a hammer (for breaking up dirt clods)
  • A shovel, when digging certain types of soil.
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Scuffle Hoe

Makes weeding 100x faster than pulling each one by hand. Just pull it back and forth through the soil to cut off weeds at the surface. A quick pass once a week keeps beds weed-free. Keep it sharp!

scuffle hoe

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Hose

Helps get water from point A to point B. Usually, point A is a pressurized water faucet and point B is a plant. It's the only tool I use on a regular basis.

A soaker hose is useful for getting water from point A to everywhere between point A and point B, slowly and evenly.

See also: bucket and watering can.

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Rake


Useful to lightly till/loosen soil, remove weeds that aren't too stubborn, level the soil and collect fallen leaves and cut grass. Rakes come in two basic shapes:

  1. The sturdily built soil rake and
  2. A more flexible and fanned out grass rake

If you can afford only one rake, get the soil rake as you can use it to collect leaves (maybe not grass all that well), but you certainly can't use the grass rake to work on soil. Images below from wikimedia commons.

Soil rake

enter image description here

Grass rake

enter image description here

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The "soil rake" is often called a "bow rake" and it is good for everything you say, and also for thatching lawns (be careful on grasses with runners). –  KeithS May 3 '13 at 20:43
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Spade

Indispensable for turning over the soil on my allotment - I would be lost without it!

enter image description here

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Garden Scissors

Useful for trimming back aggressive vines, over-grown squash, cleaning up monkey grass, or harvesting lettuce!

enter image description here

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Secateurs / Pruners (different names in different countries)

For: Pruning almost anything

Secateurs

I have bought tools one by one in the past 6 months for our new backyard and this was one of the first that was necessary (after trowel, hose, spade and fork).

There are a lot of cheap secateurs on the market these days - especially from the big box stores. It is worth investing in a quality pair with a good sharp blade, good sturdy pivot (fulcrum), a safety catch that is easy to apply, and that feels comfortable in your hands. A quality pair will last you many, many years. A cheap pair might last a year and be dangerous.

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Wheelbarrow

Recommended for medium to large gardens. Wheelbarrows give you leverage over heavy loads and help transport plants, soil, compost, woodchip, grass, logs and other natural waste as well as tools across your garden.

U.S. Navy photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Ames 7 in 1 tool

  • It's a tamper
  • It's a ruler
  • It's a trowel
  • It's a twine cutter
  • It's a weeder
  • It's a sod cutter
  • It's a gall'dern bag opener enter image description here
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5 Tined Garden Cultivator

I've never figured out how to use one of those twirly cultivators without getting it all gummed up. Fortunately a co-worker was getting rid of all his inherited gardening tools and I got one of these. It beats a hoe for getting rid of annoying weeds. But it is pretty much useless against grass.

If you want to cultivate your garden deeply for a rotating crop without using a gas powered mantis tiller, I'd find one of these puppies.

Deals weeds a most glorious death

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Hori Hori

There are only a couple of tools that I have hooked onto my belt so they're always by my side. One that I usually have is a pair of good, sharp hand clippers (Corona 1" clipers are my weapon of choice), but the one that I always have is a Hori Hori knife. It's a great tool to always have right at hand for any number of jobs, such as attacking weeds (both in the dirt and from cracks and crevices in pavement), digging up small plants (bulbs, roots, potatoes), cutting through roots, turning soil, making small holes for plantings, and so on.

It's nearly indestructible, has a good edge, just sharp enough for coarse gardening work, and a serrated side. Having it always by my side means fewer trips back to the shed to get a bigger tool (spade, hoe, or whatever).

Hori Hori

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I use a D-Handled Spade. I worked as a professional gardener for more than a decade, and while I first went with a long straight-handled spade, I changed over to the short and perfected my digging technique after a few years. I think it saved my back, and I know nothing else does the deed as well if you're double digging. Also you should sharpen the bottom edge with a file for best performance.

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Already mentioned above, without specifying handle type so this is a duplicate. To me a spade is a D-handled device. Otherwise it's a shovel. –  Lisa Jul 27 '11 at 0:05
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Mattock

enter image description here

These come in a few variants; this particular one is a pick mattock, the other common one being a cutter mattock, replacing the pic with a narrow axehead. You may never absolutely need one, depending on your region and what else you have growing nearby, but if you do it's the only tool for the job; indispensable for breaking up and turning hard clay soils, cutting invading roots, digging out stumps, pulling up or even breaking up your mid-size and larger rocks, etc.

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Thermometer.

To know exactly how hot or cold our garden or balcony is, for the reference in the future, and to record the growth of plants in whatever temperature. It is also used by serious compost people.

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Rock Bar/Digging Bar

enter image description here

Again, you may never need one (lucky stiff), or it may be the most-used tool you bring out each spring to prepare your garden beds. It's basically little more than a 5- or 6-foot solid steel bar with a chisel tip on one end (and a few options for the other end, from a pick point to a T-handle).

Its forte? Rocks. Big ones, like the ones that gardens in northern climates seem to grow every winter, or the 200-lb limestone slabs hiding just inches below the surface here in Texas. Its weight (typically 15-20 pounds for a solid steel bar) is also good, especially with a pick point, for driving into hard soil at the bottom of a hole to loosen it for the post-hole digger, and so it's a common companion to that tool for fencing, deckwork, some types of planting, etc.

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