When it’s time to care for your spring blooms, you need the right gear. But before you pull on your gardening gloves, think about your needs. The best gardening tools focus on what you’ll actually be doing. For example, if you love low-maintenance houseplants, a hand tool set including a shovel, scoop, and small rake, is essential so you can repot. The set is also helpful for up-close work when you’re kneeling on the ground, say, getting those perennials or bulbs in soil.
Alternatively, if you’re a beginner tending to your first vegetable garden or making your own compost, you need tools that have long handles, such as a digging spade and garden rake, so you don’t have to hunch over. And if you love all plants (and you know you do!), both types of sets will make your life easier.
Whether you’re looking for a single gardening tool or the best sets for beginners, seniors, or options that the professionals use, we’ve got you (and your ground) covered.
Consider When Choosing the Gardening Tools
Not all garden tools are alike. Some tools have multiple functions, while others serve a specific task. They feature different materials and designs for both the handle and the blade, which affect durability and cost. Keep the following factors in mind to find the best tools for specific tasks.
Size and Weight
The size and components of a garden tool have the most impact on its weight. Hand tools may weigh less than a pound and usually no more than 5 or 6 pounds. Lighter manual, full-length tools like shovels and rakes usually weigh between 5 and 10 pounds. String trimmers, among the heaviest garden equipment, average 5 to 12 pounds for electric trimmers and 10 to 20 pounds for gas-powered models.
Try to strike a balance between durability, weight, and cost when purchasing any gardening tool. Aluminum and plastic garden tools are lighter and less expensive, but most likely won’t last very long. Steel and fiberglass cost more and last longer. Wooden tools weigh more and cost less.
If you are working on a small flower bed with minimal growing areas, a smaller, lighter tool may be sufficient. Smaller tools allow for more flexibility and precision when working in tighter spaces. More extensive gardens require heavier, sturdier tools that give users more leverage for digging and breaking up soil.
Handle and Grip
Ratchet handles feature a locking mechanism to eliminate the need to constantly compress a gardening tool as you work. Gardeners who live with joint and muscle ailments may find these tools especially helpful. Linseed oil can help clean and preserve wooden handles.
Plastic handles work fine for smaller tools. They come in ergonomic shapes that offer a comfortable grip. However, plastic handles can’t handle the leveraging pressure applied to larger tools, and they will snap easily.
Rubber coating on grips and handles can help alleviate wear and tear on your hands. Keep in mind that regardless of the ergonomic or fatigue-relieving features any handle or grip might offer, it’s still a good idea to wear a quality pair of gardening gloves to avoid scratches and cuts from branches, stones, and thorns.
Blade and Handle Material
Stainless steel, aluminum, plastic, wood, and fiberglass figure prominently into the handles and blades of garden tools.
Steel lasts a long time and gets the job done, but it’s not lightweight. A steel shaft or handle weighs more than aluminum, plastic, and fiberglass. And only stainless steel or powder-coated steel resists rust.
Aluminum weighs less than steel and resists rust. On the other hand, this cheaper material bends and dents more easily than steel. Aluminum may not stand up well to hard, rocky soil.
Plastic handles weigh less and cost less, but the lightweight, cheap material may not save much in the end. It can break or crack with heavy or extended use.
Wood handles and shafts provide a cost-effective, durable, and moderate weight option. But, wood can break, crack, and rot in certain weather conditions.
Fiberglass provides a strong and lightweight handle at a slightly higher price. This material stands strong against rust and extreme weather.
How We Tested
We bought more than 20 top-rated gardening tools that our reviewer tested for 25 hours. We asked our tester to consider the most important features when using these tools, from the quality of material to their effectiveness. We’ve outlined the key takeaways here so that you, too, know what to look for when shopping.
Our Top Picks
The factors above were taken into consideration and the available choices pruned down to the following list of some of the best gardening tools on the market, regardless of your skill level. Now roll up your sleeves and get your hands dirty!
While gardening can be a wonderful hobby, it can quickly turn into a thorny and splintery hassle without the right pair of gloves.
Gloves should be durable but not too bulky, especially for working with seeds or transplanting seedlings.
Fit is important, as poorly fitting gloves can cause blisters or result in accidents from slipping off.
Fabrics that are water resistant, but also breathable, will help keep hands cool and comfortable.
Longer cuffs protect wrists and forearms from scratches and keep soil from getting in.
Store gloves out of sunlight, away from water and safe from insects.
For smaller projects in elevated garden beds or container gardens, a hand trowel is one of the best gardening tools to have. Basically a miniature shovel, a garden trowel is designed for small, precise work. Use it for small planting projects and shallow digging.
Like a gardening trowel, a hand cultivator is a handheld tool ideal for smaller gardening needs. This multi-pronged tool will easily break up tough soil and loosen compacted dirt and gravel.
Hand cultivators are often available as a combination tool with a hoe (sometimes called an adze) on the opposite side. Whether you buy a regular hoe or a combo tool, it is useful for leveling and smoothing surfaces. If you need to dig deeper holes, you can move more dirt with a hoe than with a trowel.
A basic shovel is one of the best gardening tools to have. Shovels are great for digging most materials in your yard or garden. They’re also good for breaking up and turning over soil and compost. Shovels have a bowl-shaped blade with a rounded edge. The other end of the blade is often flat, giving you a place to put your foot as you push the shovel into the ground.
Specialty shovels, like trenching, square point and drain shovels, are purpose-specific tools that make jobs like burying an irrigation pipe or planting trees easier. There are also shovels designed to cut through thick roots.
Spades are designed to slice through tough soil or roots quickly and smoothly. They have a flat blade with a straight edge, ideal for edging projects. Their shorter, knee-length handles make them easier to handle than shovels.
Garden forks are used for digging, turning and aerating soil. The tines help break up tough soil and clay.
Many types of handle lengths and configurations are available, such as straight, bent, O-handle, D-handle and even handles with helper springs. There’s certain to be one that is right for you and your project.
Rakes take the concept of the human hand and finger dexterity to a bigger scale. They come in all sizes and styles. Likely to have originated from a forked tree branch, what we often call the pitchfork has its roots in agriculture. Forks are designed in different styles and with different numbers and sizes of tines, depending on the material to be moved.
Leaf Rake: This is for moving leaves, grass clippings and other material. The flexible steel or poly tines do a good job of cleaning yard debris from grass. Leaf rakes come in a wide range of sizes.
Garden Rake: This rake has short, rigid steel tines that allow you to break and scratch into hard ground. It’s also useful for moving mulch and compost. The flat bar lets you smooth loose material, like mulch and gravel.
Thatch Rake: This tool is designed specifically to scratch into turf and remove thatch.
Bedding Fork: This tool has curved, round tines and is useful for moving large amounts of loose material, such as mulch, straw and hay.
Manure Fork: This fork has a design similar to that of the bedding fork, but the tines can handle heavier material.
5. Garden Hoes
Another simple and ancient tool, the hoe is designed for weeding and light groundbreaking. There are several different head sizes and shapes.
Standard Garden Hoe: This tool has a squared blade set at a right angle to the handle for chopping.
Warren Hoe: This tool is made more for planting than weeding. The V-shaped blade has a dual purpose. The pointed end digs furrows, while the open top can close the furrows.
Weeding/Two-Prong Hoe: This tool has a flat blade on one end for chopping and pointed tips on the other for pulling weeds up by the roots.
Action Hoe: The head of the action hoe pivots back and forth under the soil for weed-cutting action. The blade cuts on the push or pull stroke.
Hand pruners, also called secateurs, help reign in plants that are getting out of control and taking over. Anvil-style pruners cut with a sharp blade meeting a flat surface, similar to a knife on a board. Bypass pruners cut with a sharp blade passing by a sharp-edged flat surface, more like scissors.
Anvil pruners are best for dead wood and can cause crush injuries to fresh, green stems and branches.
Bypass pruners are better for live plants and green wood.
Pruners should fit easily in the palm of your hand.
Ratcheting pruners provide increased cutting strength, perfect for anyone with reduced hand strength or arthritis.
For cleaner cuts and less injury to plants, pruners should be sharpened regularly.
7. Garden Hose
Garden hoses allow you to water everything quickly. There’s no need to lug a watering can around your backyard, going from plant to plant. Soaker hoses can be arranged on the ground to give consistent watering to plants that need it.
A quality watering nozzle or wand will make irrigation much easier. A wand extends the hose’s reach, so you can spray water on plants that are high or low. Get a hose reel to keep everything tidy when it’s not in use.
Outdoor power tools make lawn chores easier. They make lighter work of jobs like mowing and edging lawns, trimming hedges and general tidying up.
Gas-powered tools are the best choice for heavy-duty work. However, if you have a small space, corded and cordless electric tools are efficient and increasingly more powerful.
If you have half an acre or less of grass to maintain, consider a cordless battery push mower. It won’t disturb your neighbors if you mow early in the morning. You can also choose a non-electric manual reel mower to care for your lawn.
A handheld leaf blower is handy for tree-shaded driveways and decks. It’s not just for fall leaves, though. A handheld blower can clean up pine straw, sand, dust and other debris. Consider it a power broom, able to sweep up your outdoor space in a snap.
A gas-powered blower is still the way to go if you have a lot of territory to cover. If your space is small, a corded electric blower will go as far as your extension cord allows. With an electric blower, you won’t need fuel and oil. Plus, winterizing electric tools requires little more than cleaning and storing. Battery-powered blowers will make clearing your driveway easy no matter how long it is.
Depending on your landscape plantings, you may find a need for all of these diverse cutting tools.
Pruning Saw: This tool works best in a restricted work area. The saw cuts on the pull stroke for less awkward work, especially from a ladder. The more teeth a saw has, the more precise the cut. Use large-toothed saws for bigger limbs.
Bow Pruning Saw: This is used for quick cuts on large limbs when the cut is obstructed.
Pole Pruner: This pruner is great for overhead cuts when loppers won’t reach. Pole pruners allow upper-tier pruning by means of a cutter or a saw without climbing or the need for a ladder. A rope and pulley operates the cutter from ground level. Telescoping poles add to the cutting range.
Hand Pruner: Bypass pruners provide scissors-like cutting for tender stems. They cut cleaner and closer without crushing plant tissue as anvil pruners can but are harder to sharpen. Anvil pruners cut against a flat anvil — best for dead wood and woody stems.
Lopper: This is essentially a bypass or anvil pruner with long handles for extra leverage. The biggest loppers can cut material up to about 2 inches in diameter. Some have ratchet-assisted cutting action for additional torque.
While not tools in the traditional sense, wheelbarrows and yard carts take a lot of the effort out of gardening and landscape work. Whether you’re carrying a load of mulch, a bag of garden soil or even your hand tools, a wheelbarrow or yard cart makes hauling easier.
Wheelbarrow: These are available in one- or two-wheeled models. They tip up for easy unloading, and shoveling material in and out is simple. The single-wheel variety requires greater strength and balance. Trays are metal or plastic.
Yard Cart: These have two or four wheels, offering good stability. Two-wheeled carts allow you to tip material out, while four-wheeled carts may have a dump feature or drop-down sides. Some carts have tool storage or seating.
Tips and where to start
While it can be tempting to spontaneously start digging and planting seeds in your backyard, Sears said it’s important to first consider what types of plants will grow best where you live. She said factors like light, temperature and space all play into how well plants grow. Before purchasing seeds or seedlings, Sears recommended consulting the United States Department of Agriculture’s Plant Hardiness Zone Map, which can help you figure out the best times to plant. Also, be sure to survey where you plan to place your garden and consider factors like shade and access to sunlight.
If you don’t have a yard to garden in, opt for a portable stand planter. Sears said they’re great to add to patios or balconies, and allow for drainage and root aeration while also managing plant temperature. Since the planter is portable, you can move it around to find a spot with the best sunlight, too.