Container gardens

Soil compaction

Gardening tools

Propagation through cuttings

Community tree plantings

Magnolia grandiflora

Horticultural tips

Transplanting tips

Aftercare tips

Mulch and restoration factsheet

Root inspection

Shoot and crown inspection

Sequoiadendron giganteum

Pacific madrone

The myth of soil amendments

Compost tea


Master Gardener Magazine


Sustainable Horticulture

Essential Gardening Tools - A Quick Guide


There are many important aspects of a healthy, sustainable landscape. Nearly everyone thinks about soil, light, water, nutrients, and plants. However, many people overlook one essential element: tools! A good set of well-maintained garden tools will help you handle any situation, while keeping your plants happy and healthy.

While good tools can help your landscape, bad or poorly maintained tools can damage your plants. For instance, a dull pruning saw may require you to do much more sawing, leaving a jagged edge with missing bark that may become infected or diseased, rather than a clean wound that will heal quickly. Without the right shovel, you may grow tired before you dig an adequate planting hole, creating a less-than-ideal new home for your plant. Rusty tools may break more easily or simply not be as effective as well-maintained tools.

Buying good, quality tools is a great start. Although they may be more expensive than poorer quality models, well made tools will last longer and save you money in the long run. Taking good care of your tools is also essential to sustainable gardening. Sharpen your tools on a regular basis. To prevent rust and dirt from building up, clean your tools regularly. Once they are washed and dried, shovels, hoes, and other tools can be dipped in a mix of sand and oil to keep them shiny, sharp, and clean. Keeping your tools clean will also minimize the risk of spreading disease or infection between plants. Power equipment such as lawnmowers or chain saws should receive regular basis to ensure all the parts are in good shape and running properly. Finally, if your tools are held together by screws or bolts, check them periodically to ensure they are tight and rust-free.

With the following list of tools, you should have most common landscaping tasks covered. If you buy quality tools and maintain them properly, they will help you have a healthy landscape that gives you years of enjoyment. The right tools will also save you time and money.


There is a pruning implement to fit any need. For the vast majority of jobs, only 2 or 3 types of pruners are needed: a simple hand-held bypass pruners, a small hand saw, and perhaps a pair of loppers for bigger branches. For bigger jobs you may need to buy, borrow, or rent a larger saw (either hand-held or power). Plants that respond well to hedging can be pruned with hedge trimmers. Whatever you use, make sure it is the right pruner for the job. The diameter of the branch to be pruned should drive your decision. Make sure you can easily and cleanly chop through the branch with your chosen tool. If you can't it's probably too small. All pruning blades should be kept sharp and clean. Replaceable blades are an excellent feature, allowing you to replace broken or damaged blades.

Mulch forks

A mulch fork is basically a modified pitch fork. It has several long tines and is generally curved upwards on the side to better hold the mulch. These tools come in incredibly handy when you need to move large quantities of mulch. They also work well on leaves. Look for a sturdy handle and well spaced tines. Weight can be an issue, so be sure the tool is not too heavy for you to use.


A good shovel is essential when planting a new plant, building a berm, or digging up invasive or unwanted plants. Shovels come in different shape and sizes to fit different jobs. The length of the handle is an important consideration, as it will influence your ability to easily lift and use the shovel. Fiberglass handles tend to be sturdier and last longer than wood handles. If the head of the shovel is fused to the handle, rather than held on with 2 or 3 screws, it will also be much sturdier.


Rakes can be good for traditional uses such as raking up leaves. However, they are also good for spreading mulch or evening-out soil in planting beds. They can even be used to evenly spread leaves for use as a natural mulch! Look for a rake with well spaced, sturdy tines so leaves and branches don't get stuck on the tines.

Spading forks

These a wonderful gardening tool used for aerating and transplanting. It can also be used to separate grasses and perennials for propagation. In a pinch, it can be used like a mulch fork to move compost, mulch, leaves, and other materials. Look for a sturdy handle and tines, and make sure the handle length is appropriate for you.


Mattocks are basically modified pickaxes, with one end broad and flat, and the other either sharply pointed or split like an axe. A mattock can come in handy for breaking up compacted soil in small areas. It is also a useful tool for digging up roots and shoots. I find them particularly useful to digging up masses of English ivy (Hedera helix) and Himalayan blackberry (Rubus discolor), two local invasive species. One end can be used to dig the soil near the roots, while the other is used to pry the roots apart and remove them from the soil.

Weeding fork

A weeding fork, which typically has a long skinny handle with a forked head, can be great when digging up the weeds that will inevitably invade your garden. These tools are designed to dig around roots, capturing them in the forked head and providing leverage to pull the weed from the ground. If you use this to periodically remove your small weeds, you should be able to get a handle on them and keep your garden from being overwhelmed by weeds.


Lawnmowers come in a variety of styles - riding, push, gas, electric, and self-propelled, among others. Choose the model that's right for you and suited to the size of your lawn. Mulching mowers are an excellent choice, as they cut clippings and deposit them back on the lawn, providing nutrients and organic matter. This not only saves the clippings from the landfill, it also saves you from having to drag a heavy bag to your compost pile or trash bin! Electric mowers are generally easier on the environment than gas models, and self-propelled (non-electric) can be even more sustainable, though hard to find.

While this list won't cover every contingency, it should help you do the vast majority of your landscaping. With the right tools and a little maintenance, you'll have the beautiful, sustainable garden of your dreams in no time.

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