How to: Choose The Right Tools

Let's Talk Tools

Now’s a good time to take stock of your garden tools before the growing season begins in earnest – so what should be hanging in your shed? Here are the essential items every gardener needs

The truth is, many gardeners simply don’t appreciate the importance of good quality tools. Instead, they skimp on cheap versions. But they make a good investment as, in the long run, they’ll save energy, time and even money. Buying cheap tools is usually a false economy as they can break, bend or wear down. A good quality tool, on the other hand – particularly one you’ve handled, weighed and balanced before buying, and looked after well, is usually easy and comfortable to use, and will last almost a lifetime.


Tools for a small space

If you have a patio garden, balcony or a small town plot, smaller hand tools are best for the job. Top among these is the trowel – without it, you wouldn’t be able to get your bedding plants, alpines and smaller perennials planted. Easy to hold and easy to use, you can even scrape the mud off your boots with one. A useful addition to this, if you like bulbs, is a specially designed bulb planter – and the best time to buy one of these is in the summer, just before the main bulb-planting season.

If you grow shrubs, fruits and perennials you’ll also need a good pair of secateurs. Hold and grip a pair in the shop before you buy them – make sure they feel right and aren’t too heavy. You’ll also need to decide whether you want the anvil or bypass type of secateurs. The former has one blade that cuts on to a straight ‘anvil’, and the latter has two blades cutting with a scissor action. Gloves may not exactly be considered a tool, but they’re certainly essential equipment. With a tiny garden you’re unlikely to need the thick, leather gauntlet gloves used by professional rose pruners, but it’s still very important to have some gloves to keep your hands protected from compost, soil, thorns and slugs.

For the kitchen gardener

The hand tools mentioned above are, of course, just as relevant in gardens with areas for vegetables and fruit – but you can instantly add four more tools to your list: spade, fork, rake and hoe. For beds with soil that needs digging, a good spade and fork are essential and it really is worth spending a bit extra on these. Tools are available in a range of prices to suit all budgets, but the top-of-the-range types are made from stainless steel and are easier to use as they don’t clog up so easily or rust. They last for years, too.

Most gardeners will carry out lighter work with the rake and hoe, and probably use them less often – so if your budget is restricted you could always buy more economically priced options initially and upgrade later.

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Choose the right tools for you

It’s worth knowing that tools with over-long handles, especially digging tools, make for slow work and will be most uncomfortable to use. On the other hand, those with too short a handle are apt to give you backache so, once again, lift the tool off the garden centre rack and feel it for yourself. Balance it from one hand to the other to judge its weight and take up the digging, forking, raking or hoeing stance with them (you might feel a bit daft in the shop but it will be worth it). Other useful items if you’re planting include a garden line – at its simplest, a length of polypropylene twine between two short canes – plus a dibber for making holes in the soil, twine, a watering can and, of course, pots and trays for raising seedlings and for potting plants.

For a large space

Larger gardens invariably have lawns, so a lawn rake is important. These are fan-shaped, spring-tined tools and they’re great for raking up leaves, moss and other lawn debris.
A good pair of sharp edging shears is also essential. A rough, weedy lawn with overlong grass will look so much better if its edges are trimmed. So, get a good pair of edging shears, which have scissor-like blades set at 90° to the long handles, so that you can work standing sideways along the edge of the lawn.

Larger gardens are often home to shrub and tree borders, where the secateurs will come in handy, but for larger stems and branches you should invest in a pruning saw. This small, hand-held tool usually has a curved steel blade and is useful for getting in-between branches.  Some models are designed to fold, with the blade closing into the handle, which has a safety benefit and is useful if storage is tight.

As for mowers, there’s a wide range of options. Broadly speaking, they can be divided into electric rotary, petrol rotary, electric hover, petrol cylinder and hand push cylinder mowers. There are also battery-powered models and, of course, those covetable ride-on types. Electric mowers are lighter than petrol models, and hand push cylinder mowers are best for keeping you fit. If you have banks or a sloping garden, you’ll probably be better off with an electric hover mower as these are lightweight and easy to manoeuvre, but if perfect stripes are your priority then a petrol cylinder mower is what you need. And finally, if you have a large area then a petrol rotary mower is probably best for the job.


How much should you spend?

It’s worth knowing that all the tools mentioned here range in price from ‘value’ to expensive. If you’re starting from scratch or renewing everything, it’s always worth looking at the ‘value’ end – you can easily upgrade your tools gradually at a later date if necessary.

Browse our gardening range online and explore the full range at your local Dobbies.

Credit: Graham Clarke

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