The Right Tool For The Job

I am a lover of tools, and I am also a believer in using the right tool for the job. Having the proper tool (and knowing how to use it properly) increases your efficiency and quality of work done. Use this information as not only a garden lesson, but a life lesson!

The following are some musings and recommendations of mine on tools that you should probably have for your garden, including sources for those that might be harder to find. If you can’t afford the top of the line from the sources I post, know that you can generally find less expensive versions of all of these tools at your local hardware stores. You can often find basic garden tools at yard and estate sales. Also, consider checking out the Habitat For Humanity ReStore on Loma Rica Road. I have seen many quality used garden tools there at a great price.

Let’s start with the basics.

Shovel:  probably everyone has a shovel on hand. There are round point shovels and square point shovels. For digging, the round point is preferable. It is also probably what most of you already have in your garage. This is the best tool for digging holes, or moving and transferring soil. Square tip shovels are more efficient if you are scraping soil up from a flat surface or from a large pile, but less efficient for digging holes. Both are good to have around for their specific purposes!

Round Point Shovel:                                Square Point Shovel:

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Trowel:  this is your basic little hand held shovel, useful for digging holes when transplanting starts. I also like to use it to make rows when I plant seeds, and can be used to dig up small weeds. A must have for any gardener!

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Rake:  There are two basic kinds of rakes (and many more specialty rakes). The two that you are likely most familiar with are a basic leaf rake (shown here) and what I call a steel rake. The Steel rake is the tool that I would recommend for your garden. You can use both sides….the tined side for raking up excess soil, then turn it over to smooth the soil out. Great tool for shaping beds!

Steel Rake:                                                   Leaf Rake:


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Digging Fork:  I have often said that if I was trapped on a desert island and could have 2 tools, they would be my fork and my spade. Perhaps this is my French intensive garden training talking, but I do find these to be 2 of the most useful tools I have ever encountered. A digging fork is not to be confused with a pitchfork! A pitchfork has many thin usually slightly curved tines, and is designed for picking up hay and other light materials. It’s a great tool, but it is not strong enough to be used for digging.

Here is a picture of a pitchfork:

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A digging fork is designed for heavy digging, and is made with thick tines, generally 4 of them. The tines can be flat or actually square. I prefer the square tined forks, and find them much more effective for actual digging. This is the most efficient tool for turning and loosening your soil. It is also the ONLY effective tool for jobs like digging up Bermuda grass and other like-minded weeds. I happen to know that there a lot of you out there currently battling this problem. A digging fork would be a good investment. Using the full weight of your body like with a shovel, you can dig deep with a digging fork and lift the roots of noxious weeds like Bermuda Grass without slicing the roots into smaller segments (that will grow into new weeds!).

A digging fork can also be used to break up clods in the soil, by using the tines horizontally/flat to clobber the clods. Then use your trusty steel rake to clean up and smooth out your soil, and voila, a beautiful bed is born.

A good local source for high quality digging fork:

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Spade:  The other half of my ideal pair. A spade is a sharp-edged, usually rectangular, metal blade with a long handle. It is used for digging or cutting earth, and can also be used for chopping cover crop and other weeds.I most often use it for skimming….slicing the soil horizontally along a raised bed to create a more pronounced pathway (that soil gets added to the raised bed). It is also good for making straight edged cuts and edging.

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A good local source for spades:

Hand held Cultivator: useful especially if you are growing in boxes…use it to loosen the soil on the surface few inches of your beds as they become compacted to help with water absorbtion and getting oxygen to the roots.  You can use this tool carefully around your plants (being careful not to harm the roots) without having to dig the whole bed up. Hand cultivation is not a substitute for turning over your soil and amending your beds, but it can be very helpful at eliminating compaction while plants are actually growing.

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Weeding Tools:  Weeding is something we all need to do, and it is truly only effective if you are able to remove the entire plant, root and all. Everyone has their favorite, but here are a couple examples of tools both for hand weeding and larger scale weeding that I have found to be pretty handy.

Hand Held  Weeding Tools:

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Hori Hori Weeder Root Cutter

Hula Hoes: Hula hoes have an oscillating blade that undercuts the plant and slices it away from its root just under the surface of the soil. Very effective if you have long beds or large weedy areas. Generally available in long handled or hand held versions.

Glaser 7" Stirrup Hoe Head

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Watering Can:  Sometimes you need to give something a little extra water (like watering in when you first plant) or fertilizing (always with organic approved inputs!). Hoses are hard to drag around and unwieldy, and generally have too harsh of a stream to be good for small tender seedlings. Also, they generally come with a sprinkler head that is perfect for even and gentle watering of seed beds.  I would recommend a 1-2 gallon can. If you are using liquid organic fertilizer the dilution ratios are generally given based on a per gallon mix.


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Caring for your tools:  Like anything, tools will rust, rot and deteriorate if left outside. Having a clean, dry easy to access storage area for your tools will help to prolong their life….but only if you remember to put them away and clean them after each use! Tools are in investment, and that investment is more than just financial. It is an investment in time and efficiency. You will save time by having the proper tool, and knowing where to find it when you need it!

So those are some of the basics! You will be amazed at how much more efficient you can be when using the correct tools. As always, ask us questions about this when you see us. We are happy to demonstrate proper tool usage.