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Basic Tools for a Gardener

Gardeners use many tools to tend their gardens, but only a few are essential and used most of the time. These are the tools that every gardener should have.

Garden fork

The most important work a gardener does is getting the soil ready for planting. When the ground is hard and packed down, the best tool to break it up is a garden fork. A garden fork is like a shovel, except instead of a blade it has four strong sharp tines that can pierce even the hardest soil. The gardener pokes the fork into the earth, steps on the top to sink it in, rocks it back to break up the soil, and turns it over to loosen and mix the soil together. This is repeated all over the garden until all the soil is loose and easy for plants to grow in. A gardener also uses a fork to mix compost and other materials into the soil. The fork also helps remove big rocks that get in the way. Sometimes you can also just stick the fork into the soil and rock it back and forth to loosen the soil and let air in, without turning it over. A garden fork is also used to turn the compost pile, which can be full of stems and roots that make it hard to pick up with a shovel.

Shovel

Sometimes the gardener needs to move soil, sand, finished compost, or other fine materials that would slip through a fork. A shovel is the perfect tool for that job. The gardener can also use the sharp blade of the shovel to cut through grass or tough weeds while digging up a new garden, or trimming the edges of a bed.

Trowel

A trowel is like a small shovel that you use with one hand to dig planting holes, or dig up and lift small plants to move them.

Hoe, cultivator or weeder

A gardener needs to get weeds out of the garden, and keep the top of the soil broken up so that water and air can get in. A hoe has a flat blade on a long handle that the gardener can pull through the earth to cut weeds and roots, and move the soil around to loosen it up. A cultivator has three or four curved tines that can be pulled through the soil to break it up. Some cultivators have long handles that can be used standing; some have a short handle like a trowel that you have to kneel down to use when you are working closely around small plants. Another popular type of hand weeder has a blade that is dragged through the soil to loosen it and cut down small weeds.

Knife or scissors

A gardener often needs to cut crops from the plant, or trim dead leaves and stems. A knife or scissors makes it easy, and should be sharp to make a clean cut without tearing the plant stems.

Gloves

Gardening can be rough on a gardener's hands, so many gardeners prefer to wear gloves to protect them and keep them clean. Gloves are also very nice to have when you need to handle prickly plants like raspberries or roses, and when it's cold outside.

Wheelbarrow, cart or baskets

Gardeners are always moving stuff around: moving dirt from here to there, moving weeds to the compost pile and finished compost back to the garden, and of course taking the harvest home. Wheelbarrows and garden carts are perfect for moving around soil, stones, lime, compost, and other heavy materials. Baskets are great for picking crops and taking them back to the kitchen, and weeds to the compost.

Hose and watering can

During a hot summer between rains, a garden will need to be watered. A hose with a good sprinkler head makes it easy to water a household garden by hand, or to hook up a sprinkler. A special hose called a "drip hose" has millions of little holes in it that leak water right into the soil around plants without wasting any. A watering can is just right for gently watering small seedlings and plants that have just been moved, without flooding them or knocking them over with a blast from the hose.

Some other tools that gardeners find useful are:

Tape measure

Plants need to be spaced apart just far enough: too close together and they shade each other from the sun, too far apart wastes space and leaves more soil and sun for the weeds. Seeds and seedlings need to be planted just deep enough: too shallow and the roots won't grow deep enough, too deep and the new plants have to work too hard to grow out of the ground into the sun. Gardens also look better and are easier to work in if the plants are spaced in neat rows. Gardeners are pretty good at guessing how far apart and how deep plants should be, but a tape measure eliminates the guesswork and helps make a garden look better and produce the best crops.

Pruner or lopper

When plants get too big or old to be cut with scissors or a knife, the gardener needs to use a pruner or lopper. These work like a pair of scissors with really long handles and strong short blades that can easily cut through thick stems and roots.