OK, 5 essential hobby gardening tools, plus a few extras depending on what type of garden you’ve got.
I worked as a self-employed gardener for about 5 years. I’ve covered gardens from wildernesses to works of art and from tiny gardens to business premises on an industrial estate. Over that time I’ve tried a few tools, destroyed a few and found a few I couldn’t live without. This is my list of the 5 essential gardening tools I couldn’t work without, plus a few more to suit the garden you’ve got. My hope is that some of the suggestions might help you enjoy gardening as a hobby or pass time.
I’ve included some photos of my actual tools. They’re a bit mucky and a bit battered, but they’ve all had a lot of use. I’ve also included a few external links in this post – they are not affiliate links, I will get no money if you click on them, I just included them to try to be helpful.
This article is a bit long so these are the contents –
The top 5
These are my top 5 essential gardening tools….
Gardening gloves are to protect your hands. They provide a barrier between your skin and whatever is out there trying to harm you. The obvious hazards are thorny plants like brambles, but there’s also irritating plants (nettles and ones with irritating sap like euphorbia), plus things like general muck, rotting mush and cat poo. Gloves also protect your hands from wear and knocks. Repetitive actions mean blisters, these plus grazes and cuts can be stopped with good gloves.
The big challenge with gloves is finding a pair that last and cover most of what you want to do. No gloves are comfortable for long hours, delicate enough for weeding, but tough enough to stop thorns so it’s always a compromise. I like an elasticated cuff because I hate baggy cuffs getting in the way and scooping up muck. In cold weather gloves don’t offer much warmth, but in hot weather some breathe better than others.
I’ve tried expensive gardening gloves and in my opinion, don’t bother. It’s far better to get some that feel comfortable than pay extra for a brand or gimmick. My favourite gloves are actually not gardening gloves, they’re general work gloves. Inexpensive, but last well and give me the protection I need. They offer the fingertip protection needed for weeding, palm protection against blisters and general protection against cuts and grazes. They’re not great for thorns, though little is, but they are thin enough to be able to feel what I’m doing. The finger and palms are coated in plastic that gives protection and grip, but the back is breathable fabric.
So what do you need to consider? If you can, try gloves on before you buy. Check they’re easy enough to get one, but the right size once they’re on. You may prefer a tight fit or a loose fit – it’s a personal thing. Sizes can vary. I wear a size 8 or men’s medium, but some can be too small to get on and some are huge. Check you have the dexterity to hold a pen. Consider what type of gardening you’ll be doing. Weeding by hand is fiddly and easier with slightly thinner gloves so you can feel. Pushing a mower needs comfy gloves that feel nice against your palms. Hand tools are easier if the gloves offer a bit of grip. Consider if you have any limitations that may influence your choice. I have osteoarthritis in my hands and I find bulky gloves tire my hands more.
If you’re able to do all of your gardening standing up, then ignore a kneeler or seat, but if you need to get lower then it helps to have a seat or something to kneel on. Something like this will protect your joints and reduce tiredness. If you have dodgy knees or hips then sitting will probably be better than kneeling. Kneeling lets you get close to the plants and soil, but getting back up is wearing for even the fittest person.
Options – foam kneeler, knee pads, kneeler/seat, stool, typing chair, raised beds, long handled tools.
If you’re active and able, a cheap option is a foam kneeler pad or knee pads. Knee pads are available for lots of trades so easy to source. They usually have an elasticated band that holds them in place, though some slot into work trouser knee pockets. I’m not a fan of knee pads because the elastic stretches and they’re annoying the rest of the time. I use a foam kneeler whenever I kneel or sit. The foam is quite dense so it doesn’t soak up water. It can be wiped clean and mine has kept its cushioning very well.
A better option is a kneeler/seat. These cost a bit more, but give you more options and if you kneel they offer handles to help you get back up. They usually have a foam pad fixed within a frame that can be used as a kneeler one way up and seat the other way up. Metal framed ones often fold so don’t take up too much space when not in use. Plastic framed ones are often lighter. Kneeler/seats are also very handy mini benches to put things on whilst you’re working (or putting out the washing) to save bending down as much.
If kneeling is not a good option then consider seats. You don’t need to get mud on your knees to be a gardener! Well placed garden benches or little walls can be very helpful. A stool, typing chair or dining chair can be a very comfortable height and much better for getting up and down. The downside of internal furniture outside is that they’re not as stable on uneven ground and getting up can still be difficult. Weather can also batter them. Please check a seat is completely stable before you sit because the worst case would be for it and you to fall.
Raised beds mean you don’t need to kneel. Ideally build them with chunky walls so you can sit or rest against the edge, though if you use a wheelchair then thinner walls are better because you can get closer to the plants. If you’re building a raised bed, pick a height that suits you and be wary of making it too big/broad because you need to be able to get at all of it.
If getting low is not an option, there are some fantastic long handled tools so go for these instead of trying to kneel or sit. These tools can be great if you use a wheelchair too.
Planning and planting can save your knees. Weed suppressant fabric, bark, gravel, strulch (straw mulch), ground cover plants and shrubs all cut down on how much kneeling is needed. Rockeries require less weeding than a soil border. Shrubs offer year-round colour and structure, but also block sun to the soil below keeping weeds under more control. Perennials tend to just need an annual cut back. Annuals mean the most kneeling/sitting.
I’ve only discovered the joys of a weeder relatively recently. I used to use a trowel for all weeding, which worked fine, until I discovered my weeder. My weeder is the ergonomic weeder by Peta UK and I started using it to try to protect my hands and wrists after I found out I’d got osteoarthritis. Initially I found it odd to use with the handle direction at 90 degrees to the prongs, but I soon adapted. My weeder has had some serious hammer and is now looking a little battered, but it’s wonderful.
To use the Peta UK weeder, put the prongs at the base of the plant and then lever against the central pivot and weeds rise up enough to lift out. I can’t count the number of complete dandelions my weeder has lifted. I have a bad habit of using whatever tool I have to hand to do every task and so I can safely say my weeder has done a lot more than just weeding. To be honest, I hardly use my trowel at all nowadays and haven’t even included it in this top 5.
If bending down isn’t ideal, there are long handled weeders too.
There are often things to snip in a garden, whether it’s dead-heading, cutting back/pruning or tidying. A lot of garden cutting comes down to keeping things pretty or controlling growth. Dead-heading removes faded flowers that can look scruffy and it can help to prolong flowering periods. After flowering or during winter, lots of plants start to look brown or tatty and a cut back can make them look nicer, plus gets them ready for the next year. Some plants if left to their own devices get big or leggy and cutting back helps to control this. The tool of choice for cutting is usually secateurs. Secateurs are chunky scissors, with a catch to keep them closed and a spring to automatically open the cutting space.
The main two groups of secateurs are anvil and bypass. Bypass are like scissors and have two sharp edges to slice through things. Anvil have one sharp blade and a flat face so the cut is from one side. For secateurs I think most people settle with one, though in general bypass is faster, but anvil is better for tougher stuff. To help, ratchet secateurs reduce a bit of power you need from your hands and there are even powered secateurs, though they can be very slow. For dead-heading, snips are really handy. For chunkier stuff, you’ll need loppers.
Although secateurs usually say they’re ergonomic, I’ve yet to find any that are really comfy to hold and use. My preference is bypass and I try before I buy to have a quick check how they fit in my hand. I still get blisters and some do tire my hands. Some are also really annoying for the catch that should lock them closed, but often locks as you’re trying to work. Paying more tends to just mean fancier materials, but in my opinion comfort is key. I tend to buy cheap ones – they don’t last as long, but if they end up being hard on my hands I don’t feel bad for replacing them.
Secateurs do get blunt with use. They can also get nicks in the blade if you accidentally cut through metal wire. Garden tool sharpening tools are handy for a quick sharpen every now and then. Some plants can leave a sticky residue so giving them a clean can help. Cleaning also helps to protect plants prone to picking up bugs from dirty blades like roses.
I wear gloves for gardening so it’s not easy to cut myself, though I have still managed it through my gloves once. Basically, secateurs are sharp so be careful and watch what you’re doing.
5. Trug or bucket
I love my trug. It’s a plastic bucket that’s quite flexible, has a good stable base, two handles and doesn’t weigh a lot. They’re also sometimes called flexi tubs. Because it’s flexible, I can carry it with one hand. I use it to capture then transport weeds, if I’m repotting plants, if I’m moving plants, capturing bits I cut off during pruning etc etc. It’s pretty easy to keep clean and is definitely tough. Trugs are also good as wash baskets too.
My main use for my trug is when I’m weeding. I keep it with me to throw in weeds as I work and then use it to carry them to the garden waste bin. It can be good to couple it with a wheelbarrow or trolley to save carrying it and to keep it at a better height for higher up work.
Beware of getting a trug that’s too big. Mine is about 36 litres and I wouldn’t get one any bigger. If in doubt go smaller – it can get very heavy when full!
If you have a bucket handy, this will work almost as well as a trug. They tend to be a good size to carry around. I do use a bucket to carry my garden tools around with me. It fits into my trug too for storage.
Some people use bags or tarpaulins to capture and carry waste, but I find they misbehave. They easily get caught by a breeze, they can tear, they’re hard to dry once they get wet and for a bag you need to use both hands to get waste in it.
Other tools you may find helpful
I’ve listed above the tools I find essential for gardening, but they are other tools that do come in handy, just not as often or not as critical.
I use a hat whenever I’m gardening. In winter it’s fleecy to keep me warm and in summer it’s a baseball cap to keep the sun off my face. They also stop my hair blowing into my face. I never used to wear a hat, but keeping the sun out my eyes makes a massive difference so I’ve been a convert.
Safety glasses and ear plugs
Safety glasses are essential for any strimming – I’ve seen black eyes on people who haven’t bothered. They are also a good idea for hedge trimming, trimming anything that’s an irritant (I find ivy really annoys my eyes), around pointy plants and any heavy duty work. Ear plugs or ear defenders are important for noisy tools.
I use a fork much more often than a spade. They’re handy for breaking up soil and for lifting plants without damaging roots. They’re very physical to use so if you don’t need one, don’t bother to buy one.
Since I got my weeder, I don’t use my trowel much. It is handy for digging mini holes for bulbs and annuals, but I use mine for little else these days. Instead of a trowel, a chunky bit of metal like rebar or a pointed wooden stick (dibber) can work better and are better options if bending down isn’t ideal.
They are a few different types of hoe, but the common one is a Dutch hoe. It’s used to push through the top surface of soil to break it up, make it look prettier and chop up weeds. You can get shorter versions for sitting or use the full length when standing. I’d be careful using a hoe if you have bulbs because it can chop the top off them as they start to grow.
I use a tool bag to carry essential tools as I work. Mine’s a DIY/workman type with a waist belt and pockets. It’s handy to keep things ready to hand. It also solves the problem of finding tools you’ve put down, that then become invisible as soon as you want them again!
Wheelbarrows or trolleys are handy for moving things around, but I don’t use mine much.
Garden specific tools
For some gardens, they are additional tools that are very handy. Possibly not essential gardening tools, but do the trick and useful to have none-the-less.
If you’ve got a patio
Weeds seem to love the gaps in patios. Block paving too is like a magnet for little weeds. The best tool I’ve found is a patio knife. It has an L shaped blade that can get down into the gaps to cut or pull out weeds. You can get long handled versions to save kneeling.
If you’ve got grass/lawn
If you’ve got a lawn, you’ll probably need a mower. Battery powered mowers are probably the best bet for smaller to medium lawns – no cable to cut through, but also lighter than a petrol mower.
A tool I find very handy for grass is a grass trimmer (please use it with safety glasses). Mine is battery powered and I use it to trim the edge of grass, which makes it look much neater and also makes mowing it easier too. The balance of mine is good so it isn’t tiring to use. I find a grass trimmer much better than the traditional strimmer option.
If you’ve got chunky shrubs
Chunky shrubs and small trees will need taming. Loppers are the traditional tool of choice, though I can find them heavy and tough on my hands. Some extend, but I’d be wary of these because the telescopic bit on one handle always seems to fail quite easily and they can get quite unwieldy. For chunkier branches, I find a tree saw useful.
If you’ve got a small hedge
For a small hedge, I use a battery powered hedge trimmer (and safety glasses). The battery powered types might not have quite the power of plug in or petrol powered ones, but they’re lighter, better balanced and have no cable to cut through. They can even be used on shrubs if you have enough control.
If leaves fall on your garden and you find them annoying
Fallen leaves get everywhere and can make a garden look a bit scruffy. Leaf blowers sound a good idea, but in my experience they just move the problem around and can be quite wimpy. I use a telescopic, adjustable grass rake from Aldi. It’s not the most robust tool, but it’s very light, stores in a small space and is wonderfully adjustable. It was very cheap too.
There are loads of tools out there on the market. Some may be fantastic, but if you can try before you buy then do. Some are pretty niche, so I’d suggest only buying if you know you will find them helpful. For most tools, consider second hand. People end up with sheds full of tools so look out for garage sales or freebies. It’s a great way to try tools out to find out what works well for you. I’d avoid second hand battery powered tools though.
Everyone will develop a set of gardening tools they find essential. This set will evolve with time and be influenced by the demands of the garden. It’s important to use tools that you find comfortable to use, so consider ergonomic tools if you can. Consider your needs and limitations when buying tools, but also when planning your garden. I think the most important thing is to enjoy gardening. Gardens can take every minute of your time, there is always more to do, so instead focus on what will make the biggest difference. In spring, all gardens go feral so don’t worry. Gardening is a great hobby and even if it’s just a couple of minutes here and there or keeping a house plant alive, it all counts!
What garden tools or modifications do you find useful? Please leave your comments below.
Dr Eleanor Rogerson founded Hobby Aids because she believes hobbies are good for you and limitations shouldn't stop doing what you enjoy. She is based in North Lincolnshire, UK.
Her background is chemistry, but after years in industry she wanted to work for herself and so went self-employed. During this time she mainly worked as a gardener. Recently she has been diagnosed with arthritis in her hands, which has caused her to discover the gap in the market to cater for hobbies for people with limitations.