Essential Landscaping Tools

I’ve always taken the less-stuff approach when working outside. Here’s my list of essential landscaping tools, along with some useful tips.

1. Pointed Shovel

I have a short, pointed shovel with a looped handle, and it fits my 5’4″ frame perfectly. I use it to dig holes, lift turf, and to plant bulbs. There are other shovels and spades designed for specific purposes, but I’ve never felt the need to own them.

2. Half-Moon Edging Tool

An edging tool is absolutely necessary for making a nice sharp line between your turf grass and your planting beds, or between your lawn and the curb.

3. Hand Pruning Shears and Loppers

Ideally, shrubs should be planted far enough away from your house or the curb, so they won’t require cutting back when they are mature.

Shearing deciduous shrubs leaves them “hacked” and causes an unnatural branching pattern that prohibits light from reaching the entire shrub. That’s why many shrubs look so straggly on the bottom.

If you prefer a formal look, it’s fine to shear dense evergreen shrubs like yews and boxwood.

Otherwise, to keep a shrub tidy, look into “selective pruning.” This professional technique uses pruning tools to reach deep into the plant and cleanly cut out branches where they meet the stem, or at other strategic points. It opens up the shrub to more sunlight, and maintains its beautiful, natural shape.

If your shrub has become just too overgrown for selective pruning, it’s possible in many cases to cut it down almost to the ground and start over with new growth. This is true of lilacs and spireas, for example. Check online or at your local nursery to see if your shrub is a candidate for regeneration pruning (not all are).

4. Pruning Saw

A small hand pruning saw slices through wood with surprising ease. I use it for other things I probably shouldn’t, such as dividing perennials (which is more properly done with a garden knife or two garden forks).

Note: For major tree pruning, it’s worth the investment to call a certified arborist.

5. Leaf Rake

Bamboo, metal, kids’ plastic, whatever rake you have is fine, even though technically each has a different purpose. I rarely use a straight-edged rake, and make do with this one rake, sometimes using it upside-down as a grading tool.

6. Shop Broom

Straw brooms work very well on concrete, asphalt, and stepping-stones. They are tougher than a regular inside broom and are perfect for mucky wet leaves and other outdoor debris.

7. Bucket

Buckets are great for deep-watering shrubs, and for picking up rocks and weeds. Soaker hoses and watering wands are very nice, but I like the simplicity of the bucket. I also have a watering can, but to be honest, I rarely use it.

8. Three-Prong Hoe

A three-pronged hoe is perfect for removing lightly rooted weeds. It’s like my bionic arm. I also use it for spreading around mulch.

9. Wheelbarrow

You need something to contain rubbish to get it out to the curb. I keep a tarp in my car when I do community-type projects, and we have a rickety classic wheelbarrow at home. My dear friend, who is a world-class gardener, has a proper garden cart, and I have to say I am jealous.

Tip from a favorite landscape contractor: Rather than piling up your yard waste and trash right in front of your house, put it somewhere off to the side. It looks so much better. Makes sense!

10. Gloves

I buy five or six pairs of inexpensive cotton canvas work gloves at the hardware store and throw them in the washer now and then. That way I always have a clean pair, and they never seem to wear out.

11. Sturdy Footwear

Because I don’t work with power tools, I just use my last year’s pair of Land’s End all-weather suede mocs. Otherwise, I would wear proper safety boots.

Note: I wear regular eyeglasses, otherwise, for some tasks, I would also wear a pair of safety goggles.

12. Lawn Mower

A good lawn mower is essential if you have a lawn. But no weed-whacker! Landscapes are easiest to maintain when there is no need for trimming. 

If you have weeds, why not dig them out once and for all? If you have places where the mower can’t reach, consider planting ground covers, low-mow grasses, or meadow lawn alternatives. It’s all about simplifying.

What about all of those little hand diggers and bulb planters and things? I find that a long-handled tool works well for every single job—I prefer the extra leverage and an upright posture. Any gadget that requires me to kneel or hunch over seems uncomfortable and unnecessary.

If it’s a big job, call the guys with machines, rather than kill yourself digging out an ancient shrub (been there).

Maintaining Landscaping Tools

Brush off tools after each use, and at the end of the season, clean and dry well, and wipe down any metal parts with WD-40. Sharp things need to be sharpened, and it’s great to use a professional service for this to make absolutely sure everything remains safe and in working order.

Assembling a set of simple, well-maintained tools for landscaping tasks makes a huge difference in your outlook. Tasks become more like pleasant and relaxing rituals. Try it, and you’ll see what I mean!

The post previously appeared on The Simple Landscape blog.


Elizabeth Douglas is the founder of Pocket Meadows. She holds a degree in landscape architectural studies and is a member of the NY State Nursery & Landscape Association.

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