Six tools every gardener needs

Ben Cullen stands on an orchard ladder.

Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan once said, “we shape our tools then our tools shape us”.
Gardeners understand this well and are known to form attachments to their favourite garden tools. Mark is leaving his favourite digging spade to someone special (can’t say who) in his will.
Having the right tools in the garden turns drudgery to joy and can improve us as gardeners.
With that in mind, here is our list of six essential garden tools:
Scoop, not a trowel. When you are down on your knees planting small perennials or vegetable transplants, you do not want to move soil by the thimble full. Rather, you want the option to move a volume of soil that makes it worth the effort. You need a scoop. Preferably a stainless steel (no rust, permanent edge) scoop that will stand up to moving volume, hitting the odd stone or layer of clay in the process. A scoop that will stand up to years of abuse. A good one is about $20 at most retailers.
Spade, not a shovel. There is nothing wrong with digging a hole with a shovel. We have shovels but we reach for a spade first, especially when it has been sharpened on a grinding wheel. A razor-sharp spade, which is a shovel with a flat mouth, is very handy for edging the lawn, picking up waste, digging and dividing perennials. It can move a greater volume of soil than a shovel, reducing the workload and helping you be more efficient with both your body movement and time.
Hand pruners, but good ones. Stems and small branches often need attention. The idea behind pruning is to control Mother nature to the extent that you and she can live together. We spend a lot of time clipping small branches. When we get the timing right, we maximize the flowering potential for many roses and flowering shrubs. A cheap pair of hand pruners will twist in your hand and not hold an edge while you work. A quality pair will cut through green wood like a hot knife through butter. And they will last a very long time. The best in the business is Swiss made Felco, which run about $70 or more and are worth every penny.
Leaf rake, a stiff one. You can buy a broad leaf rake for $8 to $30. The difference is the quality of the tines, which should flex and return to their original position while in use. This is called “memory” and you want to have good memories of using your leaf rake. Not only handy for raking fallen leaves come autumn but for garden clean up this time of year, excess grass clippings and even debris from the driveway. Noiseless compared to a leaf blower.
Hoe. Choose your weapon: a Dutch (push) or draw (pull) hoe. They all do the same job of cutting down weeds in their prime, while they are young. The hoe that works best for you is a personal matter. We like the traditional farmer’s draw hoe. When you bring a new one home be sure to sharpen it on a grinding wheel if you have one or use a good file.
Orchard “tripod” ladder. Whether taming a vine or pruning mature trees, gardening is an activity which sometimes requires us to go vertical. These instances can pose safety risks, and if you have ever felt a traditional A-frame ladder teeter on soft ground then you know what we mean. For these tasks, we find a three-legged orchard ladder is best. Orchard ladders have a wide flare at the bottom of the climbing side, with a flared single leg on the other side which provides far superior stability on soft ground. A good orchard ladder can be hard to come by, so we recommend contacting a nursery supply company or ordering at HYPERLINK “”
In this season of change, make sure you have the right tools at hand.
Mark Cullen is an expert gardener, author, broadcaster, tree advocate and Member of the Order of Canada. His son Ben is a fourth-generation urban gardener and graduate of University of Guelph and Dalhousie University in Halifax. Follow them at, @markcullengardening, and on Facebook.