Garden Tools: When to call a spade

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14 most common garden tools to help you get started

For the longest time I used to call a shovel a spade, and a spade a shovel. It’s a pretty common mistake. Before I dive in and talk about some common garden tools, lets first address when to call a spade a spade.

A common garden shovel has a spade shape to it. Usually the blade curves inward, so it seemed obvious to call it a spade, but this is actually a shovel. A spade is a flat blade, and usually has a shorter handle.

It wasn’t until much later in life while working with master gardeners that I was finally set straight on the matter. I also learned a thing or two about other common and useful garden tools.

Garden Tools

Below are a number of common garden tools. Read through to learn more, and what you need to get started in your garden.

Spade

A spade is a really useful flat bladed shovel. It is probably the most common type of garden shovel used, and can come in various sizes. The most common comes with a shorter handle, usually reaching the waist level. 

Spades, with their flat blades can be used for edging, digging straight lines, great for mixing soils, cleaning up waste, and other general tasks that require a straight, squared off blade. 

Shovel

A shovel typically has a pointed tip blade. The blade starts out squared off, and curves inward down to a point. 

This type of blade makes the common garden shovel an excellent choice for digging holes, turning over soil, or large patches of sod, and breaking hard ground. 

Garden shovels typically have longer handles that stretch up toward the shoulder in height. Though the handles can be shorter, having a longer handle allows for more leverage when trying to dig out larger areas, and lift heavier loads. 

Great all purpose tool for mixing soils, gravel and other aggregates, spreading compost, and turning over beds. 

Leaf Rake

Most people are pretty familiar with rakes, especially if you live in an area where leaves drop in the fall.

Rakes are an extremely helpful tool for clean up. Most commonly people tend to use a fan rake for things like leaves, and small branches during fall clean up. They can be made from thin metal tines, or from plastic.

I have a personal preference for the metal rakes. They last longer, don’t cause extra plastic pollution when they break, and the metal can be recycled or scrapped into something else when it eventually does wear out. 

Garden Rake

A garden rake is made from a solid metal frame, and is typically a rectangular shape with thick metal tines. Garden rakes are also extremely useful in cleaning up large areas. Due to being a heavier tool, garden rakes do not flow over grass as easily, and can pull up roots much easier than leaf rakes. 

Garden rakes are great for pushing aggregates and soil around. Levelling out yards, or patches of earth. The top of the rake can also be used flipped upside down to push or pull materials around when trying to level ground. The flat metal rectangle running on the top edge of the rake, flipped over so the tines face the sky. 

Hoe

A hoes are essential garden tools for working the ground, and keeping gardens weed free. Hoes are commonly associated with vegetable gardening, but can just as easily be used to help weed and aerate flowerbeds. There are several type of hoe blades. The most common hoe is triangular in shape with the bottom edge of the triangle acting as the blade. The two other edges of the blade meet at the top to join the handle. 

Hoes are used to work in between flowers, or rows of vegetables. They can break up hardened ground, and allow air circulation in the soil.

Hula Hoe

Named for both its shape, and wiggling motion, the hula hoe is a weeding machine! Or at least it can be. 

The metal blade running along the bottom edge of its hoop design is meant to slide through weeds at the surface. It won’t disturb the top layer of soil too much, so when looking to do a huge patch of weeds, the hula hoe is a great tool. 

Keep in mind that only cutting the weed away from the root won’t actually kill the weed. But it will definitely clear any growth it has had. Roots can be dug up, pulled out, or left to regrow. 

My personal favourite use for the hula hoe is on patios where weed growth between paver stones becomes too much of a nuisance to pull up individually. 

Cultivator

Cultivators are excellent garden tools to provide aeration to the soil around plants. They can help loosen up the soil around weeds allowing you to pull them out by the roots. Their claw like motions through the soil also discourage weeds from taking hold again, as there is less firmness for them to take root. Keeping the ground around your plants worked will help keep the weeds down.

Cultivators are also great for breaking up hardened soil, and preparing ground prior to planting. They are an especially great option for preparing smaller spaces of soil, or an alternative to motorized tools, such as rototillers. 

Cultivators have three prongs (but can also have four, or five) with an adjustable bracket allowing for prongs to be removed, lengthened, or shortened as needed. 

Secateurs (sometimes called pruning shears)

A staple of pruning, secateurs are an essential tool for trimming back rose bushes, cleaning up dead branches off shrubs, or small trees. Great for cutting flowers to make mid summer bouquet; secateurs are the multi-purpose cutting tool of the garden. 

Secateurs are often easy to find, but like many garden tools you get what you pay for. Some have great safety latches to keep blades closed and prevent you from accidentally cutting yourself while they are not in use.

Some blades are also sharper than others. This is a tool that will get a lot of use in your garden, especially if you have shrubs. Not so much if you are only growing vegetables. If you are thinking about investing in some garden tools, this is one tool that will pay for itself in time. 

Hedge Shears

Ever dreamed of having topiary in your garden, or a nice puppy shaped shrub to greet you on your way home each day? Hedge shears are one of the main tools needed to make topiary. 

Hedge shears have many other uses too, but being able to make clean artful lines is one of their specialties. A good quality hedge shear can help you in creating clean lines and shapes on hedges, bushes, or shrubs.

Much like secateurs, blade quality will vary. If you are just starting out, and don’t want to spend a whole lot of money you can find some decent quality hedge shears, but as the quality of the blade goes up, so too does the ease of cutting through branches. High quality blades will cut through branches like a hot knife through butter. 

Trowel

A hand tool essential, trowels are great for planting. Trowels make planting small gardens a breeze. They are a popular choice for planting large swaths of annual plugs, or seedlings after the ground has already been prepared. 

Trowels usually have measurements etched into the metal blade on one side allowing you to take note of the depth. This is especially helpful if you are planting something that requires a unified depth. Maybe you have an entire garden bed of plants that all need to be planted to a two-inch depth. You can use a trowel to go along ahead and dig out those two inches, and someone else can follow dropping in seed, or young plants covering with soil as you go. 

Bulb Planter

When tulips, daffodils, crocus, and other bulbs are ready to go in the ground, using a bulb planter will make this much easier. A bulb planter is a hollow cylinder shaped tool with a sharp edge on the bottom that allows the soil to be cut by its edge. To use it, you simply need to push the bulb planter into the soil, and pull up a plug of earth with it, drop in your bulb, replace the plug of soil still in the planter, and move on to the next bulb. 

Like a trowel, bulb planters also have measurements etched on their side, letting you know how deep you are digging. This measurement makes planting tulips at six inches just as easy as planting daffodils at 4 inches, all at once.

Bulb planters are a huge time saver, very easy to use, and especially helpful if you are planting mass quantities. 

Garden/Digging Fork

Depending on what type of gardening you are doing, a digging fork may not be necessary. They are a really great tool for turning over ground, or breaking and busting up sod. 

A digging fork would be a great tool to use after turning sod over with a shovel. Turn the soil over again with a fork, and then use a cultivator to refine the soil even more. 

Depending on what kind of soil you have, a fork will be very useful. Especially if you have clay, or are turning over compost.

Gloves

They might seem more like an accessory than a tool, but when they help protect you from being stabbed by a thorn, gloves are definitely considered a tool in my book.

Gloves are going to be a personal preference based on fit, and what type of job you are doing. Working temperature, among other things can also be factors in making the right choice for the job. 

Personally I use leather gloves as much as I can in the garden. I prefer them as an extra layer of protection against thistles, cacti, and other pointed, rough textured plants. I also really like leather palms on my gloves to help protect against blisters when using garden tools. 

If I am getting into compost piles, or damp, wet materials I am more inclined to a use a rubber or nitrile coated glove. There are also the classic canvas backed leather palmed gloves which are inexpensive, and a great all purpose glove for anything from using the lawnmower, hoeing rows of vegetables, to picking up piles of leaves, and other yard waste. 

If my gloves are too cumbersome, I find I can’t pull weeds the way I want to, so might switch them out, or even take them off out of frustration. Garden and work gloves are a rather personal choice. Some styles are definitely less expensive than others, so if you want to give a few different types a try maybe select a less expensive version, until you find what works for you. 

Garden Hose

This one might seem obvious and self-explanatory, but a garden hose is essential if you want to keep those plants alive, especially if it is hot and dry. 

Learning how and when to water flowers and vegetables is a discussion of its own. But keep in mind there are different types and styles of hoses that you can use in the garden.

There is a regular rubberized garden hose available from most hardware stores. These hoses often come in a 5/8” gage tube size. Some will come in 3/4” size. The main difference here is that the 3/4” tube will allow for a higher volume of water transfer.

These are typically more common in a commercial garden setting, or if you have a really large garden area, it might make more sense to use a larger gage tube to more efficiently deliver water. 

There are also other types of hoses that might be friendlier to small backyards, or balcony gardens. There are lightweight crinkle up style hoses that can also be very useful for small spaces. They are lightweight, and expand when water begins to flow through them, making them easier to store, and carry around. 

Selecting the best tools for the job

With lots of different types of gardening, there are many different tools to the trade. This is just a small starter list of the most common garden tools that are useful over a variety of different aspects of gardening. Once you get a handle on the tools that work best for you, you will be well on your way.

As you become more involved with gardening, it will become easier to decide what tools suit your needs.

But at the very least, now we both know the difference between a shovel and a spade!

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