Garden Tool Time

By Vicky Katz Whitaker

July 3, 2009 5 min read


Go for quality when selecting new shovels, spades and more

Vicky Katz Whitaker

Creators News Service

If your rake is missing more than a few teeth, the handle on your rusted plant shovel is wobbly and your pruner -- well, let's just say it has seen better days, it may be time to buy some new garden tools.

You don't have to ante up a small fortune to get a well-made shovel, hedge trimmer, gloves or the litany of other tools that the experts consider basic equipment for the home gardener. What you do need, they say, are tools that incorporate quality construction and workmanship.

"There is nothing more annoying than finding yourself halfway through a border cultivation when the shovel or fork handle falls off," said award-winning California horticulturist Kristian Laws, founder and senior partner of Botanical Fine Outdoor Living in West Hollywood, Calif.

Laws, who has appeared on Good Morning America and Martha Stewart Living Radio, draws a parallel to clothes shopping. "Just like clothing, really expensive and fancy look good but are not always the most functional. Cheap normally means exactly that and will not last in a garden environment," he said

Laws recommended taking some extra time when shopping to carefully inspect the basic tools you will need. That includes trying on garden gloves and kneepads to determine the fit and comfort.

It's a view shared by Lou Manfredini, home improvement expert for NBC's Today Show and Ace's "Helpful Hardware Man." When it comes to choosing garden tools, Manfredini said, "Fit and feel is everything, especially if you are going to be doing a lot of work.

"You get what you pay for and you want to make sure what you buy will last. Tools are all about the balance and feel in your hand. From a small hand shovel to a large hoe, look for ergonomic handles and thicker materials on the working end of the tools."

The average gardener needs a small collection of hand gardening tools, Manfredini said, including a pot shovel, pruner, hedge trimmer, law rake, spade shovel, push broom and whisk broom. "Once you have these tools, you can build from there."

If you have arthritis or vision problems, look for tools that make lifting, bending and targeting small things easier, suggested Wade Wingler, director of assistance technology at Easter Seals Crossroads Rehabilitation Center, an Indianapolis, Ind. affiliate of Easter Seals.

These can include hoes and shovels with larger, foam-covered handles and hand tools marked with fluorescent tape or paint that can be more easily spotted if you're working in flower beds. Adjustable handle rakes, a long-handled dandelion puller that can be used from a standing position and even a garden wagon with a seat built into it can make gardening easier, he said.

"Although there is often a smaller selection of these accessible tools, the options are growing," Wingler added. "Just like every gardener, you want to choose tools that are of appropriate quality and durable. Gardeners with special needs want to pay particular attention to how a tool fits their needs. As the baby boomer generation ages and experiences more age-related limitations, the number of gardeners is likely to increase and I predict that the prices will continue to drop."

A stream of new products is already expanding the basics for home gardeners, from ergonomic "bionic" garden gloves with extra padding, available at, to Lifetime Products' wide-wheel-base wheelbarrow made from recycled materials. It distributes weight to the wheels, making it easier to push or pull. Lightweight gardening materials, like resin flower parts, are more abundant now, noted Manfredini, as are "green" tools such as Lehr's new environmentally-friendly propane lawn trimmer.

One passionate home gardener-turned-inventor, former California lawyer Lisa Singer, even developed a patented self-contained, prefabricated, fully equipped raised-bed garden center manufactured by Backyard Botanicals for which no gardening tools are needed.

"The soil in the raised beds is soft and loose, so once the garden is assembled, no other tools are necessary to prepare the garden for planting or to maintain it," said Singer of her 8-by-8 foot cedar clad garden. "When it's time to harvest, all you need is a pair of scissors."

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