Buying yard tools sounds simple enough.
How much you know about what you need, what you should pay for what you get, how to use what you get and how to maintain that new mower, hose, shovel, rake or trowel depends on how much time you're willing to spend educating yourself about the myriad products on the shelf that are designed to keep your property well-groomed.
"The Internet is a great source," contends garden tool industry veteran Jeff Koenig, marketing manager for Ames True Temper, the oldest manufacturer of non-powered lawn and garden tools in North America. "The biggest mistake people make is not educating themselves and buying by price, not the task at hand. You get what you pay for."
A garden buff himself, he knows by experience that for most people, "a beautiful lawn or landscape doesn't happen by snapping your fingers." Buy the right tool for the job "and you'll be proud of the end result."
What should be on your must-have list? Here are the basics:
*Round point shovel: You'll be using this more than you anticipate, so don't scrimp on price. Look for one with a virgin steel blade for flexibility and a D-shaped handle. You'll have more leverage when you dig and a better angle. Cheap shovels are made of recycled steel and have straight blades, which can be awkward to use.
*Garden spade: These come in a variety of styles, from ones with straight edges to ones that are fork-shaped. The latter type is useful to break up compacted soil, says the National Gardening Association. Versions with five tines are best to move mulch or break up straw, the association notes. A spade with a straight edge can make easy work of edging flower beds and digging trenches.
*Hand trowel and rake set: You can buy these separately, but often they're sold as a matching set, one to dig and the other to scratch and remove weeds and loosen the soil to plant bulbs.
*Pruner: You'll need a hand pruner to snip small branches and flower stems and pruning shears to lop off thicker shrub and tree branches. Test different ones before you buy. Weight, shape, safety locks and even the size of your hand can determine whether the pruner will be comfortable to use without fatigue setting in.
*Long-handled hoe: Like garden spades, garden hoes come in several shapes and sizes, the most common being a flat- and square-bladed goose-necked tool that can help you loosen and rid your garden of weeds and create rows to plant seeds.
*Long-handled rake: Think more than one when it comes to long-handled garden rakes. There's the traditional flat-edged rugged steel version, which can break up clumps of soil and make smooth work of garden beds. The leaf rake, which is lighter and has many tines, will make quick work of gathering all those leaves that you missed last fall. Some ergonomic versions allow you to adjust the rake head to a comfortable level. On others, you can adjust the tine tension, making it easier to rake light, dry leaves and heavy, wet ones.
*Hose: Choose a thick wall hose. Such hoses tend to be more kink-resistant and provide longer service. A higher-quality hose also generally has a higher psi (pounds per square inch) rating and larger brass couplings for easy handling and a secure fit on spigots.
*Lawn mower: If you have less than 1/2 acre, a walk-behind mower will do, but if you have more acreage, a riding mower or zero-turn-radius mower may be a better choice. Hills and inclines can shape your mower purchase decision, and so can the thickness and coarseness of your grass, says well-known lawn and garden tractor and mower manufacturer John Deere. The company recommends sharpening, as well as balancing, blades at the start of every mowing season.
Like mowers, all garden tools need to be kept clean. "Always clean your tools after use," Koenig advises. Hosing them off is the easiest way, he says, adding that it's also important to make a routine of filing shovel edges every spring, before the gardening season starts. Spraying steel parts of your tools with a protective coating of WD-40 also will keep those garden tools in good shape.