One of the most common mistakes beginner gardeners make is getting lured in by all the fancy tools and equipment while shopping for seeds, soil, and other supplies. It's easy to get enticed by the flashy gardening products available at the local home improvement store, but most people can manage great gardening with five simple tools.

Do you absolutely need a special tool for your bulbs and another for your roses? Not necessarily. By all means, purchase specialty items if you plan to specialize solely in roses or tulips. However, if you plan to grow a variety of flowers, herbs, and vegetables, here are five tools you need.

Garden Shears

Shears Pruning a Branch

Shears can do so much in the garden, from pruning your flowers and shrubs to cutting stems for spring and summer bouquets. You can even use them to cut twine for the garden and snip whatever needs cutting. Since they’re small and hand-held, you can use them anywhere and carry them with you when you work.

While shears are a basic tool and there's no need to break the bank snagging a pair, there are still some features you should take into account when choosing the right garden shears for your work. Handles should be comfortable, and depending on the layout of your yard, some shears have telescoping handles for extending the reach of the tool. Garden shear blades can come in straight edge or serrated blade form, too. While a wavy blade grips branches and stems more effectively, they're more difficult to sharpen, clean, and maintain. Think about what tasks you actually plan on tackling in the garden when assembling your essential gardening tools.

Gardening Fork

Boot Pressing Fork into Soil

Garden forks are excellent at digging into hard, compacted soil and are often even more useful than spades at the job. Large forks can handle digging up large plants, turning over the soil before planting in the spring and digging into the ground to make way for a new garden. There are many types of specialized garden forks available for planters, but broadly speaking, they come in two main varieties: hay garden forks and spading garden forks.

They key difference beyond sizes is the shape of the tines. Hay forks have rounded tines and are useful for moving heavy loads of materials like compost or mulch. A spading garden fork is made with flat tines, which make it better for turning soil and lifting plants.

Hand-held Tools

A hand-held gardening fork is useful around your plants and aerating the soil around your plants in pots. A hand-held spade makes planting seeds and starts a breeze in the garden. Most spades even have a handy measuring tool on the shovel part to see how deeply you’re planting things.

A Spade

Sprout in Mound of Dirt on Spade

Allowing more precision than a standard shovel, a spade allows you to define your garden’s borders, take out dead plants, cut roots and - like a shovel - also add more dirt or mulch to the garden. A shovel can only really move dirt since it lacks the sharp edge to really get in there and be useful.


Rake Gathering Leaves

Rakes remove debris around your garden, from fallen leaves to dead flower debris from your plants. Although there are reasons to keep some of this debris in the garden for beneficial insects and such, it’s also thought that keeping diseased leaves and plant parts may also spread disease throughout the garden. A rake removes this debris and keeps your garden appearing neat and tidy.

Bonus: Gloves

Blue Gloves Moving Dirt

Though not technically a tool, per se, gloves are essential in the garden. Although some gardeners feel they can go without, a good pair of gloves will keep your hands relatively clean after a productive day in the garden. For hardcore gardeners who are down in the dirt each day, a sturdy pair of gloves is a must for protecting your skin from becoming rough or cracked from such constant work. You can often pick up a two or three-pack at your garden center or big box store. Or, you can spend a few more dollars for a well-made leather pair that will last you several seasons.

Whatever you choose, a smart gardener's tip is to purchase a spare pair in case you lose one or your garden so hard you wear out a finger.

How to care for your garden tools

Keep your tools in good working shape for years to come! Often, gardeners who are in a hurry may let caked on dirt and debris build up remain on their tools. This is a bad habit that often results in broken or rusty tools.

Every time you use your tools, be sure to clean the dirt and debris from them, especially the metal bits. Often you can remove stubborn debris with steel wool. Use olive or vegetable oil or even WD-40 to help grease the dirt away.

For large tools, place them in a box or bin with sand after you’ve cleaned them, especially if you won’t be using them for several months. It's winter right now, so this could be a perfect opportunity for you to head out to the shed and store your tools properly for the down season. If your tools have wooden handles, be sure to rub a bit of linseed oil on them to keep the wood looking fresh and new.

Always keep your blades sharp, whether it’s the blade of your snippers or the blade of your spade. Sharp blades are less traumatic for the plants and create less work for you. With large bladed tools, a sharper blade also means a cleaner cut with lass jarring or jerking motions which can cause injuries and accidents.

Wipe down your tools with a coarse cloth periodically, especially if you're using them a lot. This will help make sure none of the dirt builds up, especially to the point where it’s too difficult to remove.

If you can afford it, spend a bit more for high quality tools and then take good care of them. Although it’s tempting to spring for the cheaper, lower quality versions, the old adage of “you get what you pay for” definitely applies. Sure, spending more than $20 on a hand-tool seems like a lot of money. However, when you figure you may have to replace a cheaper, less durable tool at least once during the growing season, more often if you plan to use it a lot, the sticker shock doesn't seem as bad. You can spend the money now or spend it over the course of a year in replacement tools.