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21 best gardening tools and how they work, according to experts

Experts recommended items to keep in your toolbox during the growing season, from shovels to shears.
Woman wearing Suave Slip on Boots, Joyce Chen Red Original Unlimited Kitchen Scissors, Nitrile Palm Coating Glove and a family gardening
Over time, gardeners collect a variety of tools that work for their plants’ needs, but experts recommend starting out with the basics like a shovel and hoe.Bogs ; Amazon ; Oliver Rossi / Getty Images

When the weather warms up, many people like to garden and tend to flowers, greenery, edible plants like fruits, vegetables and herbs as they mature. But nature is unpredictable, which often makes gardening intimidating to first timers or people who’ve had bad experiences in the past, noted Rebecca Sears, the chief gardening guru for Green Garden Products, owner of Ferry-Morse Gardening.

"[There's no] golden rule and every plant is unique,” Sears said. “Enjoy the learning process and the highs of the harvest, and learn from the lows.”

SKIP AHEAD Outdoor gardening tips

Having said that, the right tool can go a long way in helping you garden, despite the many curve balls. To give you an idea of where to get started on your own gardening toolkit, we consulted garden experts for tips and recommendations for the best gardening tools to keep on hand during the growing season.

Best gardening tools

To round up the following gardening tools, we asked experts about products they deem essentials for gardeners of all levels, but especially for beginners who are assembling their first gardening toolkit. For each product, they highlighted features to look for while shopping and we found highly rated products based on their guidance. Experts also recommended items from some of their favorite brands.

Best indoor gardening tools

You can plant seeds directly in your garden, of course, but some may benefit from starting off inside. Experts told us it’s easier to control conditions like light, moisture and warmth indoors, and it protects plants from bugs, parasites and diseases in the early stages of their life.

Sears also said starting indoors helps you get a jump on the growing season, especially when it comes to edible plants like fruits, vegetables and herbs. “If you live in a colder climate, what you prefer to grow may need longer to mature than your growing season can accommodate,” she explained. “Starting seeds indoors lets you extend the growing season so that you can grow what you love to eat.”

If you’re interested in planting indoors, here are a few items experts recommend to help you get started.

Ezorkas Grow Light

These lights provide indoor seedlings with the light they need to grow healthy and strong without becoming “leggy,” or floppy to the point that they're falling over, Sears said. She also noted that grow lights prevent plants from reaching toward a light source that’s far away. This grow light clips onto tables and countertops, and you can program it to automatically turn on and off at certain points throughout the day. It utilizes a red and blue LED light combination — together, lights of these colors help regulate plant growth and support them as they flower or reach maturity, experts told us. The light comes with a control panel that allows you to choose between three time modes, nine dim modes and three switch modes. It has a 4.7-star average rating from over 14,000 reviews on Amazon.

Vivosun Seedling Heat Mat and Digital Thermostat Combo Set

A heat mat is the secret to speedy seed germination, according to Sears. The mat gives off heat, signaling to seeds that it’s time to start growing. This heat mat is flexible and water-resistant, according to Vivosun, and it comes with a digital thermostat that you can use to adjust the mat’s temperature. It has a 4.5-star average rating from over 8,800 reviews on Amazon.

Jiffy Peat Pots

You can start your seeds indoors in Jiffy Peat Pots, which are made from organic peat, and plant both the pot and the plant in the ground once it’s ready to go outside. Using a plantable pot reduces shock to the plant when it’s moved and prevents damage to the roots, Sears explained. Jiffy Peat Pots have a 4.6-star average rating from over 1,000 reviews on Amazon.

Best outdoor gardening tools

Over time, you’ll likely develop a collection of tools that work best for you and your garden. But to start, experts suggested keeping a few basic tools on hand, like a shovel and hoe. Sears recommended keeping gardening tools in a weather-proof beverage cooler — you can put it next to your outdoor garden, in your garage or on your patio or deck.

Felco #6 Pruning Shears

Pruners are an essential tool, and “everyone must have at least one [pair],” said Carmen DeVito, founder of garden and landscape design company Garden Cult. For those with smaller hands, she recommended the Felco #6 pruner. It’s built with aluminum handles and steel blades, and it has a narrow pointed tip, which the brand says helps you cut closer to plants’ stems. The pruning shears have a 4.8-star average rating from over 18,500 reviews on Amazon.

Bahco Ergo Bypass Pruner

If you have larger hands, DeVito said the Bahco Ergo Bypass Pruner is a great option. It has carbon steel blades that are covered in Xylan, a type of coating the brand says helps prevent rust and reduce friction. The upper handle also has a soft grip cover for comfort, the brand says. This pruner has a 4.6-star average rating from over 190 reviews on Amazon.

Joyce Chen Kitchen Scissors

These shears are helpful for harvesting herbs, deadheading and cutting flowers to bring into the house, DeVito said. The stainless steel blades are sharp enough to cut through chicken bones, and they’re suitable for both right-handed and left-handed gardeners, according to the brand. The scissors have a 4.8-star average rating from over 1,700 reviews on Amazon.

Nisaku Hori Hori Soil Knife

While soil knives are not an essential gardening tool, DeVito said they’re nice to have. She uses a hori hori knife like this one from Nisaku — it boasts a sharp, wide blade, which experts said is useful for transplanting young plants and weeding. You can also use it to divide perennial plants, open plastic bags and cut twine. This soil knife has a 4.9-star average rating from over 6,000 reviews on Amazon.

Corona Extendable Handle Hoe

DeVito said every gardener should own a hoe and a three-prong cultivator, and this gardening tool just so happens to be both. You can use a hoe as a weeding tool or to loosen soil, while a three-prong cultivator can be used to clear away leaves or spread mulch or compost, experts told us. This tool has an extendable aluminum handle and a hanging ring for storage. It has a 4.4-star average rating from over 3,100 reviews on Amazon.

NoCry Gardening Knee Pads

While not essential, Sears said knee pads “can quickly become a best friend in the yard for comfort,” especially when you’re first planting or while weeding throughout the season. These knee pads are made of soft dense foam and they each have two straps that wrap around your knees. The knee pads have a 4.4-star average rating from over 4,600 reviews on Amazon.

Fiskars Ergo Garden Hand Trowel

Sears recommended adding a hand trowel to your collection of gardening tools since you can use it to dig small holes and mark rows to plant seeds. The head of this hand trowel is made from cast aluminum, a lightweight and rust-resistant material that shouldn’t bend if you hit a rock while digging, according to the brand. It has a 4.8-star average rating from over 5,200 reviews on Amazon.

Nupla Round Point Shovel

A round head shovel like this one is useful for digging large holes,moving soil and adding soil to pots and gardening beds, according to Sears. It has a 48-inch handle made from fiberglass, which the brand says is sturdy and gives the handle a good grip. Its head is made from tempered steel and it has a 4.7-star average rating from about 1,500 reviews on Amazon.

TubTrug

TubTrugs are versatile bins you can use as potting stations or tool carriers — you can also use them to mix soil, collect plants and vegetables when you’re harvesting them or pile up weeds, DeVito said. They’re available in multiple colors and sizes, allowing you to choose the one that best fits your needs and style. TubTrugs also have two handles, giving you a place to grip if you’re moving the bin around your garden or transporting it from a shed to the yard. The bins have a 4.8-star average rating from over 1,500 reviews on Amazon.

Best plant nutrients

It’s important to remember that plants are living organisms — they need nutrients to support their growth just like we do. Here are a handful of fertilizer and vitamin options you may want to consider.

Fox Farm Happy Frog All-Purpose Fertilizer

DeVito said she loves Fox Farm’s fertilizer. The brand offers an all-purpose powder option you can use on flowers, greenery, edible plants and more. It contains a blend of nutrients and soil microbes like nitrogen, potassium and phosphorus, and the brand says the fertilizer may help improve water absorption in various root systems. It has a 4.6-star average rating from over 260 reviews on Amazon.

Neptune’s Harvest Tomato & Vegetable Liquid Formula Fertilizer 2-4-2

If you need fertilizer for your vegetable garden, DeVito recommended this option from Neptune’s. The liquid blend contains ingredients like seaweed, molasses, yucca extract and humic acids, as well as fresh fish. DeVito said the fish gives this fertilizer a stronger odor compared to other options, but added that it’s worth it due to the nutrients it gives your plants. This fertilizer has a 4.7-star average rating from over 1,000 reviews on Amazon.

SUPERthrive Plant Vitamin Solution with Kelp

To keep plants healthy, Sears recommended using a vitamin solution made with kelp like this one from SUPERthrive. The kelp in the formula boosts plants’ ability to perform photosynthesis and promotes root growth, while the vitamin solution overall adds nutrients back into soil, according to the brand. Sears also uses SUPERthrive Organic All-Purpose Plant Food. The vitamin solution has a 4.7-star average rating from over 14,400 reviews on Amazon.

Best products for gardening in extreme heat

The spring and summer are prime gardening seasons due to higher temperatures and increased sun exposure. But many parts of the country face heat waves during these seasons, which can be a roadblock for gardeners and can lead to dead plants if they’re not cared for properly. Here are a few items experts suggest you use if you need to protect your garden from the heat.

Gilmour 75-foot Flat Soaker Hose

While it’s important to establish a consistent watering schedule for plants in the beginning of their life cycle, ensuring they get enough water is even more crucial during a heat wave. Sears recommended using a soaker hose, which waters plants at soil level to keep the soil saturated and makes sure water reaches plants’ roots. Soaker hoses have tiny punctures that allow for slow-drip irrigation into your garden, as we previously explained in our guide to garden hoses. We recommended this soaker hose from Gilmour, which is made from recycled vinyl — it’s a flexible and lightweight material you can weave through your garden or fold flat when it’s not in use. The brand says the hose is covered in clog-resistant fabric that helps protect it from UV rays and general wear. You can purchase it in a 25-foot, 75-foot or 50-foot version, and the hose has a 4.2-star average rating from over 5,900 reviews on Amazon.

Vigoro Bagged Premium Wood Mulch

Adding a layer of mulch to your garden helps with water retention and can protect the soil from extreme temperatures, Sears said. Vigoro’s mulch is available in red, black and brown and is composed of a shredded cypress wood blend. You can calculate how much mulch you need to cover the surface area of your garden using tools online. Vigoro Bagged Premium Wood Mulch has a 4.2-star average rating from over 16,300 reviews on Home Depot.

Smartelf Plant Covers Greenhouse Shade Cloth

For short but intense heat waves, Sears said you can place bed sheets, umbrellas or canopies over the plants to provide some shaded relief. But for longer heatwaves, you might want to invest in specialized horticultural shade fabric. Sears said it lets partial sun and airflow through so you can leave the covers on the plants all season long. This shade cloth is available in a variety of sizes so you can choose the one that will cover your garden. It has tapered edges and grommets you can weave the included bungees through and attach to poles, a clothesline or even the side of a shed. The shade cloth has a 4.3-star average rating from over 1,100 reviews on Amazon.

Best gardening apparel

It’s important to be comfortable in the garden, especially if you’re spending a lot of time planting, weeding and watering. Experts suggested investing in a high-quality pair of boots and gardening gloves you can use for multiple seasons.

Bogs Gardening Boots

As long as you don’t garden in flip flops or sandals — or generally in any open-toed shoe — most footwear that’s comfortable and supportive with good traction and a thick sole works well. But if you’re digging a lot or working in a particularly wet area, DeVito suggested investing in gardening boots like these ones from Bogs. The slip-on boots are water-resistant and they have a cushioned sole to keep feet comfortable, according to the brand. They come in women’s sizes 6 to 11, and they’re available in colors like Mocha, Sage and Black. Bogs also sells clogs, Chelsea boots, ankle boots, rain boots and more for gardening. The boots have a 4.2-star average rating from over 300 reviews on Amazon.

Birkenstock Super-Birki

Gardening boots can make your feet hot and may feel heavy if you live in warmer or humid climates. In those cases, DeVito said gardening clogs are an alternative option. The Super-Birki from Birkenstock, featured in our guide to gardening boots, are made from polyurethane, which the brand says is a water-resistant and dirt-repellent material. The clogs are designed with a cork-latex footbed that’s lined with moisture-wicking fabric, which the brand says is easy to clean. They’re available in colors like yellow, black, green and more, and come in both men’s and women’s sizes. The Super-Birki has a 4-star average from over 400 reviews on Zappos.

Showa Atlas Gloves

When shopping for a pair of gardening gloves, DeVito recommended looking for ones with rubber on the bottom and fabric on the top to protect both sides of your hands. She also said to make sure they’re machine-washable so they’re easy to clean. These gardening gloves meet DeVito’s guidance and come in colors like black and white. They’re available in sizes ranging from XS to XXL and have a 4.8-star average rating from over 400 reviews on Amazon.

Outdoor gardening: Tips and where to start

While it can be tempting to spontaneously start digging and planting seeds in your backyard, Sears said it’s important to first consider what types of plants will grow best where you live. Factors like light, temperature and space all play into how well plants grow, she explained. As a first step, Sears recommended consulting the United States Department of Agriculture's Plant Hardiness Zone Map, which can help you figure out the best times to plant. Also, be sure to survey where you plan to place your garden and consider factors like shade and access to sunlight.

When it comes to watering your garden, Sears suggested doing so in the early morning to avoid evaporation, which can happen later in the day when the sun is stronger. She advised against overhead watering — like watering plants with a watering can or a hose — because it can lead to two issues: leaf burn, since sunlight is amplified through water droplets, and leaf fungal diseases if water pools on leaves. Instead, Sears said using a soaker hose or installing an irrigation system is best.

If you don’t have a yard to garden in, opt for a portable stand planter — they’re great to add to patios or balconies and allow for drainage and root aeration while also managing plant temperature, Sears explained. Since the planter is portable, you can move it around to find the spot with the best sunlight, too.

You can also turn to planters and raised garden beds if you’re not ready to put plants directly in the ground yet. Using planters gives you more control over a plant’s water intake and sun exposure, Sears said. She noted that herbs like basil, oregano and rosemary grow well in containers, as do flowers like petunias, zinnias and marigolds.

Alternatively, Sears said you can plant seedlings, which are live baby flower, herb and vegetable plants that have an established root system. Using seedlings allows gardeners to skip the seed germination process. They’re also useful if it’s too late in the growing season to start your seeds indoors, Sears said. You can plant seedlings directly into the ground or in pots with soil.

For beginner gardeners, Sears suggested starting with easy-to-grow flower varieties like sunflowers and marigolds. Edible plants like basil, zucchini, beans and cucumbers can be grown by gardeners of any skill level, too.

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