There are a lot of gardening tools out there – how do you know which ones you need? Well, wonder no more! Here are the five must-have hand tools every gardener needs:

Spade, trowel and gloves

Hand tools simplify garden chores and save you energy.

Photo Credit: Megan Bame

Cultivators

A good cultivator will help you work the soil and keep weeds down.

Photo Credit: Megan Bame

Gloves

You may find a good all-purpose glove, but I have several pairs I choose from, depending on the task at “hand.”

Photo Credit: Megan Bame

1. A trowel. The trowel is essentially a tiny shovel. In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need this tool because we’d all be gardening in fluffy, rich soil. Transplanting would be as easy as thrusting your hand into the dirt, making a hole with just a few wiggles of your fingers, and popping the plant in. But since that’s not the case, most gardeners prefer to use a trowel in their often dense, compacted soils. (And if you’ve got hard, compacted earth to work with, be sure to work it manually or mechanically with a cultivator before planting anything in it. Your plants’ roots will thank you!)

Trowels have a pointed tip to slice through the soil. Some have serrated edges to help cut through the roots of an established plant. Others are marked with measurements so you can dig holes to a particular depth. You can also use these handy tools as bulb or seed planters.

2. A spade. The spade is your shovel’s cousin. It’s got a long, rectangular blade and a medium-length handle (shorter than your shovel’s), as well as a handgrip. The spade’s sharpened edge cuts through the soil so you can dig larger holes or edge a border. When you dig with your spade, use your body’s weight in the first thrust. (Stomping on the edge of a spade or shovel will probably do nothing more than give you a bruised foot – and only a little digging depth to show for your pain.)

3. A cultivator. Cultivating tools have a wide variety of names, from hoes to hand tillers. No matter which tool you choose, they’ve all got the same purpose: to cultivate the soil, clean debris from between plants and eliminate weeds. There are many designs to choose from. And unfortunately for your pocketbook, the best way to figure out which one works best for you is by experimenting with them. Two things to keep an eye out for are cultivators with long handles and ones that are lightweight. (These are the top criteria for many gardeners.)

And if you’re new to weeding with a tool (because you usually pull weeds by hand), be sure to start slowly and find your rhythm so the tool works with you. Avoid quick, choppy strokes, which can result in you accidentally “weeding” your favorite plants.

4. Pruners. Every gardener needs a good pair of bypass pruners. This tool cuts like scissors, compared with anvil pruners, which have one blade closing against a solid anvil or platform (like a guillotine). Anvil pruners often end up crushing stems, while bypass pruners leave clean cuts. Don’t go too cheap on these. Pruners are used every season, whether to shape shrubbery, cut fresh flowers, trim back perennials or remove dead branches – they’ll become your gardening sidearm!

5. Gloves. If I’m working with a peat-based media, I like working with my bare-naked fingers. But if I’m playing in the dirt or pruning roses, you can bet I’ve got some gloves on! Gardening gloves come in all sizes and shapes: There are pretty gloves, plain gloves and snug, well-fitting ones. There are gloves with “grippies” and others that are all-leather.

Your glove choice depends on your taste – and sometimes on your task. Obviously rose thorns can prick through all-cloth gloves, so grab a pair of gloves with leather or rubber-coated palms and fabric backs to protect your hands and not limit your mobility (the way a bulky all-leather glove would). The rubber-coated-palm glove is an excellent choice for transplanting because the transplants and/or the ground may be wet, and the rubber-coating keeps hands dry. Simple cloth gloves – particularly those with built-in grips – are best for raking or cultivating. Without protection, gardening tasks can cause painful blisters – or pricks or cuts – in no time!

And that’s it. You don’t need a treasure trove of tools to cultivate a beautiful or fruitful garden, but having a few key ones will sure help you out. These five hand tools will not only get you started, they’ll become your closest gardening buddies as you find yourself reaching for them time and again, season after season.