Top 5 Tools for Beginning Gardeners

Whether you are growing to enjoy food or flowers, you can get by with these 5 garden helpers.

Without spending a lot of money, you can get started gardening or supply a new “recruit” with all the garden tools he or she needs to make gardening fun and easy. It’s tough to narrow my favorite tools down to just five, but I find these gardening tools are the most handy and get the job done.

These FlexDial bypass pruners from Corona get the job done when pruning or harvesting.



Pruners come in all shapes and sizes. Some have thin blades to snip off stems, and loppers are giant pruners for large branches. The most basic pair you need in your garden is a good pair of bypass pruners. Bypass pruners work like outdoor scissors, with one blade passing next to another. They make the cleanest cuts on live branches. And they come in handy for quickly cutting open a bag of compost or potting mix! Pruners or clippers are must-have garden tools!

short-light-shovel-against rock-wall
This shovel is the perfect size for me, with a shorter handle and smaller shaft. I can easily shovel loads of gravel and soil.

Light Shovel

Any shovel will do, but I prefer my little “hot shot” shovel. It works fine when digging a hole for any shrub or other plant, and it is lighter and a little shorter than most shovels, so it is easy to carry and maneuver. Smaller shovels hold less when moving gravel or dirt, but that is OK with me. I would rather shovel more often than to tire my arm out balancing a heavy load on the end of the shovel.

On the left is the tip of a handheld weeding tool. It is perfect for deeply rooted weeds. On the right is a combination tool with a 3-pronged trowel on one side and single-pointed hoe blade on the other.


Again, there are lots of types of weeders. Many gardeners love the curved steel blade of a CobraHead weeder. We also use handtools with a straight blade that forks slightly at the end. It helps you get down to the bottom of a weed’s taproot. If I could have only one choice, I would choose my handheld cultivator/digger. One side has three tines for loosening dirt, and the other a sharply pointed solid blade you can slam into the ground to loosen weeds or pry up rocks. Both sides work for digging small holes or troughs for seeds.


Knee Pads

A nice, soft knee pad might seem like fluff, but it is a must for Southwest gardeners. Our gardens are full of rocks (both intentional, like in pathways, or as mulch, and courtesy of nature, in our beds’ soil.) Unless you have all raised beds, a good knee pad can save you discomfort when you inevitably have to get down on one or both knees. Knee pads also come in a wide variety of styles and even pretty designs. If getting up is hard on your legs or back, get a padded kneeling bench. If you’re involved in a big project, you can buy strap-on knee pads that move with you. Or just find a simple, nice pad you can put with your tools for easy access.

harvesting worm compost into bucket
We loaded worm compost into this food-grade 5-gallon bucket.

5-Gallon Bucket

This might not be what you expect to see on a list of starter garden tools, but once you have several, they will get the most use of anything else in your garden shed. Although there are plenty of attractive and functional tool carriers for gardeners, the standard home improvement store bucket will do the job. They also serve as great trash cans when weeding or planting. We use them to hold or carry rocks, mulch, compost and soil. You can cut out the bottom and set the bucket around a plant that needs temporary protection from sun, wind or critters. We have lots of old stucco buckets (courtesy of our neighbor) and several food-grade white 5-gallon buckets to place around edible seedlings as they get used to outdoor conditions.

A 5-gallon bucket can protect a tomato or other seedling until it gets used to wind.


All of these tools will come in handy for any Southwest gardener. And here’s a bonus tip: Invest in an inexpensive tool rack for shovels, hoes and other long-handled tools. Or worst case, throw your knee pad, pruners and weeder into your 5-gallon bucket!

A tool rack (and an old rake handle) hold tools in a shed for quick access.


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