Best Inexpensive Gadgets and Gear for the Home Gardener

There’s nothing like a series of sunny days in late winter to awaken my inner gardener. Apparently, I’m not the only one as evidenced by my inbox these past few weeks.

Mary Hunt's garden in spring

Dear Mary:  I just moved into my first home after living in an apartment for the last 10 years. As a novice home chef, I’ve been dreaming of the day I could grow my own vegetable and herb garden and have a nice yard with grass and shrubbery as well. 

Do you have any suggestions for some basic tools I need to get started? Thanks for your help. I love your column and read it daily! Asher

Dear Asher:  I’ve got gardening on my mind, too. Currently, mine in this photo is under a few inches of snow but I have faith. I know that in a few weeks we’ll be back to temperatures in the 70s, which gives me a new appreciation for the condition known as spring fever! I’ve got it bad and can’t wait to get my hands dirty and my garden planted.

With that in mind, I came up with a list of my favorite inexpensive yard and garden gadgets and gear.

While this may look like a sizable investment, it’s not likely you will need all of these items on day one. Just hang onto this list as you begin to furnish your tool shed.

I’m confident you can rely on this list to build a collection of garden tools that will work well for many years to come. I’d rather see you spend a few more dollars on good quality tools from the start than to find yourself having to replace poor quality items every season. Been there, done that and wasn’t very happy about it.

Here for your gardening pleasure are my best inexpensive garden tools:

Gloves, trowel and weeder for the DIY gardener

1. Gloves

I tried so many until I found the gloves that work for me. Atlas Touch Gloves are awesome. Made of cotton with nitrile (similar to vinyl) coating on the palm and fingers, these gloves fit so well and are so flexible I can easily open a can, pick up a small pebble or even take a call while wearing them.

A pack of six pair comes in an assortment of pastel colors and sizes small, medium and large. These gloves are machine washable. Best garden gloves ever.

2. Trowel

You need a good trowel for digging, cutting and scooping dirt. It needs to have a wide, sharp edge to cut through roots and grasses in a single pass. The handle needs to be smooth and easy to grip. Few trowels I’ve tried to meet all of that criteria at a price I’m willing to pay. This one does. Wilcox 14-Inch Garden Trowel is perfect in every way. The blade has a ruler that helps make sure I’m planting seeds, seedlings, and bulbs to a uniform depth.

3. Weeder

If you’ve ever used a Hula-Ho Weeder, you know this thing is almost magic. Known by some as the weeder with a wiggle, the first time you pick it up, you’ll think it’s broken because the self-sharpening blade is loose. But that’s the magic! It moves back and forth.

It will change forever the way you weed, aerate, mulch and cultivate your garden. I have the luxury of two of these babies—one with a 14-inch handle ($15) and full-size with 54-inch handle.

Shovel, pruner and rigid rake for the DIY gardener

4. Shovel

For me, the right shovel is like having the right vacuum. I use my Shark vacuum daily because it fits and it works. I want the same features in my shovel. It has to fit my hands without giving me blisters or splinters.

The Bully Tools Round Point Shovel with a closed handle is, without doubt, the best choice, a great deal. I love the fiberglass handle that will not rot, splinter or require any kind of maintenance.

Hint: I keep a bucket of sand with my tools, into which I’ve poured a bottle of motor oil. Once I hose off this shovel (and all of my tools for that matter), I plunge the shovel part into the sand before hanging it up. That keeps the blade edge sharp and leaves a light coating of oil that prevents rust.

5. Pruner

I’m sold on Fiskars Traditional Bypass Pruning Shears because they are great for cutting flowers, twigs, and branches up to 1/2-inch thick. Known as “bypass” shears, this pruner has blades that cut like scissors to make cleaner, easier cuts.

And it has a self-cleaning sap groove that keeps the blades from sticking even when I need to cut through icky sticky stuff. My Fiskars pruner is at least 10 years old and still going strong. About $12.

6. Bow Rake

A strong rake is an absolute necessity for combing rocks and clods out of a bed and leveling the soil for seed sowing. I suggest that you spend a bit more to get a great heavy-duty rake like this Truper 31380 Tru Pro 60-Inch bow rake with a fiberglass handle.

It will last a lifetime, carrying you through even the biggest jobs like raking rocks or pulling roots and vines when its time to winterize the garden.

Shovel, pruner and bowrake for the DIY gardener7. Reel mower

This is hands down, the best lawn mower if you want to mow the old-fashioned way and get a little exercise while you do it. Scotts Great States 20-inch mower is the best in its class of push mowers.

This little machine cuts through grass (notice I didn’t say “tears” through grass) like its butter! It makes the cleanest cuts ever, which promotes healthy grass and is also easy to adjust for mowing height.

If you have childhood memories of a reel mower that gets jammed up and nearly impossible to push, let those memories go. Push mowing has never been easier or cheaper.

MORE: Plant an Edible Garden No Matter Where You Are or What You Have

8. Leaf rake

I hate it when the tines on a leaf rake get clogged and I have to stop, reach down and pull all the debris away.

The reason I love the Corona Fixed Tine Leaf Rake is that the tines have a spring base to prevent this from happening. The wood handle is 54-inches, which allows for reaching behind bushes and around hedges. And a Lifetime warranty, so hang onto the paperwork that comes with it!

9. Garden kneeler

If the thought of kneeling in your garden as you tend to routine gardening chores makes you wince in pain, relax. What you need is an excellent kneeling pad that is thick enough to provide comfort and large enough to kneel on effortlessly.

You will find that in this InSassy Garden Kneeler Pad. Prepare to want one of these in the house as well. I can’t tell you how many times I reach for my kneeler. (OK, maybe I can but that will be for another time and place.)

There you go, Asher—the essential contents of a useful garden shed. I see you live in California—specifically, Zone 9a on the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map. Right there you have a lot going for you—great sunshine and a  long growing season. I’m in Zone 5b, which is just slightly less great when it comes to home gardening. I’ll need to work hard to keep up with you.

Be sure to let us know how your first garden grows!

Updated 3-5-19

PREVIOUSLY: The Best Way I Know to Slash the Hidden Costs of a Dirty HVAC Filter


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9 replies
  1. Sharon Campbell
    Sharon Campbell says:

    Mary, a word of warning to the wise Coloradoan: do NOT plant things outside until after Mother’s Day. We have an annual April blizzard.

    Reply
  2. Jan New
    Jan New says:

    Fiskar products are reliable and fairly priced. They stand behind their products and replace blades for free, if or when they break. We were impressed by the great customer service.

    Reply
  3. Bookworm
    Bookworm says:

    Such a wonderful list! I’ve got most of them, but I’d never heard of that weeder — gotta get me one! Local garden centers, local master gardeners, university horticulture programs, and county extension services are all great sources of information — local being the key word. Don’t depend on advice from other areas. Your soil, rainfall, and temperature make your area unique. Here in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area we have Neil Sperry, a wealth of information with his free weekly emails, radio programs, and Facebook account.

    Reply
  4. Sue in MN
    Sue in MN says:

    As a gardener for over 50 years, and an Master Gardener educator, let me second Mary’s choices, the square-foot & raised-bed posts and add a few recommendations.
    Start SMALL – A few veggies or herbs, a few shrubs, a few flowers. Add more as you learn what works for you and what you like to grow. Add only as you have the time, energy & money to expand. A few things well tended are better than a big display that you cannot maintain.
    Before your start, get a soil test – check with your University Extension Service – most provide this for around $20-30. Will tell you a lot about how to amend and fertilize your soil to get the best results from your labor.
    Look for your local Master Gardeners – great source of information/education, research-based and mostly free! When looking for on-line info, check sites ending with .edu or .org. Be wary of the promoters of “miracle” plants, fertilizers, etc – they’re usually just as bogus as miracle cures.
    When you see a yard you like, stop and talk to the homeowner, they can teach you a lot. And many will offer to share their extra plants with you (especially if you offer a little labor in exchange)
    Establish a relationship with, and buy from, a local nursery or garden center. You will get locally-grown plants, appropriate for your climate, support a local business, and have someone to turn to with questions.
    Add a cultivator to your basic tool list to help manage weeds and keep soil loose. A sharpened large old kitchen knife is very handy – I keep mine in a cardboard sheath with my tools. Add other tools only as you need them, and buy the best you can afford, cheap ones are no bargain. Get a bucket or tote to store your tools all in one place, and be kind to them, keeping them clean, sharp, and lubricated. As you add tools to your bucket or shed, Fiskar tools are a wonderful option – if they break, the company will provide parts or replacement, often free. In addition to soaker hoses on a timer, pamper your beds with mulch to retain moisture and discourage weeds. Straw, pine needles, grass clippings (without pesticides) and small wood chips are all options to consider.
    Make yourself a place to sit where you can admire all your hard work.
    Remember, gardening should be a pleasant activity, not a source of stress in your life.

    Reply
    • K R
      K R says:

      If you decide to follow the square foot gardening method, there is no need to test your soil as you don’t use any soil in this method. All you use is a good compost, peat moss and vermiculite, plus we add fertilizer. Most backyard soil isn’t that great here, in my experience, so if you do use your soil, I would test it. Also, in our area we’re limited these days as to garden centers-and in my experience, the employees there are not often educated in gardening, they mostly know how to sell, but are not very gardening savvy. There is a garden center in Roseville-but I can’t tell you about the knowledge of their employees as we have only gone there a couple of times to buy a few plants. We do have a master gardener program as I recall, plus Fair Oaks has a program I’ve heard about but never really gone to as my husband is extremely knowledgeable so we haven’t needed to use them. But I would suggest trying them if you’re a newbie and need help and advice.

      Reply
    • Jan New
      Jan New says:

      In Alabama, you can buy cotton mote from the cotton gins. It really smells bad for the first few days, but it’s amazing for the garden.

      Reply
  5. Kim Kay
    Kim Kay says:

    I’m also a square foot gardener! I converted more than 10 years ago and never thought about going back. My hubbie built me HUGE raised beds 2 years ago and I love them.

    Reply
  6. K R
    K R says:

    I will add my own comment from 40-plus years of gardening experience. Check out the square foot gardening method. We switched to that some years ago after years of the traditional row type gardening and are beyond thrilled with the results. My only suggestion for that method is that the book tells you you don’t need fertilizer when mixing the peat moss, vermiculite and compost, but we have found we actually do need to add some. Raised 4×4′ beds are wonderful; we even have some 4×4′ counter-height beds my husband made since I can no longer kneel. Some veggies grow too tall for the tall beds (our tomato plants get to around 8 feet tall so it’d be impossible to pick the tomatoes), but many veggies do well in them. Also, think about a timed irrigation system-I’m also in zone 9 and going out to water in the heat of summer here is a non-starter for me. We use skinny soaker hoses attached to the system instead of traditional drippers, as we found those don’t deliver enough water in the heat of a Sacramento area summer day.

    Reply

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