Garden Gear - Garden Tools

How to pick the right garden tools

Judith Adam, Carol-Ann Granatstein and Stephen Westcott-Gratton
Photography by
Roger Yip (inset photos)

Gardening experts reveal what they look for when it comes to the right gear

Fellow gardening experts and neighbours Judith Adam and Stephen Westcott-Gratton sat down to discuss the tools they prefer to use in the garden.

Judith: Tools are an extension of my hand, so it's important to buy ones that fit my grip and that I can control. I have quite a few, many I just use for a single purpose.

Stephen: I want tools to be sturdy, and if they have moving parts, I want to be able to repair or refit them easily. Good-quality tools should last for many years—my favourite spade is older than I am, but it can still be sharpened to a knife-blade cutting edge.

Shovels and spades
I prefer a blunt-nosed spade for most light digging. The straight edge quickly excavates holes for small shrubs, and slices a precision edge around the lawn. For deep digging, I find a long-handled, pointed shovel prevents back stress.

Stephen: I rarely use a shovel but wouldn't be without my steel spade. I like a hardwood shaft (usually ash), as I have bent reinforced plastic shafts in half when digging in clay soils. Metal spades made of aluminum alloys (rather than stainless steel) only stay sharp for about a year and don't re-sharpen well.

"A good-quality hand trowel is essential," says horticulturist Bernard Jackson from Truro, N.S. "Most are not made well and bend; I could kill a moose with mine. I use it for everything, from transplanting to loosening and mixing soil.

To avoid wrist damage from the repetitive movements of planting annuals, I use a trowel with a gooseneck or offset blade. I find that a straight trowel (with the handle and blade aligned) shifts the stress directly to my wrist, but an offset blade keeps the resistance at the front end.

Stephen: Unlike Judith, I haven't had good luck with gooseneck trowels and invariably end up with bent shafts. I prefer a straight trowel made of a single piece of stainless steel with a handle coated in thick rubber—it's impossible to bend or break.

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