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Gardening Hand Tools

HGTV master gardener Paul James talks about some of his favorite tools.

As regular Gardening by the Yard viewers know, Paul James is a garden tool fanatic. "I have just about every garden tool imaginable, and I've used them all at one time or another. But the ones I use the most are hand tools, many of which are simply miniature versions of full-sized, long-handled tools."

Here are some of his favorites:


  • The trowel (figure A) is basically a mini shovel, and it comes in handy for all sorts of mini tasks. Trowels work especially well in tight spots, where a larger tool might damage the roots of surrounding plants. And they're ideal for planting stuff grown in four-inch pots or for planting in pots. What's more, there are narrow and wide trowels, trowels with wooden handles and those with ergonomic rubber handles, plastic trowels and stainless steel ones--even trowels with built-in depth gauges so you can see how deep you've dug.
  • Tools specifically designed to create planting holes for bulbs (figure B) work reasonably well. You simply stab one into the soil-- ideally soft soil--twist a bit and remove, leaving a ready-made planting hole. You then plop the bulb in the hole, and push the dirt through the planter to fill the hole. Another type has a handle that you can squeeze, which causes the blades to come together and lift the soil right out of the ground.

    "Both of these tools work okay, but in my opinion, a trowel works much better when you've got a lot of bulbs to plant," James says.

  • These mini cultivators (figure C) are ideal for weeding in tight spots, and James uses one to work granular fertilizers and compost into the top few inches of soil.
  • James' favorite weeding tool (figure D) works by slicing the roots of weeds at or just slightly below ground level. And it works fast.

    You can actually control a number of weeds this way, because once their foliage is removed, annual weeds in particular generally won't generate new growth. However, on grassy weeds or those with taproots, you need another type of tool.

  • And the oldest tool is arguably still the best. The asparagus knife (figure E), is used to cut newly emerging asparagus shoots. But it also does a great job of removing weeds such as dandelion that have taproots, as well as grassy weeds like crabgrass.
  • Also great for working in tight spots are miniature rakes, including a small version of the full-sized leaf rake (figure F), good for raking leaves in hard-to-get-to places. Others are modeled after the familiar steel garden rake and serve the same purpose.
  • This gardening knife (figure G) has a serrated edge for cutting and a concave surface along the blade for digging and scooping. It too makes a great weeding tool, although James also uses it to prepare small planting holes, as for garlic.
  • The Korean hand plow (figure H) is shaped much like a plow and is used in pretty much the same way. James uses it to prepare the soil in small planting beds.
  • Sheep shears (figure I) have dozens of uses in the garden, from light pruning to shearing foliage.
  • A number of other pruning tools come in miniature forms, such as pruners and bow saws (figure J), both of which fold up into a protective case that doubles as a handle. And for delicate jobs, they're handy to have around.
  • For gardeners with physical limitations, lots of hand tools have been specifically designed to give you extra leverage by relying on the strength of your entire arm and not only your wrist. And they make routine tasks such as digging and cultivating easier for gardeners without physical limitations too.

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