Emily Goodman
January 18, 2016

When it comes to urban gardening, think simplistically. Basic gardening tools are simple and low-tech. Because room in the urban garden is probably limited, you don’t need a lot of fancy tools taking up space.

Each of the main gardening tasks — digging, cutting, cultivating, carrying loads and watering — has several tools for different aspects and scales of the job. Which tools you should add to your urban garden shed depends on which jobs you need to do. While the vegetable gardener will have more use for a hoe, a gardener planting bulbs would be lost without a trowel. Most likely you won’t need more than the most basic tools to be outfitted for the tasks of the garden.

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Digging Tools


A trowel is a mini-shovel used to make planting holes for small plants or bulbs and for digging out weeds. Because a trowel often gets heavy use, it’s worthwhile to buy a higher-quality tool that won’t bend in hard soil or fall apart in its first season. Choose a tool with a comfortable handle and a stainless steel blade. A blade marked with inches can tell how deep you’re planting bulbs.

Garden Shovel (Spade)

For this tool, pick a stainless steel blade and a handle of tight-grained wood, such as ash, and choose the most comfortable handle weight and length of handle for you. A D-handle spade is usually shorter, for close, quick jobs. Because it gets so much use, a better-quality shovel is a good purchase.

Large Shovel

This tool is used for digging holes for larger plants, such as shrubs or trees. A large shovel usually has a round edge with a sharp point at its tip. It’s also known as a round-point shovel.

Cutting Tools


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Hand Pruners or Clippers

These tools cut branches up to 1/2 inch in diameter. They always serve a purpose in the garden—  removing dead flower heads or seed pods, trimming back small branches that are growing over walkways, cutting back dead stems or slicing open leaf galls to see what’s inside.

There are many expensive brands of pruners that work well, with numerous models for different garden purposes, including left-handed models. Less-expensive brands can also work well. Make sure you get the “scissor” or “bypass” type, where two sharp blades bypass each other as a pair of scissors operates—this type of tool cuts plant stems cleanly. The “anvil” style, where one cutting blade mashes stems against a flat metal backstop, can harm plants by crushing the stems and making ragged cuts when the cutting blade gets dull.


These tools cut branches 1/2 inch to 1 inch in diameter. They work when pruners aren’t enough to make a clean cut—  the correct tool makes a hard garden job easy. They have a long handle attached to each blade and are operated by using two hands.

Pruning Saw

For branches too thick for loppers, a foldable pruning saw is the right tool. You can get through quite sizeable tree limbs with a small saw; it just takes patience. To avoid tearing bark when a partially sawed limb drops off a tree, make an undercut halfway through the limb first, and then do a “real” cut from the top down, outside the undercut.

Because they have movable parts, all cutting tools need to be oiled to maintain ease of movement, and their blades need to be cleaned of sticky plant residues after use. They also need to be sharpened regularly.

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