There are some manual garden tools you just can’t live without, like this varied tranche of horticultural essentials.
During the course of spring and summer we’ll be adding new products to this ever-expanding list of our favourite garden management tools, from secateurs, loppers, snippers and branch saws to spades, trowels, rakes, edgers, weeders and a variety of excellent hand tools.
To make this extraordinarily comprehensive guide easier to digest, we’ve sorted all the products on the page into four main categories: Pruning Tools, Digging Tools, Ground Care Tools and Hand Tools.
Although admittedly quite boring, these are all essential garden accoutrements that you need to know about because – oh yeah, baby – that’s how we get down.
No matter how thorny the garden task, and no matter how weedy you are, these are the garden tools to get the job done.
Help, the product I want is out of stock
As you may discover, some of our favourite gardening products not surprisingly keep selling out. Hence, if you find a product we’ve reviewed that isn’t available via the provided retail link, then try these retailers who usually stock some very good alternatives.
In the UK:
In the US:
BEST PRUNING & CUTTING TOOLS
Before we start, we should address at least one particular piece of garden jargon that applies to both loppers and secateurs: bypass and anvil.
Bypass secateurs and loppers have blades that are designed to pass each other smoothly as they cut, like scissors. They are perfect for green wood and delicate stems, as they give precise, clean cuts and avoid damaging or bruising the branch.
Anvil loppers and secateurs, on the other hand, have one sharpened blade that cuts down on a flat hard plastic or rubber block, rather like a small chopping board. Anvil-equipped pruners are great for dead wood and dry, hard, old growth that needs cutting back. Mind, most amateur gardeners will happily make do with either mechanism since they both essentially perform much the same task.
Now you know your bypass from your anvil, read on for the lowdown on the best quality manual snippers and cutters currently on the market.
Although they’re heavier, a little larger and more expensive than the majority of secateurs, this premium model screams quality all the way from the high-grade aluminium body and ultra-sharp TruEdge bypass blades to the tactile, ergonomically designed cork-covered handle.
The Quantum’s weighty feel and larger size makes them more suitable for gardeners with bigger hands but you’ll never rue the day you stumped up the readies to buy a pair. The cork handles provide maximum grip – especially when your hands are a bit sweaty – and they work really well with gloves, too. The blade slices through green stalks and stems up to 2.6cm (one inch) in diameter with consummate ease leaving a really clean cut in its wake. The spring, too, is set to just the right amount of tension to close and release the blades with minimum effort.
If you’re particularly choosy about your garden tools and are looking for a pair of high-end bypass secateurs that perform commendably well while being reliably robust, then these will be right up your orchard.
This long-reach branch lopper is a godsend. No, really. Unlike the average lopper that involves a lot of outstretched arm movement – more so if it’s an extension model – this one uses an ingenious bow-and-arrow-style system that keeps both arms on the same plane.
To use, simply place the palm of one hand around the adjustable lower grip and grab the handle on the end with the other. Now pull back as if using a bow and arrow – SNIP, offending branch removed in an effortless thrice. The SlimCut has two gears: a firm feel for short pulls – good for slim branches – and an easier-going gear that requires a longer stretch of the arms but is great for cutting through thicker branches.
Another excellent benefit with this system is that it enables the user to access hard-to-reach areas, whether it’s tackling a branch surrounded by thick foliage or reaching for a branch a metre or more above head height. And all without having to stretch out your arms.
If you do a lot of lopping in inaccessible areas, have short arms, or are a little frail in the muscular department, then this model comes highly recommended. It will change your lopping life.
Where most other pruners come with two fixed grip levers, this model has a finger lever that swivels 45˚ as you close your hand. We can’t believe what a difference this makes to the hand and wrist muscles. Fiskars states that its PowerGear mechanism ‘makes cutting up to 3.5 times easier than standard mechanisms’ and we bloody well agree.
These particular pruners are fitted with an anvil mechanism so they’re good for hard, dry branches up to 26mm in width. They’re extremely comfy in the hand and the gently sprung levers don’t open too wide, making them pretty effortless to use. A stalwart addition for your trimming needs.
•Buy the Niwaki Mini Shears direct from Niwaki
Shears are great for trimming hedges on the fly, general topiary duties and edging wayward grass around borders. However, this writer has found that some models are too heavy and large to wield about for long periods of time, especially with arms outstretched. By contrast, this pair of ultra lightweight Japanese-made shears are equipped with razor-sharp blades that are just the right length (14cm) for regular use.
The white oak handles, too, are relatively short and are sheathed in knobbly rubber that feels reassuringly grippy in the hands. The blades themselves are made from SK steel (a hardened alloy comprised of carbon and manganese), the preferred material of kitchen knife manufacturers.
If you’re after a small pair of light shears that cut like a razor and won’t impact too much on the forearms, consider getting your mitts around a pair of these.
These budget-priced bypass secateurs are a little larger in size than the Spear & Jacksons reviewed below so perhaps consider them if you have bigger hands.
The Gardenas have two different jaw widths and come equipped with stainless steel blades coated in a high-grade plastic grip that feels silky smooth and extraordinarily comfy in the hand.
As to be expected from a company renowned for its quality garden gear, they snip green stems and branches exceptionally well and are brightly coloured enough to stand out in the borders where you will inevitably leave them after a session in the rough.
These cool new bypass pruners from Fiskars incorporate a unique lever mechanism that reduces cutting effort quite dramatically, making them suitable for smaller hands and arthritis sufferers. Instead of a standard scissor action, the P57’s top black blade extends further than the norm to join the bottom handle midway, creating a pulley-like effect for effortless cutting. However, we would have liked to have seen a two-stage switch to prevent them opening quite so wide between cuts.
Constructed out of lightweight FiberComp material, these smooth feeling secateurs have a cutting width of 2cm, making them suitable for any green-stem pruning duties. At a snip under £26, they’re not too pricey either.
•Buy the Corona Deadheading Snip from Burgon & Ball
Corona – a leading horticultural brand in the USA – has a history dating back to 1928 when it helped revolutionise the US citrus fruit industry with production of one of the very first professional shears for snipping fruit off the stem without damaging it.
This cute little pair of snippers is essential for deadheading and delicate stem work in confined places. The Corona is light in the hand and equipped with sharp stainless steel blades with bevelled tapered tips for precise cuts, and a light return spring for effortless use.
However, the very best thing about this snipper is the squidgy ComfortGEL coating that not only provides superior comfort but also plenty of grip, even with wet hands or while wearing slippery fabric gloves.
Corona isn’t a brand you hear a lot about in the UK but on evidence of the high-quality hand tools we’ve looked at thus far, it’s clearly a brand that cuts the mustard.
•Buy the Stihl PG20 Universal Bypass Secateurs from FR Jones & Son
These cool-looking bypass secateurs from power tool manufacturer Stihl are just the ticket for effortless pruning. The slim orange coloured grips fit perfectly in a large hand and the finger-shaped indents provide extra purchase when cutting thicker branches. However, the jury’s out on the smooth plastic covering which is too slippery when wearing gloves.
The PG20s are equipped with two razor-sharp steel blades for snipping through stems and branches up to around 15mm in diameter. In the pantheon of standard manual pruners, the Stihls feel great in the hand, are extremely sharp and efficient, but that plastic covering could do with being replaced with a grippier material.
If you find your hands are too small for most secateurs, here’s a great pair of ‘lady size’ bypass pruners that do the job admirably well for less than £12. Exceedingly light and small in the hand, these Spear & Jacksons are well up to the task when it comes to snipping back that most annoying of garden plants, the vexatious thorny ninja (aka bramble).
Aside from the slim, easy-grip handles, this model is also equipped with two-stages of jaw width – 75mm for small delicate stems and 114mm for slim green branches. The combination of its SK5 steel blades and bypass cutting action, meanwhile, ensures green stems are cut with minimal bruising. A top budget-priced buy for those who just can’t get along with normal sized secateurs.
•Buy the Wolf Garten Comfort Grass Shear from Tooled Up
These Germanic grass scissors are a boon for trimming the edges of a small suburban lawn without having to reach for the electric strimmer. Mind, even if you have a lawn the size of a tennis court, they’re just as handy for tidying up bits of stray grass you forgot to strim. And, of course, they come into their own when trimming a grass border that’s perilously close to your prized Saffron Crocus collection.
The Wolfies have a comfortable, smooth action and come equipped with a pair of curved blades that can be swivelled 180˚ so you can also use them as standard shears to perform delicate topiary on a hedge or an unruly bush. And when you’re finished, simply flick the blade lock for safe storage. Well handy.
Ratchet action secateurs are brilliant for cutting through tough branches up to 20mm in diameter. Unlike normal secateurs, a ratchet model like this anvil pair from Spear & Jackson uses angled teeth that enable the snipping of bigger branches in four short steps. Simply place the carbon steel blades around the branch and perform the same hand pumping action you would employ with a normal pair of secateurs. The blade will cut only a few millimetres before resetting itself for the second, third and fourth cuts respectively. And all without putting too much of a strain on the finger muscles.
This model managed an even thicker branch of around 25mm though not without some struggle. Mind, the rotating finger grip (a mechanism very similar to the Fiskars secateurs reviewed above) was a massive help because the action does require having your hand outstretched.
If you don’t fancy carrying a large pair of loppers around with you, then do yourself a favour and pop a pair of these in your tool holster.
•Buy the GR Pro Secateurs from Niwaki
When it comes to blade manufacture – be it kitchen knives or, in this case, garden secateurs – the Japanese are past masters in the art. And as we all know, they’re also connoisseurs of creative gardening. Put the two together and this is the result – a pair of KA70 carbon steel bypass secateurs probably sharp enough to shave with.
Now, it must be said that these premium secateurs are of the old-fashioned variety which means a simple spring between two slim, plastic-sleeved steel handles. Consequently, they do require a bit more muscular action to prevent the jaws from springing wide open (some modern secateurs feature a switch that sets the maximum open aperture at two different positions – short and long). Also, these are not the type of secateurs to leave lying about in the flowerbed because that beautiful metal work will be soiled.
However, when it comes to snipping delicate stems and thin branches, these secateurs cut with utmost precision leaving no bruising and an exactness of cut that your plants will probably thank you for.
If you’re a truly discerning horticulturist who insists on using only the sharpest and best quality garden tools in the shed, then make these secateurs one of your very first ports of call.
Got a few tree branches that are too thick for your pruners or loppers? This 135mm folding saw is well up to the task. Simply unfold, select one of three sawing angles and get in there and give it hell. The Gardena’s mean-looking serrated blade is sharpened on three sides and is short and stiff enough for effortless cutting of branches up to 50mm thick and possibly more. When done, simply squeeze the button and carefully close up the blade, flick knife-style.
If 135mm seems too short a blade and you need to cut down a branch up to five metres up, then perhaps consider the 300mm CS model with telescopic Combisystem handle and curved tip for coaxing branches down.
•Buy the Wilkinson Sword Elite Anvil Pruners direct from Wilkinson Sword
As we’ve mentioned in the intro, anvil pruners are best for snipping dead, hard branches, in the case of this model, up to about two centimetres in diameter. Wilkinson Sword is well known for its metal work so it should come as no surprise that the single blade fitted here is sharp enough to prune even the most uncooperative branches without protest.
Where the blades on most anvil models strike down on a flat hard rubber plate, this model’s Japanese SK3 blade buries itself into a small groove for maximum efficiency, leaving a really clean cut in its wake. The plastic-wrapped handle, too, is comfy in the hand. However, we would advise a drop of WD40 lubrication on the sticky, old-fashioned cylindrical return spring which sometimes fails to open the jaw to its widest aperture – an anomaly we hope Wilkinson Sword will soon rectify.
Picture these scenarios. You have a tall-standing and particularly unwieldy, climbing rose bush and you need to dead-head a few wilted flowers without being ripped to shreds by its unforgiving mass of thorns. Or perhaps you have a deep and beautifully maintained flowerbed and would rather not trample through your prized Peony shoots to get to the Wisteria at the back. Or maybe you have limited mobility and can’t reach some areas of your flowerbeds.
What you need is a pair of these handy long-reach bypass pruners that don’t just snip off wilted and/or living flowers, they also hold the base of the cutting in their jaws so it doesn’t drop to the ground. Admittedly, the gripping action can be a bit hit and miss; it seems to work best with sappy stems like daffodils with a thickness up to 7.5mm.
Part of S&J’s Kew Gardens range, these long-reach pruners are 60cm in length and come equipped with tough carbon steel blades, a lockable hand trigger, a 180˚ rotating body and a head that angles up to 20˚ for awkward cuts. Very handy they are, too.
If you’re looking for a lopper with pair of blades sharp enough to shave with, look no further than this serious piece of gardening kit. It’s not just the sharpness of the blades that stand out here but the fact that they extend from 30cm to 80cm simply by pressing a button on each handle and moving the telescopic arms up through any one of six locked positions.
The WS loppers use a bypass mechanism so consider them if you’re pruning the upper echelons of your prized cherry tree or any other green-based vegetation that’s out of arm’s reach. We tried them on the apple tree and the blades cut through even some of the thicker branches like proverbial butter.
We should add that these loppers are quite heavy and the mechanism is fairly stiff when new, although this thankfully eases a little with use, so don’t expect to use them for long periods of time without taking some much needed rest. Also, in fully extended mode you will need to stretch your arms out wide if cutting branches thicker than 30mm, so perhaps avoid them if you have really short arms and opt for the Gardena Pruning Lopper SlimCut (above) instead.
•Buy the Spear & Jackson Cutting Axe from Screwfix
Don’t underestimate the usefulness of the humble axe. Aside from chopping branches and trunks too thick for secateurs or loppers to handle, having an axe to hand is great for cutting logs into smaller pieces for the fire pit or the indoor fire.
This 400g, 26cm model has a sharp tempered carbon steel blade and a shaft made from 30% fibreglass and 70% nylon. Where most wooden axes have a sleeved head that fits over a vertical wooden shaft that can become loose over time, detaching the blade in the process, this 15-inch model’s blade is housed in a horizontal nylon moulding that envelopes the head, preventing the blade section from flying off and causing a nasty injury.
The grippy, rubberised handle is another great safety feature that should theoretically prevent the axe from slipping out of the hand and chopping your foot off. It also comes with a plastic case for safe storage. This axe is also available in three larger variants, from 36cm to 81cm.
BEST DIGGING TOOLS
Gardena has really nailed the ergonomics with this excellent garden fork. Aside from being relatively light and shaped for better posture, its four flattened steel tines are tough enough to penetrate hard-packed earth, and gently curved and spaced just the right distance apart to lift large clods of earth in one go. And because its wide shaft is clad in a tough but tactile plastic coating, it’s exceedingly comfortable and grippy in the hand, and pretty much immune to corrosion.
However, it’s the design of the handle that makes this humble fork such a game changer. Where most fork ’andles (geddit?) provide only enough space for one hand at a time, this model is equipped with a really wide D-shaped handle that can be grabbed with both hands and used in a multitude of positions. We can’t stress enough what a massive difference this simple design flourish makes, especially when tackling tough ground or aerating the lawn.
In the pantheon of garden forks, this one ticks all the right boxes – it’s light, exceedingly comfy and extremely efficient. And, what’s more, it comes with a 25 year guarantee.
•Buy the Burgon & Ball Ladies’ Groundbreaker Spade from Amazon
Measuring just 98cm in length, this elegant, lightweight stainless steel digger is just the ticket for anyone of shorter stature. That sharp pointed tip is absolutely perfect for excavating hard-packed earth with minimum effort while its wide Y-shaped FSC-certified hardwood handle ensures a good level of comfort in the rough. Having been tested to a breaking strain of 90kgs, it’s as tough as a boot, too.
The RHS-endorsed Groundbreaker’s mirror-polished stainless steel blade is 23.5cm in length and 18cm wide, so it’s of ample proportions to shift relatively large amounts of soil at a time. Given that it’s only a few centimetres longer than the Kent & Stowe model reviewed below, it’s also an equally excellent alternative for use in cramped spaces.
When you’re hunched over a small area shifting or turning over earth, the last thing you want is a spade that’s too long to wield. This short-scale, curved-blade model measures just 91.5cm – an ideal length for working in tight spaces or for anyone of shorter stature.
The Kent & Stowe is splendidly constructed using high-grade stainless steel (the blade measures a petite 20cm x 14cm) married to a seasoned ash shaft with a split handle for both comfort and aesthetics. If you’re looking for a competent, keenly-priced earth excavator that allows you to work unimpeded in confined areas, then pop this handsome soil toiler on the shopping list.
Buy the Burgon & Ball Sophie Conran Digging Fork from Burgon & Ball
We’ve been very impressed with everything Burgon & Ball have so far sent us, and this stylish short-stem digging fork is another cool garden product that’s superbly crafted using FSC Certified ash and high-quality stainless steel.
With an overall length of just 94cm and weighing in at a very comfortable 1.3kgs, this elegant Sophie Conran-designed fork is ideal for turning over borders and especially well suited for people of shorter stature and those who prefer a shorter-handled tool for working in confined spaces.
The T-shaped grip and wide shaft feel great in the hand and this writer is wholly enamoured of the immaculately machined 14cm four-tine head. No two ways about it, this is a classy garden tool that should provide years of trusty service, as long as it’s stored under cover – or perhaps hung on the living room wall.
This ultra lightweight four-tine fork is perfect for most earth-turning tasks and a boon for lawn aeration. The Fiskars is constructed out of aluminium and is equipped with flat rather than round tines. Although we haven’t had any issues loosening even hard-packed earth, we would advise against using it to leverage out any large boulders or old concrete fence post mountings since those tines could feasibly bend or even snap.
However, for the vast majority of tasks around the garden – including lawn aeration to which it is exceedingly well suited – it passes much muster. At just 1,230g, the Fiskars feels noticeably lighter than similarly-priced garden forks and you’ll thank that featherweight construction after just 30 minutes of hard graft in the cabbage patch.
This is not just any old spade, it’s ergonomically designed with a 17˚ handle and a 26˚ degree angle at the scoop section that helps keep the soil load level with the ground when lobbing it into the old bow and arrow. Put another way, less shoulder articulation equals less effort and therefore more strength to lift a pint afterwards.
Fear not if the ground’s as solid as concrete because this one’s got a pointy tip to penetrate deep and hard and its shaft is made from boron steel with industrial welding for added strength.
The Fiskars is of average man length (1.25m) and quite hefty, so it’s not one for weaklings or those of shorter stature. But worry not because we have a couple of shorter, lightweight options for your perusal higher up this page.
This garden fork is the one to reach for when the going gets really tough. Part of Spear & Jackson’s Neverbend range of robust garden tools, this one has a solid forged carbon steel head and socket with rivets for extra strength and a hammer-finished, epoxy coated head for added rust resistance. The hardwood shaft has also been weatherproofed for extra defence against typical British weather.
Although not as comfortable in the hand as the excellent Gardena ErgoLine model reviewed above, this is a more suitable tool for intensive gardening in unyielding terrain. S&J says this fork ‘easily exceeds the BS3388 load test’. Well, we’ve put its ‘neverbend’ claim to the test on three occasions and so far it’s passed with flying colours. However, some users on Amazon have begged to differ.
BEST GROUND CARE TOOLS
Buy the Sneeboer Garden Rake direct from Sneeboer
In the pantheon of manual garden tools, Sneeboer manufactures some of the most desirable long- and short-handle manual tools on the market. Established in Holland in 1913, the small but successful company is now under the helm of the family’s fourth generation.
So what’s so special about their tools, then? Well, they’re all hand made for a start, and that includes hand forging all of its high-quality stainless steel garden products on site in Bovenkarspel. This writer received the eight-tine garden rake and it’s such a rustic sight to behold that I’m considering mounting it on the lounge wall between raking duties. Really, put this in your hand and you’ll believe you’ve stepped back in time.
Aside from the high standard of authentic old-school craftsmanship, this 30cm rake is equipped with seriously sharp diamond-shaped tips that dig into hard packed ground with ease and without skating over the earth as would a more typically blunted model. It also means you don’t have to put as much back into the task – simply cast it forward and draw it back. The 1.55m handle, meanwhile, is crafted from top-quality ash and equipped with a knob on the end to keep palm blisters at bay and ensure a good grip.
The Sneeboer eight-tine rake is designed for preparing and tending borders and allotments, and for getting soil ready for turfing, so don’t use it to scarify the lawn or those sharp pointy bits will snag and snap every root.
If you’re a refined gardener for whom only the best manual tools for the job will do, then waltz right this way because this one’s the bee’s knees of garden rakes. As Sneeboer tools are hand forged, there may be a short waiting time for your order to arrive. Just so you know.
•Buy this Dutch Hoe direct from Burgon & Ball
Here’s a humble Dutch-style hoe from purveyors of high-end garden gear, Burgon & Ball. Endorsed by the Royal Horticultural Society and made using expertly machined and welded stainless steel and quality ash for the shaft, this is the tool to grab when you’re preparing the borders or allotment for seeding and planting, general earth tending duties and killing pesky weeds.
The B&B’s sharp weed-decapitating blade is supported by two extra long brackets that leave plenty of room for the top inch or two of soil to be turned, while its long, lightweight 1.61-metre ash shaft is of ample length to reach awkward areas without trampling all over the saplings. A leather hanging cord completes the package.
This is an excellent piece of versatile garden kit that should provide years of effective hoeing and weeding.
This is a differently designed hoe to the Burgon & Ball above but it’s no less efficient. At just 0.83kgs, it’s really light for a start which, as any hotshot hoeist will testify, is a mighty good thing. Its compact 1.3-metre length is also a bonus for manoeuvrability and we absolutely love the gently tapered section near the top which adds extra comfort and helps with grip.
Fashioned from ash and stainless steel, this is an ideal hoe for use in confined spaces and between delicate plants. It’s also suitable for elderly folk who may suffer from restricted movement.
If you have some heavy duty hoeing to do, consider this German-made, industrial-strength, two-way Dutch-style model which forms part of Wolf Garten’s Multi-Change tool range. Comprised of separate handles and tool heads, the Multi-Change series is handy for those with limited space in the shed; simply grab your tool of choice and snap in into the handle. Despite being a bit heavier than the standard models, the telescopic handle is a great cover-all-bases option for different garden tasks and user heights.
Unlike the average Dutch hoe, this 10cm model has a wavy-shaped sharpened blade on both sides so it can be pushed and pulled through soil, decapitating all weeds in the process. Although Wolf Garten tools don’t look as aesthetically pleasing as their wooden competitors, their corrosion-free plastic and rust-free metal construction is far more durable and able to withstand being left out in the rain and snow. And being of German origin you can safely expect it to last for the full extent of its guarantee – a frankly phenomenal 35 years.
•Buy the Kent & Stowe Stainless Steel Edging Iron from Primrose
Grass edgers usually come in two varieties: smooth edge and serrated edge. This serrated 99cm version is highly recommended because it’ll cut through the edges of even the toughest kikuyu-type grass without pulling it apart and leaving an unsightly finish.
Along with Sneeboer and Burgon & Ball, Kent & Stowe has impressed us the most when it comes to quality garden tools that look as good as they function. This edger is no exception; it’s constructed from high-end stainless steel topped with an ash shaft married to a comfortable T-shaped handle for maximum comfort. It also carries a 15-year guarantee.
•Buy the Wolf Garten Multi-Change Leaf Rake from Amazon
Plastic rakes are perfect for clearing leaves off the lawn while gently scarifying the grass in the process. They’re also good for gathering leaves off patios and driveways. This 42cm wide model hails from Wolf Garten’ Multi-Change range of separate tool heads and handles. Hence this model doesn’t come with a handle so be sure to order one in unless you already have a handle to hand.
As is the case with all of Wolf Garten’s manual tools is comes with an incredible 35 year guarantee which is surprising given that those plastic tines could snap off or bend if mistreated. But top marks to German brand Wolf Garten for providing such a long-term warranty.
Although most synonymous with autumnal leaf clearance, the spring-tine rake is also very useful during the months of spring and summer when lawns need scarifying, moss needs to be raked away and cuttings and other garden detritus require careful removal.
As expected from a company that specialises in steel, this 16-tine stainless steel spring rake is well built and light in the hand, and just the ticket for keeping the lawn free of moss and young weeds during the summer months. And when autumn heaves into view, it’ll come into its own as a traditional alternative to a noisy leaf blower.
•Buy the Wolf Garten Multi-Change Soil Rake from Amazon
In the pantheon of soil rakes, the Sneeboer reviewed above is the traditionalist’s weapon of choice but what if you don’t give a damn what your rake looks and just want one that performs the task without spending a fortune? The Wolf Garten 30cm rake is what you need. Granted, it’s not as elegant as the Sneeboer and not quite as effective (its 12 tines are more blunted) but it still tackles most soft-earth raking duties very well indeed.
The beauty of this model is that it comes as just the tool head with no handle, the idea being that you purchase a handle of choice separately and use it with other tool heads from Wolf Garten’s Multi-Change range. You save money this way and a lot of shed storage space, too.
•Buy the Draper Lawn Aerator from Amazon
If you have a lawn that is regularly used rather than just admired, chances are the earth beneath will become compacted, restricting drainage and preventing grass roots from growing more deeply. If that’s the case, you will need to aerate it from time to time to help keep it in tip top condition. There are three ways to do this yourself: use a lightweight fork like the Fiskars reviewed above (tiring it must be said), invest in a spiked roller wheel (to be reviewed soon) or, better still, go for a hollow tine option like this model from Draper.
This aerator is equipped with five hollow tines that push down into the earth, forcing small plugs of earth out through the top. Although the holes it leaves in its wake are about 10mm in diameter, you won’t see them from an angle. Nevertheless, those holes really do help water to drain and the earth to breathe, producing a much more vigorous sward in the process.
However, it’s absolutely essential the lawn is thoroughly watered the night before to help soften the earth or you will find it almost impossible to force the tines into the soil, even when standing with both feet on the foot bar and doing a pogo dance.
BEST HAND TOOLS
•Buy the Japeto Hori Hori Knife direct from Japeto
Originating in Japan, the Hori Hori is a surprisingly versatile garden knife that’s capable of removing weeds with the roots intact, making trenches for sowing seeds, digging holes for new bedding plants, clearing hard-packed soil from around exposed roots for easier cutting and scooping small amounts of earth. It’s also a great alternative to the patio paving knife.
This keenly-priced model measures 12 inches in total and is equipped with a seven-inch blade replete with etched measurements for planting seedlings and cuttings. The blade itself is concave shaped to shift soil in small measures and features a smooth edge on one side and a sharp serrated edge on the other. The handle, meanwhile, is crafted from rosewood and feels reassuringly chunky in the hand. The whole thing packs away into a smart brown leather belt sheath for safety and easy access. If you’re looking for an extremely adaptable addition to your gardening arsenal, then this be it my friend.
•Buy the Corona ComfortGEL Transplanter from Burgon & Ball
There’s not much you can say about a trowel but this keenly-priced model is a better performer than most. Firstly it’s remarkably light which you’ll come to appreciate after 20 minutes of pottering about in the allotment. Secondly, its sharp, pointy and unflinchingly robust stainless steel head comes with one-inch measurements etched into the metal for easy planting of small saplings and a serrated edge for cutting roots. And thirdly – and perhaps best of all – it has the comfiest and grippiest gel-coated handle in the business, replete with an index finger guard for protection and increased downward thrust. A stalwart option for dedicated trowelists.
•Buy the Burgon & Ball Block Paving Knife direct from Burgon & Ball
This is one of the most useful hand tools you can have in your horticultural armoury. Ostensibly designed for removing weeds and grass in the narrow gaps between paving stones, it’s also a dab hand at dealing with border weeds and cutting through small roots.
This Royal Horticultural Society-endorsed stainless steel model from Burgon & Ball features a sharpened 90˚ hook that gets down deep into the roots of the problem. For most grasses and weeds, simply draw the hooked blade backwards between the paving stones, or jab the hook end in and swivel the hardwood handle forwards to get rid of the most obstreperous weeds and grass roots.
Granted, it’s quite time intensive being on your knees doing one gap at a time, but a method like this is a much more pet- and bird-friendly alternative to using chemical-based weed killer.
It’s arguably the least sexiest tool in the shed, but when it comes to planting flowers, digging furrows, scooping soil and cleaning up dog mess, nothing does it better than the humble trowel. This colourful, easy-to-spot model from German manufacturer Wolf Garten is equipped with a plastic handle that won’t rot away (even when it inevitably ends up in a landfill) and a 7cm wide metal blade with a sharpened edge for easier excavation. The handle, meanwhile, comes fitted with two rubber grip pads and a comfy flat top for pushing down with the palm.
We’re not sure what form of treated metal is used for the blade but the whole thing comes with a 10 year guarantee, and that’s pretty darn good for something that costs less than a tenner. Great choice.
When you’re down on your knees trying to plough a furrow for new seedlings, forget using the trowel and reach for one of these instead. This hand cultivator is equipped with three pointed carbon steel prongs that dig furrows about three inches deep into even the most hard-packed earth. It’s also a great tool for general raking and weed control, especially when working in really confined spaces. The Kent & Stowe comes with a comfortably contoured ash handle and a leather thong for storage. It’s cheap as chips, too.
Yes, it’s a scoop, a simple hand scoop. But you’ll rue the day you didn’t buy one when you elect to ship in a large bag of compost for the border plants only to find that your existing trowel is too slim to scoop more than a thimble of soil at a time.
This dish-shaped piece of hammer-finished carbon steel provides top scoopability when shovelling compost and top soil from bag or barrow to borders and dead grass patches. The weatherproofed ash handle, meanwhile, is one of the best shaped handles that this handle handler has ever handled. It also comes with a 10 year guarantee and a leather strap for storage.
All you need for crouched ground prep and planting in confined beds and borders is a Hori Hori knife, a trowel, a three-prong cultivator and one of these. This particular hand fork is light in the hand and comes equipped with three flat stainless steel tines for both digging and shifting clumps of earth. Its handle, meanwhile, is fashioned from smoothly sanded ash and contoured for comfort. If you spend a lot of time gardening on your knees, you’re going to need one of these.
BEST POWERED TOOLS
Yes, we know this page is supposed to be dedicated entirely to manual garden tools, but from time to time we receive an electrically powered left-field product that genuinely impresses us. These ‘eureka’ tools are few and far between and are mostly designed for odd jobs that are quite capable of being done using a manual equivalent. But if you want to save your back, hands and arms and procure aeons of extra time to sit back and relax with a G&T, you really won’t rue the day you decided to embrace the power of electricity and let it do all the hard work.
Inventions come and go. Some are as useful as a chocolate teapot but occasionally someone invents a product that genuinely leaves your jaw on the floor. This is one such tool. If you have a paved patio, terrace or driveway that wasn’t particularly well installed in the first place, you will know all too well the hassle and huge amount of time it takes to remove weeds and grass from between the cracks. Well that’s what this tool was designed for.
It works like an angle grinder except instead of a spinning blade it has a spinning steel brush that literally rips weeds and grass from between the cracks. This writer tested it on a small patio – after managing to wrestle it from the clutches of my spouse – and it performed astoundingly well, even on the narrowest of gaps. Yes, it left a few obstreperous grass roots behind here and there but nothing a quick whizz with the Burgon & Ball patio knife (reviewed above) couldn’t quickly deal with. When the grass and weeds inevitably return, simply whip it out of the shed and have another session. We should add that it also deep cleans the edges of the paving stones as it does its job so be aware of that if you have special slabs imported from Mars.
Given that the small 2.0Ah 18volt ONE+ battery we received ran out of juice just as I completed the task on our small 5×5-metre patio, I would suggest investing in a 3, 4 or 5Ah variant for larger patios and terraces.
The Ryobi is really effortless to use because it has a normal wheel on the other side which keeps it level. You simply grab the adjustable handle attached to the telescopic arm, aim the brush at the gap and roll it back and forth. But for God’s sake, don’t wear Flip-Flops when using it in case a toe comes into contact. Ouch!
•Buy the Bosch EasyPrune Powered Secateurs from Amazon
We’re bucking the non-powered trend in this instance and including a pair of battery-powered bypass secateurs that are definitely worth knowing about. Rather like an electric bicycle that adds powered assistance the harder you push on the pedals, these clever motorised secateurs provide motorised assistance only when the going gets tough.
To put the theory to the test, we tried them out on a variety of branch widths and were frankly gobsmacked at how well they worked. Under normal circumstances when trimming slim green stems and branches of less than about 8mm in diameter they behave just like any pair of manual secateurs. But as soon as you attempt to snip a branch of between 8mm and 25mm, a tiny motor kicks in to complete the task with effortless aplomb.
The bizarre thing is that they give no real sense of adding any assistance. Sure, you can hear the motor whirring away but the effect is as if you’d suddenly developed superhuman powers. Before you know it, the offending branch is cut clean through.
Despite the addition of a battery and other internal electronics, the EasyPrunes don’t feel too ungainly though it must be said that they’re much better suited to larger hands than smaller ones. Granted, they weigh more than manual secateurs (490g), but that extra weight isn’t really a hindrance given the sterling job they do.
If you have weak hand muscles or suffer from arthritis or carpal tunnel syndrome, these may just be the pruners to get you back into the flower bed.
Instead of using chemical weed killer that could harm pets and kill birds, bees and other useful creatures, perhaps consider shocking the life out of the little offenders (the weeds, that is) with a thermal assassin, like this new model from Hozelock.
Powered by electricity using a relatively short cable, the Green Power Thermal Weeder produces 600˚C of heat to deliver a thermal shock to the weed which, according to Hozelock, causes ‘the plant’s cells to burst, destroying the weed within seconds’.
To use, simply switch it on and let the coil heat up for about 45 seconds, then place the silver cup end over the weed for about five seconds. The high heat literally cooks the weed, making it smell like broccoli on a barbecue. The process should, theoretically, kill the entire plant, including its roots.
In our weed annihilation test it successfully killed the roots and saved pets and wildlife in the process. However it did take quite a long time to perform the task and the cable was a pain to drag around, too.
BEST GARDEN APPAREL
If you’re an avid gardener – and let’s face it, who isn’t at this particular moment in time – then you’ll need some gear to protect the hands and feet from thorns, sharp sticky-out things and mud, lots of glorious mud.
•Buy Cobra Gloves direct from Cobra
Gardening doesn’t do the hands any favours. Aside from thorns, sharp twigs and rough bark causing inevitable injury, the worst offender is soil, because it literally draws all moisture out of the skin leaving the hands as dry and chapped as the Bonneville Salt Flats.
What you need my friend is a decent pair of soil and general gardening gloves like this manly heavy-duty pair from Cobra. Constructed out of stretchy ribbed PVC with reinforced leather palms and silicon fingertips for gripping stuff like heavy terracotta pots, power tools and cliff tops, these mountain bike-style gloves are tough enough for most gardening duties, including rose bush clearance, soil toiling and carrying heavy stuff with sharp edges.
They’re available in a wider range of sizes than others we’ve seen (Medium, Large, X-Large and XXX-Large) and they’re easy enough to get in and out of. At £9.99, they’re cheap, too. However, they don’t breathe that well so perhaps consider them for autumnal work and grab yourself a pair of the fancy Burgon & Balls below for the hotter summer months.
•Buy Burgon & Ball Dig The Glove direct from Burgon & Ball
Available in two sizes (M/L and L/XL), these gloves fit very comfortably though they are quite narrow at the cuff so bear that in mind if you have chunky hands. The Dig The Glove is constructed out of breathable denim with padded palms, genuine leather trim and temperature regulating stretch mesh between the fingers.
Although the gloves’ palms, finger and fingertips are covered in puncture-resistant suede-like material, most stiff rose thorns will penetrate if gripped too hard. However, for lighter duties like pruning and general tool work, they perform admirably well. If you’re looking for a light, breathable and stylish looking glove for summer gardening, step right this way.
•Buy Muckboots RHS Muckster direct from Muckboots
Gardening is dirty business so the last thing you want to be doing is trudging around the borders or allotment wearing unsuitable shoes. These excellent slip-on Muckboot shoes are made from pliable rubber with tough soles and a soft, breathable air mesh lining. They are supremely comfortable and supple enough to bend with the shape of the foot when in a crouched position. The outer soles, meanwhile, are deep enough to fend off sharp thorns and rusty nails and protect the arch of the foot when stomping on a spade or fork.
Being made entirely from rubber, they are naturally a doddle to clean – simply blast with a hosepipe and leave to dry – and also useful for mowing the lawn and walking the dogs first thing in the morning through wet or dewy grass.
MuckBoot’s sizing is pretty accurate so if you’re normally an 8, then that’s the size to order. They come in three neutral colours and are also available in women and children styles.
Coated in a thick but pliable layer of textured rubber, these gloves provide impeccable grip while protecting the hands to some degree from thorny ninjas and your skin from all that earth you’ll be handling. They’re also really useful for getting a good grip on heavy items you need to carry, like washing machines, fridges, pianos, safes, anvils, uranium, etc.
Be warned, however, that availability online is somewhat erratic, with some stores selling mediums only and others large and small. Hence, you may need to shop around. Also bear in mind that the largest (Large) size is smaller than usual, so perhaps avoid if you have bigger-than-average hands.