Tooling up for 2022:

Alabama Living Magazine

Curating the best basic gardening implements

January is a good month to get your garden tools organized for the spring.

January may be a slow month in the garden, but it can be a busy and productive month in the garden shed, garage, basement or wherever your gardening tools are waiting out the winter. 

These tools, whether they are people-powered shovels or gas-powered lawnmowers, are essential helpers in the yard and garden, but getting our hands on the right ones can be a challenge. Beginning gardeners who are just starting a tool collection can be overwhelmed by the sheer diversity of choices, and seasoned gardeners who have gradually amassed a substantial number of tools may find their collection is now a jumbled mix of both useful and useless items. 

This month, however, is a great time to curate those collections, whether you’re starting one from scratch or trying to organize an existing array of implements. It’s also a good time to buy garden tools and supplies, which may be on sale before gardening season really takes off.

 Start the curating process by focusing on simple but indispensable hand tools for digging, cultivating and maintaining any garden or landscape. Here’s a crash course on some must-have basic tool options.

Shovels, spades and trowels: A curved-blade, long-handled shovel is ideal for serious digging of any kind, especially when planting trees and shrubs. (And not too bad for leaning on, too.) A spade, which has a shorter handle and a long, flat-edged, boxy blade, is perfect for edging and shaping. A hand-held trowel is just the thing for digging small, shallow holes for transplants in garden beds or pots. You probably want one of each of these.

Rakes: A garden rake has flexible tines arranged in a fan shape and is ideal for gathering leaves and other garden debris without gouging the soil or lawn surface. It’s a must-have. You may also want a hard rake, the kind with short, heavy-duty tines that are useful for grooming and smoothing soil in garden beds, among other uses.

Garden forks: these petite pitchforks are perfect for loosening soil, digging around closely spaced and tender plants and incorporating organic matter into garden beds or fluffing and removing mulches. Get one!

Pruners and loppers: pruners (which require the use of one hand) and loppers (two-handed devices) are priceless tools in the yard and garden. They come in a wide range of sizes and styles, but the important thing to keep in mind is blade type. Bypass blades sweep past one another as they close, making them ideal for cutting live plant material. Anvil blades close against a plate, which makes them perfect for cutting tough dead wood. Having a bypass pruner and an anvil lopper is a good place to start.

As you shop for tools, make sure to try them out before purchasing them to ensure they are the right weight, length and style to fit your physical traits. Once you have these basic items in hand (literally and figuratively), you can add more tools as needed, such as a hoe, a pruning saw, a wheelbarrow or cart, a garden hose (or two and more) and power tools. You can also stock up on gloves, rain gauges, power tools, garden aprons, kneeler pads, hats and the like. 

Now is also the perfect time to get all your tools in organized and to discard unused and extra tools (donate them to a fellow gardener or to a local community garden or other garden-related nonprofit).  It’s also the season to get tools in tip-top shape by cleaning and repairing them so they will be your best friends once gardening season arrives.

Katie Jackson is a freelance writer and editor based in Opelika, Alabama. Contact her at


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