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The Best Garden Tools for Working by Hand

If you love getting in the dirt when you garden but you aren’t a fan or working harder than necessary, I’ve got you covered with this list of my can’t-live-without hand tools for gardening!

I do a lot of gardening. I have a flower garden that runs the length of the house, several smaller areas scattered around, and of course the orchard and vegetable garden. I do 99% of the work by hand with a small collection of gardening tools.

The only power tools are the push mower, weed wacker, and my electric hedge trimmer. As much as I love plants and growing things I think lawns are stupid and my eventual goal is to have either a garden or pasture everywhere.

Best Tools for Hand Gardening:

Over the years I’ve tried out a lot of garden tools and even with all of them hanging around I find myself reaching for the same things over and over. I joke a lot about my garden being perpetually unkempt, but the truth is without these tools I’d never get a single zucchini.

In an effort to help you save time and money, I put together this list of the best garden tools to let you learn from my mistakes.

Most of these tools can be found locally but I’m an Amazon Prime kinda girl (less time shopping = more time gardening) so I’ve shared those links with you.

All the pictures are of my personal tools, that’s why they’re dirty and possibly out of focus.

The Cape Cod Weeder

cape cod weeder

If I could only have one gardening tool for the rest of my life, it would be the  Cape Cod Weeder. I know it doesn’t look like much,  I was really skeptical when it arrived.

I read about it in the Vegetable Gardeners Bible (my all-time favorite gardening book, you can see more of my favorites in this list of the 7 gardening books you need to read) and I wanted to try it out.

This weeder hardly leaves my hand when I’m out in the garden.  It’s great for slicing off tiny weed seedlings, pulling out more established weeds by the roots and even getting rid of grass.

I can clear quite a bit of ground with this baby in a very short amount of time. This little guy is the only reason I’m no longer overwhelmed by weeds.

It comes in a left and right-handed version and it’s also available with a longer T-shaped handle. I have the short right-handed version, it works great to shove in my back pocket when I’m sneaking into the garden after I put the kids to bed!

The Nejiri Gama hoe is similar and was my old favorite but after I got the Cape Cod Weeder it doesn’t see as much action. It’s better at removing small seedlings but the blade has more give and it’s not as good at removing the big stuff.

The blade on this is much thinner, I even chipped off the tip when I hit a rock weeding around the daylilies. It does work really well if you’re going down a row in smooth soil slicing off weeds right below the surface.

It covers more area per swipe than the Cape Cod Weeder so cleaning up between rows or lettuce or carrots goes really quickly.

Hand Tiller

hand tiller, hand cultivator

Another tool I can’t garden without is my hand tiller or cultivator.  I pull this out when I need to get deeper than the Cape Cod Weeder will go or when I’m making trenches for planting.

My whole vegetable garden is in 4 foot wide raised beds. I’ve got long arms and I can just about reach all the way across. I use this to break up any clumps and make my trenches before I seed anything. The Cape Cod weeder has a very narrow head and it’s just harder to make trenches with it.

The hand tiller is great for weeding because you can swing it like a hammer and really get deep in the ground.

It’s really good for breaking up and removing stubborn old stands of weeds and grass. I used it to clear a 2*12ish foot area for the everbearing gold raspberries in the orchard.

After it was mowed pretty close I went down each side with a shovel to loosen it up and then went back through with this tool to break up the pieces and pull out the weeds. You can smack the dirt clumps with the side to get separate the dirt from the roots too. I tried a few other garden tools and just kept coming back to this one.

I did manage to break the first one I bought, the top was welded on instead of being a solid cast piece and I hit a rock one day and it flew off into the air. I was very lucky it didn’t hit me in the face!

If you decide to pick up one of these get the most solid one you can find.

Hand Pruners

hand pruners

One more hand tool I rely on is my hand pruners. My kids are fruit garbage cans and growing our own has become a necessity!

Most of what we grow are either fruit trees or fruit bushes that require regular pruning. Having a nice, sharp pair of pruners is key when trying to maintain your own personal jungle.

It doesn’t get a lot of use but I like to keep a folding saw handy. It gets its chance to shine when we cut down our Christmas tree every year.

It also gets called into action to cut down unwanted saplings (like the ones I used for my T-Post Trellis and folding chicken roosts) or thick wild grapevines that get out of control.

5 Tine Cultivator

5 tined cultivator

One more tool that isn’t a necessity but is pretty handy and very scary is a 5 tine cultivator. I reach for this when I have lots of grass or tangled weeds to pull out, I want to work in some soil amendments or I need to scare someone.

It rips weeds right out of the ground in its creepy claw.

Those spikey tines are what makes it so good at working in soil amendments like peat moss, compost, or fertilizer. It’s very sturdyand it stands up to my hard clay soil without a problem.

Buy a Good Shovel

Most of my gardening is done on my knees with the hand tools I’ve mentioned above but I do rely on a good shovel quite often. I look for a sturdy blade with a pointed head and ample foot room.

Like I said, I hate lawns and every year I turn more and more of mine into a garden of some type. Having a decent shovel makes this a hundred times easier.

I actually avoid wooden handles because I’m the queen of distracted gardening and I never remember to bring my tools in. I keep one shovel in the barn and another by the house or forgotten in the garden.

My favorite shovel has a fiberglass handle and she lives in the garden where I can always count on her to be there when I need a helping hand.

Get Some Gloves

The next item in the do as I say, not as I do category. I rarely wear gloves, but I should and so should you. I’m constantly picking things out of my hands, there is dirt under nails my that will never come out & my skin is permanently tinted green.

I have the garden version of mechanics hand, except its brown dirt and green plant reside instead of black oil. Not to mention how painful it is when you get soil (or thorns) jammed up under your fingernails.

It’s not that I don’t have any, I have at least 5 pair of garden gloves, I just never seem to have them with me. My favorites have padded leather on the palms, leather on the fingers, elastic around the wrists, and are made from a synthetic fabric that doesn’t hold water.

I have a few pair of cotton gloves that get really uncomfortable when they’re wet. I’m in New York, it’s always wet here so they aren’t my favorite.

Bright colors are nice when you take them off, toss them in a weed pile, bury them with more weeds, and then can’t find them, not that I’m speaking from experience here…

I usually buy mine locally so I can try them on because I have giant hands and women’s gloves usually don’t fit me correctly.

I found this pair of padded garden gloves on Amazon and I’m probably picking up a pair once I figure out where I stashed my garden tools and inventory the previous seasons’ garden glove survivors.

I’m right-handed and I always take off my right glove to do anything requiring dexterity. Then I lose that glove, I have a lot of left gloves!

Garden Tote to Keep it All Together

garden tote filled with garden tools

One thing that made a huge difference last year was the addition of a garden tote. I kind of feel like an old lady with my garden tote. But like most ‘grandma’ things it’s a lifesaver.

I keep my gloves, twine, scissors, zip ties, tools, knitting needles etc. in there. I keep it by my door and grab it on my way out to the garden. Thanks to this tote, I’ve actually worn gloves more than ever before in my life.

Look for a sturdy tote with lots of pockets. Digging around in the center is a great way to cut yourself so I try to keep the dangerous tools in the outer pockets. I dump my twine, zip ties, seeds, and less dangerous items in the middle along with the larger tools that are too big for the side pockets.

Garden Cart

This year I added a new cart to my garden arsenal. I’ve been using a wheelbarrow but I really didn’t like it. I’m just too tall to use it comfortably, I have to either stoop or keep my knees bent too much to make it comfortable.

I bought a garden dump cart that’s rated for up to 600 pounds. I’ve been using it to dig out the alpaca pen and transport all that poop and rotted shavings to the garden and the orchard.

We have a dirt floor and some flooding problems in the barn so I keep one part built up with bedding and… poo. That means I have a lot to dig out once it all thaws and the flooding risk is gone. All of that goes into the garden and having a dependable cart I can tip into the garden beds is a big help.

I hope this list helps you, either in your own garden or when picking out a useful gift for a gardening friend!

Check out my Vegetable Garden page for more ideas or start here:

how to weed your garden hand pulling weeds