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Whatever the size of your garden, quality is of paramount importance when selecting tools — be they for cultivation, digging, pruning or cutting. These tools will be in regular use for many years and it is worth investing in the best quality available. A cheap fork that bends on contact with compacted soil is frustratingly useless and a complete waste of money.
It can be galling to spend large sums on basic tools when there are so many other, more immediately exciting temptations on sale in the garden centre, but sturdy, comfortable and effective tools really will turn basic gardening functions into much more pleasurable tasks.

Spades and Forks:

Handle shapes differ so don't be afraid to experiment with the varying types - D', Y- and T-shapes - in the garden centre, until you arrive at a model that feels right in the hand. The Y-shape, formed by splitting the shaft wood, may not be as strong as the D-shaped hilt. Although there are various sizes of spade and for available — for example border (small, sometimes called 'ladies'), medium and digging (generally the largest) - do not feel that you need a whole selection for different tasks. A fork is useful for turning heavy soil, dividing or transplanting plants, spreading mulch, applying manure and lifting root vegetables. The addition of a tread on a spade makes digging easier, and less hazardous to footwear, but also adds weight and cost, which it may not be necessary to incur if you have only minimal digging requirements. Be guided by the head size, length and weight that feels most workable for your stature and strength.

Hand Forks and Trowels:
Essentially miniature spades and forks, these tools are used for small-scale jobs like light weeding, cultivating in rock gardens, raised beds and containers, and dividing small bulbs and plants. As before, choose the best quality you can afford, making sure the tool feels comfortable to hold.
Hand forks have either wide and flat, or narrow, round prongs. The flat prongs are more suited to weeding since the weeds are more easily trapped and held between them; the round, narrow prongs are better for cultivating as they pass freely through the earth. A single, flat-pronged hand fork will be adequate for most gardeners.

Hoes are used for weeding around plants and cultivating topsoil. There are several types. The popular 'Dutch' hoe is used like a sharp-bladed spoon to skim along the surface of the soil, loosening weeds, which may then be sliced through. Turned so that the blade is at right angles to the ground, it may also be used to break up and aerate topsoil. The small, sharp head of the hoe is useful for making seed drills and marking out lines. Swan-neck, or draw hoes, used in a chopping motion for weeding, are less commonly used; other, specialised hoes include onion and triangular hoes.

Garden Rakes:
A general-purpose cultivation tool, the garden rake can be used with its prongs facing down to break up the surface of the soil and collect stones, leaves and other debris. Inverted, it is used to level the ground. Choose a rake with a head of suitable width for both your own size and the scale of raking job you will most commonly undertake.
Choose shaft length carefully, too. To avoid back strain, you should be able to rake without bending. A 1.5 m (5 ft) shaft suits most people, but taller gardeners may need a longer handle. The strongest rake head is made in a single piece, unlike the cheaper, riveted head with its individual nail-like prongs, which are more liable to distortion and loss. A lawn rake is an entirely different tool.

For cutting that is slightly more demanding than deadheading and harvesting, a pair of secateurs is essential. Good ones will cut cleanly and easily through woody stems up to approximately 1 cm (½ in) in diameter. It is vital that the blades are sharp or you will achieve either a ragged stem, which will encourage disease in the plant, or a crushed stem.
There are a confusing range of secateur types available. As always, your hands are the best guides. Select a pair that suits the hand you use most, since both left- and right-handed pairs are available.
Bypass secateurs are a good, multi-purpose pair. They have a convex upper blade, which cuts in a scissor motion against a narrow, concave lower blade, and are comfortable for general use. If your hand span is small, or you do not have particularly strong hands, opt for ratchet secateurs, which make pruning thicker stems infinitely easier as the ratchet action makes the cut in several small stages, rather than requiring all your strength to make one powerful cut. However, the ratchet action is frustratingly slow if used for general cutting tasks.
Other options include parrot-beak secateurs, which use a scissor action, and anvil secateurs, which have a sharp upper blade that cuts against a flat anvil. All secateurs have a safety catch, which should be easy to operate single handed.
When choosing any pair of secateurs, consider how easy it will be to sharpen or replace the blades. Clean the blades after use to remove dried sap, and rub them with an oily rag.
To use secateurs correctly, always place the stem to be cut well down at the base of the blades. This holds the stem securely, making an accurate cut much simpler to perform. It also preserves blade life as the blades are less likely to be pushed out of alignment.

Shears are used for topiary, cutting back herbaceous plants and trimming hedges and small areas of long grass. Although some shears have a notch at the base of one blade to facilitate the cutting of the occasional tough stem, shears are best reserved for their specific, light 'hair cutting' work. Use proper pruning tools to tackle heavier stems and branches.
A good pair of shears will be light, strong and comfortable to operate. Check their balance before purchasing, to ensure that the blades are not much heavier than the handles, which makes them tiring to use.
As with all cutting tools, clean and lightly oil after use, and sharpen regularly. Specialist shears, such as topiary shears are also available from good garden centres.

Loppers, Pruners and Saws:
Cutting branches and stems thicker than about 1 cm (½ in) quickly damages secateurs and shears, and is dealt with most effectively by specialist tools.
Loppers (long-handled pruners) are essentially secateurs with additional leverage and reach, making it easy to cut stems up to about 2.5cm (1 cm) thick and branches that are difficult to reach. Loppers should be well balanced so that you can use them comfortably at full strech and overhead.
Tree pruners also cut branches up to 2.5cm (1 in) thick. The cutting, operated by a lever a cord, is housed at the end of a long pole, sometimes an extending or telescopic one.
A good pair of loppers should be light, strong and comfortable to operate. Check their balance before purchasing, to ensure that the blades are not much heavier than the handles, which makes them tiring to use.
As with all cutting tools, clean and lightly oil after use, and sharpen regularly. Specialist shears, such as topiary shears are also available from good garden centres.
For branches more than 2.5cm (1 in) thick, use a pruning saw. A general-purpose pruning saw will be sufficient for most needs. Its small blade, usually no more than 46cm (18 in) long, means that it may be used even in confined spaces.
A Grecian saw has a curved blade, which cuts on the pull stroke only - particularly useful fo pruning in a tight area. A small, folding pruning saw is ideal for those with limited storage space and pruning needs. However, it is not as strong and effective as a bow saw, which wil cut through even the thickest branches quickly.
All types should have heat-treated, hard-point teeth, which are tougher and stay sharper for longer than regular saw blades, although they still need regular sharpening to remain fully effective.

Gardeners Knives:
The general-purpose gardener's knife is possibly the most essential garden tool. Use it to open bag of compost, cut twine and cane to length, and for taking cuttings, pruning small plants and deadheading.
A plastic or wooden handle is not as cold to handle in winter as a metal one. Choose a carbon-steel blade for longevity, wiping it dry and rubbing it over with an oily rag after use.
Specialist knives include budding and curved pruning knives; multi-purpose knives have several different types of blade folded into one handle.
In addition to basic cultivating, digging, pruning and cutting tools, you will need equipment for carrying, such as trugs and buckets, for watering and for propagating, for example a garden sieve, flowerpots, string, plant labels and canes.

Carrying Equipment:
A folding wheelbarrow is useful where storage is limited, although not as study as a conventional barrow and its canvas can be damaged by careless handling.
Choose a barrow that is well balanced, where the load is distributed chiefly over the wheel, rather than towards the handles, for good manoeuvrability. Metal barrows are more durable than plastic ones; a galvanised traditional barrow is a good all-round choice for most gardens.
For very heavy loads, or for use on uneven ground, a builder's ball-wheeled barrow cushions the load and is easier to push, but the ball is susceptible to punctures.
Bulky but light materials such as hedge trimmings, can be easily collected and transported on ground sheets and in large bags, which can be conveniently folded flat for easy storage. Look for those made of woven mesh plastic material and with sturdy handles, which wear better than ordinary plastic.

Hoses and Watering Cans:
The humble hose is a vital piece of garden equipment. If not stored neatly on a reel it is vulnerable to kinks and punctures, as well as posing a tripping hazard.
Many variants of hose are available, including the convenient flow-through type which allows water to be run through it even while it is stored on the reel. Always drain a hose fitted to an outside tap and bring it inside for the winter.
A well-made metal watering can with a detachable rose will last for years. Always use a separate watering can for applying weedkiller, path clearer and other noxious substances that could cause plant damage if allowed to contaminate clean water. It is worth investing in a cheap, plastic watering can solely for this purpose.

Kneeling Mats:
A cushioned kneeling mat is invaluable for gardeners of all ages and is inexpensive and easy to store.
A more expensive and bulky option is the kneeling frame, which has the added advantage of supportive handles that make it easier to stand up and kneel down.
This sort of frame is an excellent choice for the elderly, or indeed any gardener with back problems; used the other way up, it becomes a handy stool.

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