Spring finds gardeners eager to get into their yards to start another season of gardening activities. We dig out our favourite hand tools, only to find that we’ve misplaced our favourite trowel or our pruners are worn out. A trip to the local garden centre will present us with a dizzying array of choices, but we don’t need every tool on the market. Here’s a list of gardening essentials.

• Garden gloves. I have several types that I use regularly: the lightweight, rubber-coated elasticized type that are useful for working in wet soil, and which allow you to do fine work like transplanting or thinning; and good quality heavy-duty landscape gloves that protect your hands while doing pruning, moving rock, shoveling, and other demanding tasks. Make sure to select gloves that fit properly, as gloves that are too small are uncomfortable, while those that are too big makes it difficult to handle tools or plants.

• Wheelbarrow. This is an invaluable item for moving plants, rocks, soil, compost, mulch and weeds, so buy one that is heavy-duty enough for your requirements. Some models come with two wheels, making them a little easier to handle on uneven ground. The most price models on the market are designed to be self-dumping so you don’t have to strain to dump that load of stones onto your rock pile.

• Long-handled tools. The most essential tools in this category are a shovel or spade and a leaf rake. Hoes are cherished by some gardeners, especially those with vegetable plots, and there are many different styles, but all do essentially the same tasks. An edger is used to cut sharp borders between lawn and garden bed, and a rock rake is often used to smooth out soil in a new bed or an area of the lawn that needs reseeding.

• Hand-held tools. There are numerous hand tools, but the most commonly used are a trowel for transplanting or digging weeds; a cultivator, which looks like a fork with bent tines for scratching up soil; a specialized weeder, with a sharp end for digging up taproots like those on dandelion and burdock. Other hand tools that aren’t absolutely essential but are useful include a dibber, for planting bulbs or small transplants; a transplanting trowel, which is narrower than a standard trowel and good for working with perennial or annual transplants; and a soil scoop for filling containers with potting medium.

• Hand pruners and loppers. Also known as secateurs, these often come designed specifically for left- or right-handed gardeners. It’s a good idea to buy good quality secateurs with carbon-steel blades and ergonomic styling; because pruning can be very tiring work and you want sharp blades to make clean cuts. Hand pruners are only useful for limbs up to about 1/4 inch in diameter. For larger branches, you need loppers, which are heavy duty pruners designed to cut branches up to an inch or so in diameter. These have long handles and often ratchet mechanisms so they can cut cleanly through branches without causing too much strain on the gardener.

• Pruning saw. Sometimes, pruners and loppers just aren’t up to the task at hand, such as removing larger branches from trees or shrubs. Pruning saws have slightly curved, toothed blades that will cut through wood and not bind or tear, and cut on the pull stroke, making them easier to use than other saws that cut on both push and pull stroke. Folding pruning saws are compact and easy to store and carry safely, because the blade folds into its handle like a jackknife.

• Watering can or watering wand for hose. As much as we might try to be water-wise with our gardening, sometimes we do need to use a hose or watering can to water plants, especially those in containers or newly transplanted into the ground. A good watering can should be easy to carry, hold and use, and many come with a brass rose that fits over the end of the spout and turns the flow of water into a shower that is easier on seedlings and small plants. Watering wands come in a variety of styles and spray patterns, but are excellent for quickly and gently delivering water to containers.

Sidebar: Purchasing and Caring for your Hand Tools.

The most expensive tools on the market aren’t necessarily the best, but as with anything, purchase the best quality items you can afford. Take the time to ensure that hand tools such as cultivators, trowels and pruners fit your hand comfortably, and are ergonomically designed to help reduce strain on joints and muscles.

Make sure that long-handled tools such as rakes, hoes, shovels and even wheelbarrows are suited to your height. There’s nothing more tiring than using a wheelbarrow designed for someone six inches shorter than you are, so that you have to stoop over to move it around.

It goes without saying that tools will last longer if properly cared for. Clean them after daily use, and put them away at day’s end so you don’t spend half the next day looking for your trowel or your hoe or pruners.

Pruners, loppers, shears, hoes and shovels need regular sharpening of their blades to help them work most efficiently. Rakes, shovels and hoes with wooden handles will need to have those handles treated twice a season (spring and fall) with linseed oil, which protects wood from drying and splitting.

If you’re the kind who does misplace tools in the garden long enough that rust forms, you can renew them by cleaning them with steel wool and wiping lubricating oil on the blades to prevent future rusting.