Here’s a basic tool set with what I consider gardening essentials.
A four-tined spading fork for digging in heavy, compacted or clay soils or when turning over compost. It should have a good, wide shoulder that will support your entire foot when you’re pushing it into the material.
A round-tip shovel for digging larger holes and moving a lot of material. The long handle gives excellent leverage.
A flat-tip spade cuts smooth, straight slices. It’s perfect for making a clean line while edging beds or tidying up lawns around walkways and fences.
For collecting clippings, trimmings and general cleanup, a leaf rake is best. Choose one with spring-steel tines and a spread of between 18 and 22 inches for general use.
Bypass hand pruners cut like scissors. They are best for cutting live plant material up to about three-quarters of an inch in diameter. Anvil-style pruning blades crush limbs and branches between the blades. This style is best for dead wood and thicker limbs.
The dandelion weeder has many versions. Whatever style you choose, a specialized tool such as this is important for pulling out weeds, dislodging buried rocks and maneuvering nursery plants in their new holes.
For small watering jobs, a watering can works best. You can settle new plants and seeds without disturbing the soil, or water containers without getting everything else soaked.
For larger watering jobs, go for a high-end rubber or rubber/vinyl composite watering hose. These resist kinking and stand up to high pressure. My favorite hose-end attachments: a well-designed pistol-grip nozzle and a high-quality watering wand.
Better than any wheelbarrow, a large-capacity garden cart with bicycle-style wheels will save time and strain whether you’re hauling in or out.