In a previous article, we discussed the need for decent hand tools for gardening. We offered tips on choosing gloves and the basic digging tools all gardeners need: shovels and spades. Now, let’s talk about additional tool selection and sources.

Be aware when choosing digging tools. Digging, at least in the urbanized areas of Miami-Dade County, often involves loosening or breaking rock. Upon discovering that, many home gardeners will call a landscaping company, or give up entirely. If you’re persistent, though, a pickax and rock-breaking bar are the tools you need.

When choosing the former, select one that isn’t too light and that feels balanced. A light pick is easy to handle but won’t do much damage to hard limestone. Conversely, if the pick is too heavy, it becomes unwieldy, tiring and even dangerous. The heavy iron bars used to punch into rock are just about the most challenging hand tool that any gardener will use. If you are physically up to the challenge, choose a heavy breaker bar—they are all heavy—that comes to a point or a small flat edge. The smaller surface area concentrates the pounding force and is much more effective. (If these tools don’t work, or if the scope of the project is too great, then it’s time to rent a jackhammer.)

Once a garden is installed, the most common tasks usually involve pruning and trimming as the plants grow. A good-quality pair of hand pruners is every gardener’s friend. Manufacturers such as Corona or Felco offer pruners to fit any hand for small pruning tasks. Investing in good pruners ensures comfort, replaceable parts and blades that can be properly sharpened, making pruning chores pleasant and quick. For cutting branches with larger diameters, a good handsaw will do the trick. The better ones usually have teeth with multiple computer-designed, sharpened faces. Although impossible to resharpen, they are extremely efficient and stay sharp for a long time. Choose long-handled loppers for stems and branches that are just out of reach. Ones without telescoping handles are stronger and work best.

Another traditional cutting tool is the machete. To cut effectively, it must be razor-sharp. Although favored by many South Florida landscaping maintenance crews, it’s too easy to wield a machete crudely and do more damage than good. You really need to know what you are doing when using one. Always use safety equipment—shin guards, protective eyewear and gloves—and never swing one near others. Also, be aware of exactly what you are trying to cut. In short, using a machete isn’t recommended except for the highly experienced. 

Good-quality hand tools can be purchased in hardware stores and tool stores that supply the landscaping trade. Of course, online merchants offer large selections, and big-box stores can be useful for some of the heavy stuff, such as pickaxes and bars.

Harvey Bernstein is the horticulturist at Pinecrest Gardens.