cheap thrills: my must-have budget garden tools

cheap garden tools 2I LOVE FINE GARDEN TOOLS: My edger that has lasted more than 25 years with no signs of wear; my stainless border spade; the long-reach telescoping pruners with precision snipping power from a distance. But I also pack my tool tote with cheap stuff—some under $10—that I couldn’t live without. Things like these:

cheap garden tools 1Shop (as in workshop) shears: In between crisply cutting the edges of beds a couple of times a season with a step-on edger, I don’t use a weed-whip where lawn meets border. Too violent! Instead, every few mowings, I actually clip the grass with a pair of 10-inch scissors. These big boys are good for shearing back groundcovers, too, such as my perennial geraniums. I have stainless-bladed, plastic-handled ones by Fiskars and Wiss; some brands feature titanium blades. About $13.

Snappy little snippers: Years ago, I was gifted a pair of Italian-made “Inox” clippers a reader had bought at A.M. Leonard, saying she loved them. “How can these little things be any good?” I thought when the little, orange-handled, un-fancy things arrived, then quickly became addicted to the snips, which are technically fruit and flower snips, after decades as a Felco-user. Deceptively strong, and the narrow stainless blades are good for fine work, too. Inspired by those, I have since moved on to these needle-nose “fruit pruners,” by ARS. (Update: A helpful reader wrote in to unravel the “Inox” mystery, saying: “It’s Euro-speak for inoxidable, which translates roughly into stainless or rustproof.” So not a brand.)

Former bread knife: I upcycled my serrated bread knife into a perennial-dividing tool years ago, when I got a new one. Use it for dividing perennials with fibrous roots too tough to tease apart, or to cut out dead portions such as the center of an old clump of Siberian iris, or for dividing massive cannas. Free (if you’re due for an upgrade in the kitchen like I was).

Smarter gloves: Where were these Atlas nitrile-dipped gloves all the years I was poking my fingertips through the seams of one pair after another, or suffering with too-thick, stitched construction that made it impossible to do fine tasks? And lately they’re available in gray-on-black, my kind of colors.  About $6.

Safety glasses: I never mow without wraparound eye protection in the form of some kind of safety glasses. Period. To make sure there are no exceptions if my “best” pair is misplaced, I have extras of basic ones like these, both clear for less-sunny days and also tinted ones. (Do I need to mention that I always wear serious ear protection, too, when operating power machinery?) I got my spares, made by Stihl, at the local farm and hardware store, and you can spend from $3 to sky’s the limit.

Rain gauge: Talk about low-tech—and inexpensive. Get a few of Johnny’s Selected Seeds’ rain gauges to place around the garden in the ground or on a post, as I have for longer than I can recall, to determine whether you need to water. About $8.

Favorite weather app: Speaking of rain and other weather, I have lately become fascinated with the app called Radar Scope, from Weather Decision Technologies. Definitely not your average dumbed-down weather radar (and I keep promising myself I’ll do the whole tutorial and learn the advanced features). It’s professional quality, and if you want to play weatherman, you can even use the “draw” function to mark up your map. Easy social sharing buttons let you show it around, too. $9.99, for iPhone and iPad or for Android.

radar scope screen grabThe fancy stuff: As I said, I admit I love a fine-quality garden tool, too, and Garden Tool Company features some of the world’s best. For lightweight hoses, I’m crazy about Water Right Inc.’s version, as you have heard me say before.

(DIsclosure: Amazon links are affiliate, and yield a small commission.)

    1. margaret says:

      I do love my hori hori, KCgardener. Agree. It was a little more than $20, so I didn’t include it here, but it’s a staple.

  1. Steve says:

    Hi Margaret.
    Related to your rain gauge and weather app, have you heard of CoCoRaHS? It’s a volunteer network of weather observers that measure and record daily precipitation. Everyone uses a standard rain gauge (which costs about $30) and enters info on an easy to use website. I’ve been doing it for over four years. It’s a great fit for gardeners. The network provides some great info not only for the users but professionals involved with research and education. http://cocorahs.org/

  2. Julie @ Southern Wild Design says:

    Hi Margaret,
    Ok, I will confess to being a weather freak. I grew up in the Texas panhandle where you can see for miles and miles and spring storms can be spotted long before they arrive. I have very fond memories of watching clouds with my dad and spotting funnel clouds across the river. So this new weather app may just be the bomb for me. Looking at the radar is a daily activity for me! Lol!

    I will also confess to loving Ikea’s kitchen shears for use in the garden. They are sturdy and oh so Ikea cheap…err…inexpensive. ;)

    It is cool and wet today…feels like fall.


    1. margaret says:

      You will love Radar Scope, Julie. It is amazing. (And again, I haven’t even yet grasped even a fraction of its power…)

  3. Bryan says:

    An old bread knife is a great idea. The weather app looks really interesting too. I’ll have to check it out, thanks for all the tips!

  4. Debra says:

    I’m addicted to radarscope being the weather geek that I am. And, I love accuweather’s combination satellite/radar map. Although it’s not as up to the minute as radarscope, it gives a glimpse of cloud coverage which is ever so important in the heat of the summer.

  5. Anna says:

    I use a landscape spike for digging out pesky plants/weeds. I paint one end brightly so I don’t lose it. I also have several Ginsu knives…the kind with the plastic handle and double sided 8-10″ blades…they work like a charm…and I pick them up at thrift stores.

    1. Cathy says:

      I have old Ginsu knives obtained free from those who found they were a fad that shedded meat instead of neatly slicing and didn’t really do all the fab things they claimed – BUT they are great for the slicing up when dividing plants with roots like Siberian iris. Still even have the original cardboard sleeves to keep from slicing my hand when reaching into my tool carrier. No need for that expensive reciprocating saw some of those TV gardeners tout as a ‘unique idea’

  6. Clare says:

    Another non-traditional but very handy gardening tool is a linoleum knife. The curved blade and easy grip are great when needing to weed between pavers or at close quarters.

  7. I bought a cast-aluminum trake for $1 many years ago, and never used it until my mobility was compromised by amputation and I had to garden from the seat of an electric scooter. It has a bicycle-type of basket, so limited tools. Now the trake is invaluable, along with a locally -made weeder called an Ida-hoe that is similar to the circular weeders that scrape weeds clear of their roots. Two of my favorite cheap tools.

  8. Paula says:

    So happy to find your site. Agree, on the bread knife. My Hosta will be separated again this fall and the bread knife is the tool for the job. I have been searching for the lightest weight 100′ lightweight hose. I bought a new one this season, but I’m pretty sure that at 8 lbs the Water Right hose would be an improvement. I’m curious, so of course I must now weigh my hose
    ; )

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Paula. If a Water Right hose weighs one-half of what a traditional one does, I would be very surprised. (I see one brand of traditional hose say shipping weight is 13 pounds, and another that says 17 which sounds more like the ones I tossed.) I can carry two 100-footers (each 6 pounds in the Slim and Light version), and could barely drag one traditional 100-footer around.

      1. scout says:

        Do you have a 1/2″ or 5/8″ hose? I’ve been researching and landed on the Water Right–which I’d never heard of. Thanks for your great site!

  9. I love posts like this. And I LOVE the Water Right hoses I bought a few years ago at your recommendation. Thanks to you, I no longer dread watering the garden! And the plants are safer because I’ve stopped (accidentally) maiming and killing them while yanking around 100 feet of heavy hose. :)

  10. Lorie says:

    The bread knife photo made me smile. I have re-cycled the same “cheap” version; it’s in a re-cycled kitchen knife caddy with the “suet opening knife” and an ancient Chicago Cutlery paring knife. I swear the things will never wear out.

  11. Dianne says:

    Still using my 1978 Weedeater “Needie” and it keeps on going. Love the Atlas nitrile gloves and bought several pair for fear they might quit making them! Old bread knives are the best for dividing clumps of ‘stuff.’ Thanks for the snippers recommendation and wraparound safety glasses.

  12. Beverly, zone 6, eastern PA says:

    My favorite cheap tool is a FREE 10″ knife with a secret contraband compartment removed from a parolee by my Parole Agent husband decades ago. I abuse it regularly, hammering with the end, stabbing and gouging pernicious weeds in rocky soil, dividing Hostas and ornamental grasses, unscrewing things when a screwdriver is too many steps away, etc. It goes and goes. My husband sharpens it every now and then. I feel thrifty just picking it up for the chore at hand.

    Years ago a colleague asked me if it was really necessary to have the handles of garden tools painted bright colors, meaning how could they ever be lost? I was so flabbergasted by the question I fumbled the answer. Clearly she has never been interrupted while working in tall foliage and forced to step away from her tools … Never accidentally poured her tools into the compost bin with all the debris … or dropped them unknowingly while traipsing to and fro, arms laden with heaps of cut branches or stems for a bouquet. I think the handles should glow in the dark!

    I am a weather junkie, too. I rarely get a precise forecast, but I keep hoping.

    1. Chris Baswell says:

      I agree, great tool. That squared shaft is touch, never bends the way so many trowel shafts do. Weed and dig and backfill without changing tools, great.

  13. Susan says:

    I will definitely try the shears for edging. But I must confess that I have moved up in price to goatskin gloves as everything else (and I mean everything) wore out in the fingertips in one season or less. And, on your recommendation, Margaret, I bought a Water Right hose this year, and I love it. Can’t wait for my second hose to legitimately wear out enough to replace it as well. (One for the front yard, one for the back yard.)

  14. ljfq says:

    As a novice gardener, I joined a local group digging and potting perennial plants for a civic organization’s garden sale. Some of the plants were larger than expected. I will never forget how shocked I was when a sweet. proper, older woman stood up and said, “I have a bread knife under the front seat of my car. I’ll go get it”!? I quickly learned that once you are experienced, you never get far from a decent knife when doing anything with plants. An old bread knife is perfect.

  15. nancy giges says:

    i would love to know what’s the best tool tote that isn’t burdensome because I am always putting down a tool somewhere and soon after remembering I don’t have it and can’t find it. It’s almost always my gardening compañero of 45 years who finds it ( (often in the compost pile).

    1. Sabra says:

      My husband gave me plastic bucket that was originally filled with pre-made sheetrock mud that is probably about 2 gal. size with a bucket organizer. I LOVE it, just grab & go for most of my hand stuff. They make bucket liners of types and sizes that will hold tools and you can use the middle to hold your bits of dead-heading, string etc to save running back & forth. Google bucket organizers or garden buckets. There are sites that have patterns to make your own or I’ve seen them at Sears or the big box stores. Good luck!

  16. Heather Schlerf says:

    As well as cheap bread knives that I also use for which I scour yard sales and the Goodwill for, I also use masonry trowels for weeding , planting and scuffling !!

  17. Julie Abramson says:

    I’m so glad that someone mentioned the Korean plow; I call it the Korean garden tool and it is sold also as EZ digger or Ho Mi. I have several because if I have any helpers, we all fight over it. It is indispensable for weeding, seeding in furrows, loosening pot bound plant roots, digging, what else!

  18. Daryl Doucette says:


    I have long wanted to thank you for something I use every day because of your recommendation: The Italian clippers. They are just THE BEST EVER!!!!!
    I am an avid gardener and flower arranger, and this item (of which I now own many) has provided me with constant pleasure and ease of use. Thank you for this, and sooooo many other tips!!

    All best,
    Daryl Doucette

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Daryl. Yes, and I have experimented with other brands like the ARS one at this link (a similar item to the other one, but I pinch my hand less because it doesn’t have the same latch on it). So I find I am often just using needles nose clippers and not my bigger pruners at all. Glad you like them, too.

  19. Brooke Beebe says:

    Margaret, love the recommendations, but the ARH pruners are a pain to close and poke through my pockets if I don’t close. I prefer the Felco Pruning Shears (F 310) – High Performance One-Hand Garden Pruners – F-310. Same idea -like scissors – but MUCH easier to close.

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