With summer just around the corner, there’s no time like the present to start bolstering your horticultural armoury with the best manual garden tools. We’re talking essential tools for digging, snipping, cutting, raking and anything else you may need to make your garden and borders look spick and span. No matter how thorny the garden task, these are the garden tools to get the job done.
To make this outrageously comprehensive guide easier to digest, we’ve sorted all the products on the page into seven main types of manual tools – Secateurs, Branch Cutters, Shears, Spades, Forks, Rakes and Hand Tools – and featured our top three in each category. In other words, the key tools that no gardener can do without.
And if you’d rather have a machine do all the hard graft, T3 also has guides to all electrically powered outdoor tools as well, such as its best pressure washers, best chainsaws, best garden shredders and best cordless lawn mowers.
Where to buy the best garden tools in 2022
In the UK:
Waitrose Garden (opens in new tab)
Thompson Morgan (opens in new tab)
Crocus (opens in new tab)
Van Meuwen (opens in new tab)
Suttons (opens in new tab)
(opens in new tab)Dobies (opens in new tab)
Harrod Horticultural (opens in new tab)
Tooled UP (opens in new tab)
In the US:
These budget-priced bypass secateurs have two different jaw widths and come equipped with stainless steel blades coated in a high-grade plastic grip that feels silky smooth and extraordinarily comfy in the hand.
As to be expected from a company renowned for its quality garden gear, they snip green stems and branches exceptionally well and are brightly coloured enough to stand out in the borders where you will inevitably leave them after a session in the rough.
Why not compare these topiary snippers to another strong model with T3's Gardena Garden Secateurs B/S-M vs Fiskars Pruner Bypass P57 comparison feature.
These premium Japanese secateurs are of the old-fashioned variety which means a simple spring between two slim, plastic-sleeved steel handles. However, when it comes to snipping delicate stems and thin branches, the Niwaki GR Pro’s KA70 carbon steel blades cut with amazing precision, leaving zero bruising.
Yes you will need to keep these secateurs in a dry place and possibly even nurture them with a little camellia oil from time to time to keep rust at bay. But this is the price you pay for a product that feels great in the hand and has one of the sharpest blades in the business.
This cute little pair of snippers is essential for deadheading and delicate stem work in confined places. The Corona is light in the hand and equipped with sharp stainless steel blades with bevelled tapered tips for precise cuts, and a light return spring for effortless use.
However, the very best thing about this snipper is the squidgy ComfortGEL coating that not only provides superior comfort but also plenty of grip, even with wet hands or while wearing slippery fabric gloves.
Corona isn’t a brand you hear a lot about in the UK but on evidence of the high-quality hand tools we’ve looked at thus far, it’s clearly a brand that cuts the mustard.
There are plenty more secateurs in our specialist guide to the Best Secateurs
Best branch cutters
Unlike the average lopper that involves a lot of outstretched arm movement – more so if it’s an extension model – this one uses an ingenious bow-and-arrow-style system that keeps both arms on the same plane.
To use, simply place the palm of one hand around the adjustable lower grip and grab the handle on the end with the other. Now pull back as if using a bow and arrow – SNIP, offending branch removed in an effortless thrice. The SlimCut has two gears: a firm feel for short pulls – good for slim branches – and an easier-going gear that requires a longer stretch of the arms but is great for cutting through thicker branches.
Another excellent benefit with this system is that it enables the user to access hard-to-reach areas, whether it’s tackling a branch surrounded by thick foliage or reaching for a branch a metre or more above head height. And all without having to stretch out your arms.
If you do a lot of lopping in inaccessible areas, then this model comes highly recommended. It may change your lopping life.
If you’re looking for a lopper with pair of blades sharp enough to shave with, look no further than this serious piece of gardening kit. It’s not just the sharpness of the blades that stand out here but the fact they extend from 30cm to 80cm simply by pressing a button on each handle and moving the telescopic arms up through any one of six locked positions.
The WS loppers use a bypass mechanism so consider them if you’re pruning the upper echelons of your prized cherry tree or any other green-based vegetation that’s out of arm’s reach.
We should add that these loppers are quite heavy so don’t expect to use them for long periods of time without taking a rest. Also, in fully extended mode you will need to stretch your arms out wide if cutting branches thicker than 30mm, so perhaps avoid them if you have really short arms and opt for the Gardena Pruning Lopper SlimCut (above) instead.
Got a few tree branches that are too thick for your secateurs or loppers? This 135mm folding saw is well up to the task. Simply unfold, select one of three sawing angles and get in there and give it hell. The Gardena’s mean-looking serrated blade is sharpened on three sides and is short and stiff enough for effortless cutting of branches up to 50mm thick and possibly more. When done, simply squeeze the button and carefully close up the blade, flick knife-style.
If 135mm seems too short a blade and you need to cut down a branch up to five metres up, then perhaps consider the 300mm CS model (opens in new tab) with telescopic Combisystem handle and curved tip for coaxing branches down.
These shears are amazingly light in the hand – much lighter than they look – and come with a PowerGear mechanism that provides three times the force of normal shears. A group us did some serious ivy correction recently and we all agreed that these shears were the easiest to use – the blades snipped through the ivy’s larger stems astonishingly well and with very little effort.
The super sharp stainless steel blades were clearly a big part of it but we were equally impressed with the quality of the SoftGrip handles and how comfortable and grippy they were. If you’re after pair of robust garden shears that won’t make your arms ache then put these at the top of your list.
Produced in Sanjo, Japan, the full-size Niwaki Garden Shears’ blades are cast from hard SK steel for superior cutting and styling of hedges, shrubs and ivy. The white oak handles feel fantastic in the hand and I love the almost indiscernible taper in the middle that you find your hands gravitating towards.
The blades on this model are a substantial 185mm in length making them perfect for intensive topiary sessions. However, given that the blades aren’t treated against rust, you’d be well advised to always store them in the dry and rub them down every so often with some camilla oil to keep them spick and span.
We compare these top-rated sheers to a fierce rival in T3's Niwaki Shears vs Burgon & Ball Sophie Conran Hedge Shear comparison feature. Check it out for more information.
If you find that some shears are too heavy and large to wield about for long periods of time, try this pair of ultra lightweight Japanese-made shears from Niwaki. The Mini Shears are equipped with razor-sharp blades that are just the right length (14cm) for regular use while the white oak handles are relatively short and are sheathed in knobbly rubber that feels reassuringly grippy in the hands.
The blades themselves are made from SK steel (a hardened alloy comprised of carbon and manganese), the preferred material of kitchen knife manufacturers. For smaller shearing tasks, this diminutive model comes highly recommended.
Looking for a wider range of shears? Head over to our specialist guide to the Best Garden Shears
Measuring just 98cm in length, the elegant, lightweight stainless steel Burgon & Ball Ladies’ Groundbreaker Spade is just the ticket for anyone of shorter stature. That sharp pointed tip is absolutely perfect for excavating hard-packed earth with minimum effort while its wide Y-shaped FSC-certified hardwood handle ensures a good level of comfort in the rough. Having been tested to a breaking strain of 90kgs, it's as tough as a boot, too.
The RHS-endorsed Groundbreaker’s mirror-polished stainless steel blade is 23.5cm in length and 18cm wide, so it’s of ample proportions to shift relatively large amounts of soil at a time. Given that it’s only a few centimetres longer than the Kent & Stowe model reviewed below, it’s also an equally excellent alternative for use in cramped spaces.
When you’re hunched over a small area shifting or turning over earth, the last thing you want is a spade that’s too long to wield. This short-scale, curved-blade model measures just 91.5cm – an ideal length for working in tight spaces or for anyone of shorter stature.
The Kent & Stowe is splendidly constructed using high-grade stainless steel (the blade measures a petite 20cm x 14cm) married to a seasoned ash shaft with a split handle for both comfort and aesthetics. If you’re looking for a competent, keenly-priced earth excavator that allows you to work unimpeded in confined areas, then pop this handsome soil toiler on the shopping list.
This is not just any old spade, it’s ergonomically designed with a 17˚ handle and a 26˚ degree angle at the scoop section that helps keep the soil load level with the ground when lobbing it into the old bow and arrow. Put another way, less shoulder articulation equals less effort and therefore more strength to lift a pint afterwards.
Fear not if the ground’s as solid as concrete because this one’s got a pointy tip to penetrate deep and hard and its shaft is made from boron steel with industrial welding for added strength.
The Fiskars is of average man length (1.25m) and quite hefty, so it’s not one for weaklings or those of shorter stature.
Best garden forks
Gardena has really nailed the ergonomics with this excellent garden fork. Aside from being relatively light and shaped for better posture, its four flattened steel tines are tough enough to penetrate hard-packed earth, and gently curved and spaced just the right distance apart to lift large clods of earth in one go. And because its wide shaft is clad in a tough but tactile plastic coating, it’s exceedingly comfortable and grippy in the hand, and pretty much immune to corrosion.
However, it’s the design of the handle that makes this humble fork such a game changer. Where most fork ’andles provide only enough space for one hand at a time, this model is equipped with a really wide D-shaped handle that can be grabbed with both hands and used in a multitude of positions. We can’t stress enough what a massive difference this simple design flourish makes, especially when tackling tough ground or aerating the lawn.
In the pantheon of garden forks, this one ticks all the right boxes – it’s light, exceedingly comfy and extremely efficient. And, what’s more, it comes with a 25 year guarantee.
This ultra lightweight four-tine fork is perfect for most earth-turning tasks and a boon for lawn aeration. The Fiskars is constructed out of lightweight aluminium and is equipped with flat rather than round tines. Although we haven’t had any issues loosening even hard-packed earth, we would advise against using it to leverage out any large boulders or old concrete fence post mountings since those tines could feasibly bend or even snap.
However, for the vast majority of tasks around the garden – including lawn aeration to which it is exceedingly well suited – it passes much muster. At just 1,230g, the Fiskars feels noticeably lighter than similarly-priced garden forks and you’ll thank that featherweight construction after just 30 minutes of hard graft in the cabbage patch.
We’ve been very impressed with everything Burgon & Ball have sent us, and this stylish short-stem digging fork is another cool garden product that’s superbly crafted using FSC Certified ash and high-quality stainless steel.
With an overall length of just 94cm and weighing in at a very comfortable 1.3kgs, this elegant Sophie Conran-designed fork is ideal for turning over borders and is especially well suited for people of shorter stature and those who prefer a shorter-handled tool for working in confined spaces.
The T-shaped grip and wide shaft feel great in the hand and this writer is wholly enamoured of the immaculately machined 14cm four-tine head. No two ways about it, this elegant garden tool should provide years of trusty service, as long as it’s stored under cover.
Plastic rakes are perfect for clearing leaves off the lawn while gently scarifying the grass in the process. They’re also good for gathering leaves off patios and driveways. This 42cm wide model hails from Wolf Garten’ Multi-Change (opens in new tab) range of separate tool heads and handles. Hence this model doesn’t come with a handle so be sure to order one in unless you already have a handle to hand.
As is the case with all of Wolf Garten’s manual tools is comes with an incredible 35 year guarantee which is surprising given that those plastic tines could snap off or bend if mistreated. But top marks to German brand Wolf Garten for providing such a long-term warranty.
Although most synonymous with autumnal leaf clearance, the spring-tine rake is also very useful during the months of spring and summer when lawns need scarifying, moss needs to be raked away and cuttings and other garden detritus require careful removal.
As expected from a company that specialises in steel, this 16-tine stainless steel spring rake is well built and light in the hand, and just the ticket for keeping the lawn free of moss and young weeds during the summer months. And when autumn heaves into view, it’ll come into its own as a traditional alternative to a noisy leaf blower.
In the pantheon of manual garden tools, Sneeboer manufactures some of the most desirable long- and short-handle manual tools on the market. Established in Holland in 1913, the small but successful company is now under the helm of the family’s fourth generation.
Aside from the high standard of authentic old-school craftsmanship, this 30cm rake is equipped with seriously sharp diamond-shaped tips that dig into hard packed ground with ease and without skating over the earth as would a more typically blunted model. It also means you don’t have to put as much back into the task – simply cast it forward and draw it back. The 1.55m handle, meanwhile, is crafted from top-quality ash and equipped with a knob on the end to keep palm blisters at bay and ensure a good grip.
The Sneeboer Eight-Tine Rake is designed for preparing and tending borders and allotments, and for getting soil ready for turfing, so don’t use it to scarify the lawn or those sharp pointy bits will snag and snap every root.
If you’re a refined gardener for whom only the best manual tools for the job will do, then waltz right this way because this one’s the bee’s knees of garden rakes.
Best hand tools
Originating in Japan, the Hori Hori is a surprisingly versatile garden knife that’s capable of removing weeds with the roots intact, making trenches for sowing seeds, digging holes for new bedding plants, clearing hard-packed soil from around exposed roots for easier cutting, scooping small amounts of earth and cutting lawn lawn turf. It’s also a great alternative to the patio paving knife.
The keenly-priced Japeto Hori Hori measures 12 inches in total and is equipped with a seven-inch blade replete with etched measurements for planting seedlings and cuttings. The blade itself is concave shaped to shift soil in small measures and features a smooth edge on one side and a sharp serrated edge on the other. The handle, meanwhile, is crafted from rosewood and feels reassuringly chunky in the hand. The whole thing packs away into a smart brown leather belt sheath for safety and easy access.
If you’re looking for an extremely adaptable addition to your gardening arsenal, then this be it my friend.
There’s not much you can say about a trowel but the keenly-priced Corona ComfortGEL is a better performer than most. Firstly it’s remarkably light which you’ll come to appreciate after 20 minutes of pottering about in the allotment. Secondly, its sharp, pointy and robust stainless steel head comes with one-inch measurements etched into the metal for easy planting of small saplings and a serrated edge for cutting roots. And thirdly – and perhaps best of all – it has the comfiest and grippiest gel-coated handle in the business, replete with an index finger guard for protection and increased downward thrust. A stalwart option for dedicated trowelists.
Yes, it’s a scoop, a simple hand scoop. But you’ll rue the day you didn’t buy one when you elect to ship in a large bag of compost for the border plants only to find that your existing trowel is too slim to scoop more than a thimble of soil at a time.
This dish-shaped piece of hammer-finished carbon steel provides top scoopability when shovelling compost and top soil from bag or barrow to borders. The weatherproofed ash handle, meanwhile, is one of the best shaped handles that this handle handler has ever handled. It also comes with a 10 year guarantee and a leather strap for storage.