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10 essential gardening tools and what they do

Depending on how elaborate your garden is, you'll need a varying array of tools to get the job done. If you have just a few potted plants, a few hand tools will suffice. But if you've planted a full garden with rows of plants you hope to harvest come fall, you're going to need some more robust tools to get the job done.

Here are 10 essential garden tools and what they're used for.

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Trowel

A trowel will easily be among the most used and important tools in your arsenal. It's essentially a handheld shovel that you'll use for moving soil, digging, removing weeds, mixing fertilizer and much more.

Garden trowels come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and are typically made of a combination of plastic or wood handles with stainless steel.

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Spade

For jobs too big for your trowel, a spade will be your tool of choice. A spade is usually a short-handled shovel, often made with a rectangular blade and a perpendicular "D" handle for extra grip when digging.

Unlike a pointed, bowl-shaped shovel, which is best used for digging and breaking up soil, a spade is better suited for slicing through stubborn roots and moving loose soil.

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Bow rake

Rakes aren't just for gathering leaves.

A bow rake can be used to gather or clear loose debris around your garden, and they're often made of sturdier steel than a leaf rake. This makes them better for light tilling work, weeding, leveling soil and spreading loose material like mulch.

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Hand rake

If you're working in a small area and don't want to damage existing plants, you probably won't want to break out the large rake for a small job. For this, you'd use a hand rake.

Hand rakes, similar to their larger siblings, come in multiple forms and are used for similar jobs, just on a smaller scale. For gathering or clearing debris, there are light duty hand rakes with flexible tines. But you'll also find heavy-duty, steel hand rakes with stiff tines for breaking up soil and light tilling.

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Hoe

A hoe is a classic garden tool. There are a number of different types, but a draw hoe – with a flat blade at the end of a typically wooden handle – is the most common.

The blade is perpendicular to the handle, making it very handy for moving and shaping soil, and weeding. Hoes can also be used for digging narrow and shallow trenches for planting.

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Weed puller

Gone are the days of spending hours on your hands and knees to get all the pesky weeds out of your garden. While many tools in your arsenal can help weed your garden, few tools do it better than the one designed specifically to, well, pull weeds.

Weed pullers come in a bevy of different styles, but the idea is usually the same: Entangle the weed in the teeth, twist or clamp and then pull. Some weed pullers also have a leverage bar so you can pull the weeds out at an angle. Theoretically, the weed should be removed from the soil, roots included.

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Dandelion digger

A full-blown weed puller is great for removing large amounts of big weeds. But if you have smaller weeds living among your plants, you'll need more of a finesse tool for the job. For that, you'll want a handheld weed puller, often referred to as a dandelion digger.

Handheld weed pullers work much like their larger siblings in that they aim to entangle the weed and roots in their teeth to (hopefully) remove the entire weed, roots and all. Typically dandelion diggers look like a long flathead screwdriver, but the end is usually split to help entangle the weeds. Push it down alongside the weed, twist and pull.

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Pruning or garden shears

Some plants need to be cut back. For this job, you'll want some pruning shears, which are basically scissors on steroids. Also called secateurs, they're used to cut small branches and twigs, sometimes up to an inch (2.5 centimeters) thick.

For some lightweight jobs with a lot of cutting, you can also use garden shears, which are just a step up from pruning shears. It's a two-handed tool that's often used for trimming hedges.

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Loppers

For heavier-duty cutting, you'll want loppers in your arsenal. Loppers usually have the same blade style as pruning shears but have long handles for extra leverage. Not only will the longer handles let you cut thicker branches, they'll let you reach a bit further without needing a step stool or ladder.

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Bow saw

For anything larger than your loppers can handle, you'll want a bow saw. It's basically a hand saw with extra coarse teeth that should make quick work of branches up to 6 inches (15 centimeters) thick.

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