Most home gardeners use the same basic tools over and over again; habit is a powerful incentive. On the other hand, beginners don't always know what these are and so waste time and energy using a spade when a cultivator is needed. All gardeners can benefit from a refresher course when it comes to tools.
Your garden may present challenges that demand specialized tools, but in general you will do well with the following:
Cultivators: Great for shallow weeding and breaking up surface soil, these may have from one to five pointed tines. You will use cultivators for preparing garden beds.
Hoes: These have long handles and flat blades that range from about three to eight inches wide. Keep your hoe sharp for weeding and grooming the soil.
Rakes: You need a bow rake -- or steel rake -- with a head measuring from eight to 24 inches wide for weeding, cultivating, and aerating. A lightweight metal or bamboo lawn rake is fan shaped or rectangular.
Shears: Look for shears that fit your hands and have sharp, smooth operating blades. Long-handled pruners are invaluable for shrubs, perennials, and hedges. Smaller lopping shears cut small branches. Buy the best you can; these get lots of use.
Shovels: The shovels with round points are the most useful and versatile for digging and moving soil. Square-headed shovels are good for edging large areas and digging ditches and trenches.
Spades: These handy tools have short or long handles and various numbers of tines; or they may have a single, pointed or squared blade. They are valuable for breaking up soil and moving plants with minimal disturbance to others.
Trowels: You'll probably want more than one of these small shovels. Every gardener has a favorite or two of the handy tools that you will use almost constantly as you garden.
Start with a few basic tools and expand your inventory as your knowledge, needs, and garden grows. Over the years, you will come to treasure these tools.