Looking to get your hands dirty in the garden but not sure what eco-friendly gardening tools and items you’ll need to get started? You’ve come to the right place. Although I’ve only just started flexing my green thumb in the last several years, I am in the garden more than most of my friends born in the Y generation. When my inner circle needs help, they often turn to me for advice. I’ve also started to get followers on Instagram shooting me questions about gardening.
So it is in the interest of helping not just my friends and family, but encouraging more people to grow plants that I write this post. If you’re keen to start gardening, you’ll need the right tools and equipment. Below is a list of gardening items you’ll find useful, and I recommend you add to your new gardener’s toolkit.
1. Seed trays and pots
You’ll need somewhere to put your seeds and seedlings in of course. You’ll need to purchase a variety of sizes as herbs, fruit and vegetables will grow to a variety of different heights and sizes. While there are plenty of plastic tray options available at nurseries, these can tend to crack and break if left in the sun for prolonged periods of time. Plus at the end of its life, plastic trays and pots will only end up in landfills. For sustainable options, try all-natural peat pots that are biodegradable and compostable. There are terracotta pots if you want something more sturdy or decorative. Another eco-friendly option is the EcoForms™ pot that is made from rice hulls and lasts for up to five years. These pots will biodegrade and turn into nutrient-rich organic matter rather than pollute our earth.
Tip: If you buy seedlings and plants from your local nursery, make sure to reuse the plastic pots. In addition, you can also source second-hand plastic pots and ceramic pots from farm auctions, garage sales, Facebook local selling groups and thrift shops. This is my first option when seeking out seed trays and pots.
Your plants will need watering so if you have an outdoor garden, you’ll need to purchase a garden hose. Before making a purchase, you’ll need to factor in how big your yard is as hoses come in a variety of lengths. You don’t want to purchase a hose that’s not long enough and fails to reach areas of your garden. In addition, you’ll need to consider weight. Garden hoses can be heavy to lug around particularly when coiled. Choose natural rubber hoses instead of synthetic ones made from toxic PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride) that contain toxic chemicals and don’t break down well. There are also stainless steel garden hoses available that won’t kink and tangle. If budget is an issue, just buy the highest quality, eco-friendly one you can afford. Remember not to leave your rubber garden hose out in the sun even for a couple of hours, as not only will it heat the water, but it will also accelerate photodegradation. Store your garden hose in a storage shed or in the shade if you want it to last.
Tip: Make sure to buy heavy duty brass fittings and connectors that don’t leak, break, rust, split or drip. This helps conserve water and allows you to adjust water flow. For tips on water conservation in the garden, read this post.
3. Watering can
If you have houseplants or an indoor garden, you’ll need a watering can. You should be able to find a second-hand watering can at an op-shop or thrift shop. If you can’t find one, try searching for a large jug that will fulfil a similar role. As a last resort, you can always buy a new watering can from your local nursery or rural supplies store, just make sure to stay away from ones made from plastic.
Tip: Instead of buying, why not use items in your home that can fulfil the same job? I use two old glass bottles that were destined for recycling until I realised they made great ‘watering cans’. One bottle used to hold vodka and the other kombucha. I find that the long nose of the glass bottles direct water flow much better and I don’t spill any of it, unlike watering cans that tend to spill water.
4. Plant labels and other identification tags
A gardening toolkit wouldn’t be complete without plant markers tags. These are absolutely essential as it helps identify the seeds you’ve sowed and the date you did so. In addition, if you have family members who are unfamiliar with plants, plant labels help them identify what is what when they’re charged with picking herbs from the garden. The labels also remind you when you will need to plant the next crop. There are plastic garden labels available but aim for natural labels made from wood, copper or bamboo as these are much more sustainable.
Tip: Plant labels are designed to be reused. Just store them away in a container when you’re finished with them so that they’re ready for use next time.
5. Certified organic seeds
If you don’t want to buy seedlings and full-grown plants, and prefer to save money or just start right from scratch, I recommend you purchase some organic seeds from reputable nurseries such as Greenpatch Organic Seeds and Select Organic. Certified organic seeds are more sustainable as it has been independently verified that they have come from plants that have been grown without the use of synthetic chemicals and in a way that considers the natural environment and the health of the people involved.
Tip: Make sure to sow the seeds before the expiration date also known as the ‘sow by date’. This is usually stamped on the seed packet. Doing so means you’re giving the seeds the best chance of germinating. Sowing afterwards means you run the risk of low germination rates.
6. Envelopes, jars and containers
If you want to save seeds for the next growing season, you will need some envelopes to place them in. You’ll also need an airtight jar or container. Make sure to dry out the seeds first before storing away. Next, you’ll need to put in an envelope. On the envelope, write out the date and the type of seed you will be storing. Place the dry seeds in the envelope and then pop the envelope in the jar or container to keep it secure and away from humidity and rodents. Make sure to store the container in a cool, dark and dry place when you’re done.
Tip: You don’t need to buy fancy envelopes, jars or containers. Just look in your cupboards and drawers and use or recycle what you have.
7. A trowel and weeding fork
These gardening tools help you to plant and weed your garden, as well as dig and move dirt around. Because they play a key role in gardening, I suggest you pop them in a bucket to carry them around with you as you move from garden bed to garden bed, plant to plant. When you’re done, don’t forget to put your trowel and fork away after you’ve finished because leaving in the sun causes quick deterioration and you’ll have to replace them a lot sooner than intended.
Tip: Use linseed oil to care for wooden handles and an oily rag for the metal if you want to prolong the life of your equipment.
8. Secateurs and pruning shears
Secateurs and pruning shears help to maintain plants and cut off dead flowers and stems. Opt for high-quality steel blades so you don’t have to worry about rust and seek out ones that have replaceable parts such as springs so you won’t need to buy a new pair each time. Purchase a short pair of shears if you have small plants and a longer pair if you have tough, tall or harder to reach plants. Large pruning shears are ideal for trimming hedges and branches and pruning back fruit trees. Purchasing a bright coloured pair of shears will help you locate them in the garden if you misplace them.
Tip: Invest in the best quality secateurs and shears you can afford and make sure to sharpen them with a small oil stone as blunt blades can damage plants and reduces performance of the shears.
9. Shovel and pitchfork
You wouldn’t be a proper gardener without a shovel and pitchfork. These tools are used to help prepare the soil by breaking it up, lifting it, digging it and turning it. The shovel can be used to spread compost, chicken manure, organic fertiliser and wood chips. You can use the pitchfork to loosen hay before spreading over your garden as mulch.
Tip: When buying a shovel and pitchfork, make sure it’s a size and weight that you can comfortably carry. Staff at your local nursery or hardware store should be able to assist you with the brands they stock and which have the best reputation, are built to last and the ones most suitable for your physique.
10. Wooden or bamboo stakes
You will need wooden or bamboo stakes to prop up heavy, rambling or vine-like plants such as tomatoes, beans and passionfruit, plants that like to grow across the ground. You can make a wooden trellis if you prefer from old wooden pallets, but if you’re not confident on the tools, stakes will do the same job. You can be creative with them, and make a teepee with some twine if you prefer your plants to climb up them.
Tip: You can reuse wooden stakes. Just wipe off soil remnants and store away for the next time you need them.
11. Natural twine
There will be times that you will need to tie plants to garden stakes to lift them from the ground and make garden beds look tidier. Choose twine made from natural fibres such as jute or hemp and avoid twine made from nylon and other synthetic materials. Natural twice will biodegrade whereas synthetic twines won’t. It becomes a hazard to wildlife when left out in the natural environment and ends up as pollution.
Tip: If you have old ropes or have leftover twines from arts and crafts projects, you can use those instead of buying new. When finished with twine, don’t throw out. Store it away and reuse for the next time you need to wrangle plants or you can use for gift wrapping. If unsuitable to reuse, don’t put in the rubbish bin; just add the natural twine to your compost heap as it will break down eventually.
This is essential for cutting herbs as well as twine used for tying plants to wooden stakes to keep them from running along the ground and invading all corners of your garden bed.
Tip: No need to buy a special pair especially for your gardening toolkit. Just use a pair of scissors you already own. Buying duplicates is unnecessary unless you plan to be spending a lot of time in the garden.
13. Sun and insect protection
When you’re gardening you will need to protect yourself from the harsh rays of the sun, particularly if, like me, you live in a subtropical area where the sun is abundant. I encourage you to wear natural sunscreen, an ethical wide-brimmed hat and eco-friendly sunglasses to keep sunburn and heatstroke at bay. It also pays to wear natural insect repellant as midges and mosquitos can make the gardening experience pretty unbearable. My future father in law makes his own insect repellant with neem oil as its key ingredient. I tend to lather up before I head outside as midges and mosquitos love me and if I don’t, it’s not long before I’m covered with bites and welts on my skin start to appear.
Tip: Choose a natural sunscreen and insect repellant. The last thing you want to do is douse yourself with toxic chemicals before starting an organic spray-free garden.
A sustainable gardener not only purchases eco-friendly gardening tools but cares for them and maintains them so they last longer. Store them out of the sun once you’re finished. Remove soil particles and wipe down metal parts with an oily cloth. Wipe wooden parts with linseed oil. Keep blades of your scissors, secateurs and pruning shears sharp and remember to keep an eye on your gardening toolkit in case you run out of supplies and need to top back up. This is the one thing I have yet to master because I am waiting for my partner Ben to build me a garden shed. Right now my tools don’t have a proper home so I just keep my tools on the verandah or up against the wall of my kitchen garden. Ben just finished renovating the spare room, turning it into our office, and he’s now got dams to fix, roads to build and a farm to maintain. With so many other pressing concerns to tend to, my little garden shed is the least of our worries. I’m not known for my patience, but considering the circumstances, I’m happy to wait.
All set to flex that green thumb? This post guides you on the easiest herbs to grow if you’re an amateur gardener.