Landscaping is both a trade and past time carried out by thousands of people every year. From DIY, garden make over’s to professional outfits no trade is as wide ranging and varied as landscaping.
Hard and soft landscaping is carried out over incredibly varying scales. Projects can range from large, commercial landscaping to smaller, garden installations. Due to intense physical, activity and working with nature landscapers are some of the fittest and happiest people in the workforce.
This is not to mask the fact however that landscaping is hard work. Being at the mercy of both weather and the seasons landscaping is logistical and sometimes brutal. Therefore it is essential that every landscaper works as efficiently as possible when conditions are favourable.
The biggest part of this equation is having the right tool for the right job. If you are a weekend garden builder, new to landscaping or seasoned professional, I have listed the best and essential landscaping tools and their uses here.
Ground working is a fundamental and staple activity for landscapers. Ground working involves the excavation, shaping and transportation of soil which is essential in most projects.
Although large quantities of soil are preferred to be moved with excavators a landscaper always needs to carry out more detailed digging work by hand. Add to the fact excavators do not always have easy access to project locations.
Excavators can also cause a lot of damage to existing landscaping features especially in damp conditions. Consequently landscapers regularly need to be skilled and physically conditioned to work the ground in all weathers.
This includes excavating to consistent depths, levels and soil finishes. This includes perfectly graded and levelled ground in preparation for seeding and turfing. Below we have listed the most essential landscaping tools for ground working.
Spades are generally about a metre long with a square blade at the end and a handle at the other. This tool is a landscaping staple particularly used for digging neat and consistent sections of ground.
Long handled shovel
Shovels generally are similar in shape to spades but with a larger working blade. Used more for scooping up loose materials shovels have a slightly, more angled body. However long, handled shovels are far superior in my opinion. Their extra length makes for more mechanical leverage which is easier on the lower back.
Most people unfamiliar with landscaping tools think this a 'pickaxe' at first glance. Pick axes working parts are longer, narrower and rely more on mechanical leverage. Although pick axes are good for penetrating compacted substrates mattocks are generally better for breaking up soil.
With their wider, shorter and thicker blades they can break up much larger sections of soil. There alternate vertical blade is also extremely effective at cutting through thick roots.
Grafts consist of a long, 2 metre metal pole with a narrow and robust spade forged to the end. An absolute essential tool of fencers it is extremely good at loosening compacted, deep soil.
This spear like tool can be thrust deeply cutting through roots and dislodging buried concrete. The graft is also excellent at loosening the top 6 inches of soil with a vertical spearing and levering action. This is perfect for horizontal excavations such as digging out patios.
Post hole digger
These are two, long handled spades with the base of each blade connected via a strong hinge. This enables the landscaper to thrust downward into deep holes to collect loose material. This can then be lifted out and removed the deeper you dig. These are essential tools for landscapers who regularly excavate post holes.
The humble wheel barrow is one of the most essential landscaping tools, most landscapers could not operate without them. These simple contraptions consist of a metal vessel mounted onto a frame with handles and a single wheel.
Barrows allow you to carry full loads of soil and aggregates for considerable distances with relative ease. A typical wheel barrow will carry 80 kg of hard aggregates such as sand and hardcore when full. Barrows also are extremely convenient for hand mixing mortar mixes.
Landscaping rakes are much more robust than typical gardening rakes. These generally consist of a long, robust wooden handle and a wide head. The rake head has thick, tubular 'tines' or teeth which can be used to rake out beds of loose soil and aggregates.
Setting out is an essential part of landscaping. More often than not a landscaper is either working to a garden design drawing or specific specifications. When dealing with materials simply digging an extra 2cm depth over a large area can lead to significant quantities.
When considering modern waste and material costs poor setting out can break a projects budget. Therefore setting out precise measurements and quantifying levels is an essential landscaping skill.
In order for a landscaper to be effective in setting out he will also require some tools. These essential setting out landscaping tools have been listed and described below.
String lines are one of the only true definitive ways of creating a physical line from one feature to another.
This makes them invaluable for building straight edges and landscape installations. Being one of the most crucial landscaping tools they are also one of the most simplest. These generally consist of a flexible cord of string with a metal pin at each end.
The pins can be used to hammer each pin securely into surfaces to anchor them. Setting up string lines correctly can take some practice! It is important to keep testing your strings position as you work so you don’t accidently drift off target.
Long spirit levels
Long levels the kind of which bricklayers use are extremely effective landscaping tools. These enable you to check levels and falls spanning wider distances which is crucial in landscaping.
These levels are commonly used for ‘pegging out’ particularly when excavating patios. Pegs are driven in to the ‘finished height’ of a surface. A long spirit level is then used to drive more pegs into the ground at the same level. This enables you to accurately excavate large areas to the same level.
Set squares are large, right angled set squares which enable you to accurately set out right angles. These are perfect for making sure new paths and borders are 90 degrees from the building. Typically landscaping set squares are made from thin metal slats with rivets. This means they can be folded out and locked into a triangle, then folded back for easy storage.
Laser levels are small lasers which are typically mounted up on an extendable tripod. The laser mount has an adjustable, spirit level meaning you can project an accurate level over great distances. These are especially useful for larger, commercial landscaping projects.
As landscaping requires accurate measuring over long and short distances tape measures are essential landscaping tools. Landscapers typically will have two types of these; 10 metre, Cased tape measures and 50 metre Open reel tape measures for longer distances.
Masonry work is the typical type of skill carried out by landscapers on a regular basis. Covering work such as brickwork, paving, rendering, cladding and dry stone walling, masonry projects require their own array of equipment.
Masonry materials are extremely durable and hard wearing generally requiring concrete foundations and cement based mortars. Consequently masonry work requires a whole new array of specific skills and landscaping tools. These have been listed and described below.
Brick layers trowel
A brick layers trowel is a large, flat trowel used for laying bricks but can also be used for a whole range of tasks. In landscaping these can be used to help lay concrete foundations, paving and stone work. However brick and block laying in general is a very common landscaping activity.
Pointing trowels very much resemble brick laying trowels but are much smaller. These can come in a few shape variations for specific pointing and cement finishing. The most common kind used in landscaping is a rounded end. This is the perfect trowel for smoothing out mortar fillets and jointing.
Sometimes humorously referred to in the trade as a ‘persuader’ rubber mallets are ideal tampers. These are commonly used to tamp down paving onto wet mortar without cracking the pavers. Rubber mallets can also be used to move other heavy materials on mortar without causing surface trauma.
Spirit levels come in a variety of sizes and lengths. As discussed earlier spirit levels comprise of a straight edge with a levelling gauge. The gauge consists of a cavity filled with fluid and a single air bubble. The transparent compartment which encases the fluid has two parallel lines on the casing.
When the straight edge of the unit is held completely level the bubble sits perfectly within the two lines. Spirit levels also have a vertical gauge which levels the vertical plane or plumb. Spirit levels are essential landscaping tools and crucial for a wide range of external installations.
Club hammers are short, heavy, hammers with a large striking head. They allow for short, powerful blows to masonry and other robust, heavy materials. Club hammers however are traditionally used in partnership with bolsters.
Bolsters are a type of short and robust masonry chisel with a wide contact blade. These are traditionally used to cut bricks and blocks neatly in half. They are also effective at prizing open cracks, separating attached materials and chipping off protruding nuggets of cement.
Timber is an extremely versatile material which is both strong and flexible. Coming in a wide variety densities, grades and finishes it is no wonder it’s a popular landscaping material.
From raised planters, pergolas, decking, fencing to edging it has many garden uses. Consequently there are many landscaping tools which are specifically required for timber work. These range from heavy duty cutting tools to fixing and joining.
Circular saws are hand held electrical cutters suitable for cutting a wide range of timber. These small but powerful saws allow you cut timber quickly and efficiently. These are perfect for landscaping projects such as decking and custom built pergolas.
Very much like set squares these are effective for the marking and cutting of right angles. In timberwork this is extremely important for the precise cutting and joining.
In landscaping jigsaws are particularly useful for the creation of formwork. Commonly known as shuttering formwork requires thin and flexible timber such as ply. This can be cut and fixed into shapes for moulding materials like concrete. Jigsaws are also useful for more intricate cutting of thin timber such as deck boards and fencing panels.
Chainsaws are not the most common landscaping tools but most landscapers do own one. This is due to the fact they are unmatched when it comes to cutting very thick timbers. For example timber sleepers are more than a handful for most electric saws.
In order to achieve a clean, right, angle cut however they are best used with a 'Handy saw horse'. Chain saws are also good at cutting logs and creating rustic sculpture. These are however are extremely dangerous and should only be operated by trained professionals.
Cordless drills are essential for the quick drilling and fixing of timber in those awkward spaces. These are effective at fixing joist work especially on high up pergolas or awkward decking joists. Every landscaper is pretty much guaranteed to own one and can be used for a variety of other projects.
Not really thought of as a landscaping tool but every landscaper would be lost without a long and robust extension cable. These reels generally host 4 standard plug sockets and provide you with electrical power even in the largest of gardens.
Landscaping power tools
Landscaping requires physical effort but for most projects man power alone is simply not enough. Some of the most effective landscaping tools are power tools, some of which you simply can’t do without. From demolition to mixing mortar to cutting and compaction I have listed the top landscaping power tools below.
Breakers come in a variety of sizes and grades and are usually either electric or hydraulic. Most of the time a landscaper doesn’t really need to own a heavy duty breaker. If encountering strong concrete more than 100mm it is probably best to hire a larger machine. Most of the time smaller, hand held breakers are good value and are enough for most landscaping projects.
Grinders come in three common sizes; 12inch, 9inch and 4.5inch. The smallest of these are less effective for landscaping in general but good for chasing out pointing. Both 9inch and 12inch are more typically used and fitted with a diamond blade. These are perfect for cutting paving and to create a clean edge to stone or concrete surfaces.
Power drills provide just that extra clout that cordless drills lack. SDS drills in particular are more suitable for heavy duty landscaping tasks. They have a more robust attachment grip between the drills shaft and the working attachments. This makes them less likely to slip during high, velocity tasks. These also have a hammer and chisel setting providing a wide range of uses.
Not only are pressure washers effective at revamping old surfaces they are perfect landscaping tools. This is mainly for the task of cleaning a project after completion. Typically wheel barrows and footfall during bad weather can compact dirt and materials into surfaces. Pressure washers enable you to clean a project thoroughly before you leave which always leads to happy clients.
Compactor plates are heavy machines which vibrate at a high velocity. This makes them perfect for compacting base aggregates and in particular MOT Type 1. Commonly known as 'whackers' these landscaping tools utilise an action called vibro compaction. This is where angular particles vibrate together so violently they almost bind together in dense compaction. These are most commonly used in surfacing projects such as paving.
Cement mixers are quite simply a staple landscaping tool with very few professional projects not requiring one. For this reason it is unlikely a landscaper would not own their own. Cement mixers are particularly valued for landscapers who undertake a lot of brickwork and paving. You can purchase either electric or gasoline cement mixers to suit your preference.
Generators can be vital landscaping tools for landscapers who regularly find themselves off grid. This is commonly the case on larger, commercial, landscaping projects or in rural locations. Generators can be a great way to move power around with you on large sites with no threat of severing cables. Generators are always a good thing to have just in case there is a prolonged power cut.
It is very common for landscapers to prepare planting beds or areas to be turfed or seeded. One of the best ways to work the soil to a loose and crumbly texture is to use a tiller. These powerful machines have rotating blades which cut deeply and turn the ground. This breaks up clods of soil and makes it easy to work to a fine tilth. These come in a range of sizes but the larger, more powerful gasoline machines are even more effective.
Thank you for reading our article on best landscaping tools. What do you think? Did we miss anything? Is there a particular landscaping tool you think is worthy of our list?
If you require landscape gardening or garden design services why not contact Paul and his team. Our landscape services cover Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire Hertfordshire and the Chiltern region.
Some of our typical project locations include; Amersham, Aylesbury, Beaconsfield, Berkhamsted, Chalfont, Chesham, Gerard's Cross, Great Missenden, High Wycombe, Princes Risborough and Wendover.
Paul Nicolaides has over 30 years of recreational gardening and 20 years of professional landscaping experience. He has worked for landscape contractors including design and build practices across London and the South East. In 2006 he qualified with a BA Hons degree and post graduate diploma in Landscape Architecture. In 2009 he founded Ecospaces an ecological landscaping practice which aims to improve social cohesion and reduce climate change through landscaping. In 2016 he founded Buckinghamshire Landscape Gardeners which designs and builds gardens across Buckinghamshire and the South East. This blog aims to provide easy problem solving information to its audience and encourage others to take up the joy of landscaping and gardening.