Long-time gardeners will tell you that getting vibrant plants isn’t always a matter of just putting in days of hard work. Often, it’s overcoming challenges. And oftentimes you just need the best gardening gadgets for the problem at hand.
It could be roots from a neighboring bush that invade part of a bed. It could be one part of a garden consistently getting more water while another part just feet away has trouble staying moist. It could be that a plant in full bloom requires a lot of trimming that puts a lot of stress on your hands and wrists. It could also be about the amount of time you need to spend on very basic jobs like tying up your tomatoes or pole beans.
Regular garden tools like trowels and rakes will help you do the basics of working the soil and keeping it clean, but to overcome unanticipated obstacles you might need something a little different.
Here are some gadgets that can help out. Some are new twists on old tools and some are courtesy the age of electronics. They aren’t intended as substitutions for standard gardening tools, but as supplements for what you already have.
In general, they were ranked according to how useful they are, how many different ways they can help you, the amount of value they provide for the dollars you spend, and in general how much fun they are to use. Because they all do different things, they aren’t direct comparisons. They are rather ranked generally based on how well they perform in those different categories.
Finally, when people hear the word gadget, they think of some kind of new whiz-bang that’s a lot of fun to use. Some of these are not only useful, but also a treat to pull out and mess around with.
As a side note, if you are looking for more traditional gardening tools, we have a list of the best you can check out right here.
Best overall–Hori hori
Gardening is a natural hobby for problem solvers. Every day can bring new challenges, new problems. Nothing is one-size-fits-all. That calls for tools that offer a maximum of versatility, that are the perfect tool for a situation you never anticipated happening.
A hori hori is, in many of those situations, your best friend. The best of these Japanese gardening knives are useful from the tip of the handle to the point of the blade and are excellent supplements to standard garden tools.
One side of the blade is a sharpened standard knife. The other side is serrated, great for cutting tough roots if you need to cut back herbs by the fistful. It’s also designed for digging and has measurement markers so you only go as far down as you need to. Even the handle is useful, Most hori hori has flat-ended butts that are perfect for driving in landscaping staples.
They also run high on value. You can usually pick one up for less than $40, which is within a reasonable range for garden tools. Considering all these can do, they have some of the highest for-dollar value of almost any garden tool family.
Among these gadgets, the hori hori runs high in fun. People get into gardening to play in the dirt. A hori hori is all about doing that.
Our favorite Hori Hori is the Berry & Bird Hori Hori, it is about $25 on Amazon and is really well made. You can check out the Berry & Bird Hori Hori on Amazon right here.
Runner-up–Soil test meter
One underappreciated part of gardening is understanding how to water. It might seem intuitive to just turn on a hose and let the water flow. That’s a good way to develop root rot, a real plant killer. It’s also a good way to encourage fungal growth, every gardener’s nightmare that can turn a vibrant row of summer squashes into a white, dying mess practically overnight.
On top of that, every plant has different watering needs and during different parts of the summer. A tomato at the peak of fruit production has different water needs than herbs than bean seedlings.
Small soil test meters will tell you how moist the soil is around your plants. This will give you a better idea of whether to water or hold off. You might even learn that part of your garden retains moisture in the soil longer than other parts.
Most of these meters will tell you how acidic your soil is. This is handy to know because different plants thrive under different soil conditions. While it might sound like high-falootin’ science guy talk, there are plenty of guides available online that will let you know whether the plants you want to grow are suited for your soil, as it is. If you test it early enough, you can amend your soil to get it just right.
The third function of most of these is as a sunlight meter. The amount of sun your garden receives will change throughout the summer, it will change depending on the position of the sun and what foliage. What looks like completely clear skies in April might by August mean considerable blockages. A sunlight meter’s greatest benefit is in the second season when you’ve learned from its first-season readings.
We really liked the LeHatori Soil Test Kit since it is pretty inexpensive, about $10 on Amazon, and also does all three functions of testing soil moisture, testing ph balance, and testing sunlight. You can pick one up on Amazon right here.
Second runner-up–Silicone thumb knife
If you’ve ever had a really productive bean plant, a basil plant that went absolutely bonkers, or salvia that needed constant dead-heading, the value of a silicone thumb knife becomes very clear.
Pruning those fast-growing plants requires a lot of time and for your hands a lot of tedious work. That’s where this gadget really shines. Instead of demanding that you using a constant, unnatural cutting motion by squeezing your hand around handles, instead, you slip these over your fingers and snip using your thumb.
Needle-nose pruners are popular for this, but these are better because they allow you to move your hand in and around a plant quickly and seamlessly. That makes it easier to trim everything. And because it is an intuitive motion rather than a mechanical one, it means you can also take a good look at the plant you’re working with rather than focus on the tool.
One thing to like about these is their cost. Even for the most budget-conscious gardener, these are within your reach. They aren’t very useful on anything but the smallest of stems. When it comes to small plants with lots of those, however, these are invaluable.
They also don’t take up any space.
These thumb knives can be picked up a lot of places, but we love the convenience of getting them through Amazon (like we get everything through Amazon now :-)). Here is one that we tried out that we really liked, you can get it for about $6 and it worked like a charm. You can check it out on Amazon right here.
Third runner-up–Support clips
A good set of support clips isn’t the sexiest gadget, but they offer the gift of efficiency when it comes to caring for staked plants. The more of those you have, the more time you’ll need to spend making sure they are kept upright. That means less time for pruning, checking over fruit, and keeping an eye out for pests.
Traditionally, this job is fulfilled either by tying a plant to a stake or the use of cages. It takes a lot of time to tie up a plant. It also takes a lot of time to move a tie on a plant. Cages are great options in certain cases, but if you prefer well-pruned tomato plants they aren’t a good choice. A clip, on the other hand, allows you to quickly connect the plant to the stake and quickly move the clip if you need to adjust.
Fewer things holding a plant up means fewer things against which the plant will rub during a wind. That reduces the chances that your plants will develop ulcers from rubbing up against something. Fewer ulcers mean a smaller chance of disease or damage from pests, which leads to more productive plants.
These aren’t the sort of gadget that will impress your friend. No one will walk away from your garden impressed by your clips. People in the know, however, will marvel at how you’ve mastered the trick of how to keep your plants off the ground with a minimum of time spent. One more upside is that these are inexpensive but last a long time. You’ll spend just a little bit of money on a gadget with a long operational life.
Support clips can generally be bought in large amounts, like 100 or 200 at a time. We really liked these ones because they are super cheap, only about $4 for 200, and they worked perfectly. You can check them out on Amazon right here.
A little more about the Best gardening gadgets
There isn’t a lot of room for anything in your garden toolset that can’t pull its own weight. They all need to pull their own weight, or they’re just taking up valuable space. Style and flair might have their places elsewhere, but gardens require workhorses.
That’s not to say that the best garden gadgets will allow you to work hard. Because it can often be physically exhausting, look for things that help you work smarter, not harder.
Atop the criteria for which ones really stand out is practicality. Does it serve some use that will allow you to maximize the return on your investment in time and sweat equity?
One gadget that does that is soil test meters. A little secret about getting the most from your garden: It is equal parts art and science. Test meters feed the science side, giving you hard data to help you make better choices in how and how often to water your plants and whether your soil needs a little something to get the ph right for happy plants.
When it comes to mature plants, clips to hold them up are great examples of gadgets that maximize your work without a lot of flashes. If you have a lot of tomatoes staked up, these will allow you to keep up with them without spending a lot of time on ties.
Great garden gadgets should also be versatile, useful in a lot of different circumstances. Every part of your garden is unique and you’ll need a tool that can do a lot. Clips aren’t just useful when it comes to staked plants. If you are scaping using vining plants, they provide a quick, effortless way to tie vines together without actually tying anything. They are also fast to remove at the end of the growing season.
A hori hori is perfect in this sense. You can use it to knock apart hardened clumps of dirt, cut twine, cut through difficult runners you need to pull out of the ground, or — in some cases — pop the cap off a nice cold beer after a hard day’s work.
They are also high-value gadgets because they can do a lot for not a lot of money. Gardening can be an expensive undertaking once you pay for the plants, fertilizers, soil amendments, any landscaping elements, and treatments for fungi and insects. If you can maximize your dollars on tools, it’s a great way to do it.
Silicone thumb knives offer tremendous value. Usually available for less than $10, these will help you trim up deadheads and herbs, and harvest from plants that put out a lot of fruit all at once like beans and certain peppers. They are also small and light enough that you can carry them around in your pocket.
Above all else, gardening should provide joy. That’s either the satisfaction of beautiful plants or just having fun at work. A standard set of tools is how hard work pays off, but the real sense of play is in the things that help you work more creatively.