Like playing a lively game of tennis, keeping your garden looking great depends on having the right equipment, developing a good technique, and being organized enough to do the right things at the right time. This may sound like a lot to juggle, but once you understand the basics, it's easy.

For a start, you need good hoes, spades, rakes, pruners, and a sturdy wheelbarrow. Then you need to learn how to control weeds with cultivation and mulch. A few basic pruning cuts will help you rejuvenate and control the size of your shrubs and trees. Other helpful suggestions in this article will help you polish up the rest of the landscape. Let's get started with suggestions on how to take care of garden tools.

  • Buy the best tools you can afford. There is no substitute for good tools. Tools that cost half the price but last only two years (instead of 22 years) are not cost-effective in the long run. They may also fail you in the middle of a big project, just when you need them most.

    One way to ensure good quality is to buy tools from a reputable dealer willing to guarantee their performance. For another quality test, look at the way tools are made. Tools with steel blades are strong enough to last for years without bending. Stainless steel is even better, because it won't rust. Spades, shovels, and forks with hard ash handles are unlikely to splinter or break in the middle of a heavy operation. People with smaller builds can find specially designed tools with smaller blades and shorter handles, which are easier to control than oversized tools.

  • Keep hand tools in a basket on the garage or pantry shelf so they are always easy to find. Nothing is more frustrating than seeing a branch in need of a quick trim but having to search all over the house and garage for a pair of pruning shears. If all your tools are kept together -- and returned to their proper basket after each use -- simple garden projects will stay quick and uncomplicated.

  • Always set hoes, soil rakes, and other tools with horizontal teeth or blades face down on the ground when not being used. If stepped on, the teeth or blades sink harmlessly into the soil. But if left upright, an unwary walker might step on the teeth, making the tool tip and the handle spring up into his or her face. This hurts!

    For an even more organized approach, attach a topless and bottomless coffee can or similarly shaped plastic container to a fence post, securing it with wire. You can slip in the handles of rakes, shovels, and hoes, keeping them together, upright, and out from underfoot.

  • Keep a bucket of clean sand and machine oil in the garage to cure tools after each use. This is particularly helpful for rust-prone digging instruments such as shovels, garden forks, and hoes. After use, rinse with water and dry the blades. Then insert them in the oil/sand mixture. The sand will scour off debris, and the oil will coat the metal, retarding rust.

  • Keep garden tools together in one place, preferably close to your basket of hand tools so they will be easy to find when needed.

  • When a hoe blade begins to get dull and takes more effort to use, sharpen it like a knife with a sharpening stone.

Often the best way to keep a plant healthy is know when to cut back old growth. The tips on the next page offer guidance on pruning.

Want more gardening tips? Try:

  • Gardening Tips: Learn great helpful hints for all of your gardening needs.
  • Annuals: Plant these beauties in your garden.
  • Perennials: Choose great plants that will return year after year.
  • Gardening: Discover how to garden.