11 Gardening Tools and Supplies That Are a Waste of Money

Cheap tools aren’t a bargain if they break after a few uses. Former organic farmer Logan Hailey explains how to avoid wasting money on garden supplies that won’t last.

Close-up of a soil meter - one of the tools that waste money. The soil meter is a simple and compact tool used for measuring various soil parameters such as moisture, pH levels, and sunlight exposure. It consists of a slender, rod-shaped probe made of metal or plastic, attached to a small display unit.

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A few quality tools are all you need to start a garden, but some tools are an outright waste of money. After all, humans have been growing food for thousands of years with very simple tools and natural resources. Yet, the modern garden industry offers thousands of different gizmos and materials to entice gardeners to spend more money to grow their food. It can be hard to decipher which ones are worth the money or if they will quickly break and end up in a landfill.

From dollar store hand tools to high-tech plant monitors, a season’s garden budget can quickly disappear if you don’t step back to ask yourself what is truly needed to grow quality backyard food. Any gardener interested in sustainability and frugal living will be glad to know that you don’t have to buy into the hype.

After five years of organic farming and thousands of dollars spent on supplies, I’ve discovered that natural minimalism is the best way to grow food. Let’s dig into 11 gardening tools and supplies that I consider a waste of money. Your budget is better spent on seeds, quality amendments, and durable tools to last a lifetime!

Save Money By Avoiding These 11 Garden Tools

If you invest in every new garden tool you see, your garden budget can quickly get out of hand. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking more tools will help you grow more food, but this isn’t the case. It’s much better to buy a few rugged tools that will actually last. 

Old-time farmers will proudly tell you that they’ve been using the same shovel or tractor parts since their grandparents taught them to grow food. “Things just ain’t made like they used to be,” but we can do our best to avoid cheap, breakable, and unnecessary tools as we move forward.

By avoiding useless tools, you can save your budget for heirloom seeds, quality compost, and long-term investments like raised beds or a greenhouse. You know what’s even better? In addition to saving money, you can help save the planet by keeping waste out of landfills.

Cheap Hand Tools

Close-up Set of gardening tools on a wooden surface. A gardener in a black glove holds a small garden rake. On the table there is a small garden shovel and a small garden fork. Garden tools have black metal frames and wooden handles.
Invest in durable tools rather than cheap ones, as they often break quickly and disappoint.

In life, you get what you pay for. If a tool price seems too good to be true, it probably is! From the dollar store to big box hardware stores, cheap hand tools cover the shelves of any garden section. Online sellers offer outrageous deals on digging trowels, mini rakes, and pruners, some in huge sets for under $20!

Some cheap tools are cute and colorful, and others are displayed in decorative boxes, but do any of them actually work? I’ve found that cheap hand tools may make a nice gift or impulse buy at the register, but they rarely last longer than a week or so in the garden. I’ve even had a cheap hand trowel snap at the base as soon as I dug it into the soil! 

Before jumping on the cheap tool bandwagon, consider which of these tools you actually need and how long you’d like them to last. If you can, hold the tool in your hand and beat it up a little bit. Bend it, tap it, and look closely at any joints or junctions of materials to see if they might break there in the future. This is especially important if you’re growing in hardpan clay soil! 

After testing many tool kits and reading honest reviews, I’ve found that it’s better to buy a handful of simple, durable tools that you actually use. Personally, I don’t need a bunch of weirdly shaped contraptions. The only hand tools I use are:

Trowel/Hori Hori

For planting and weeding, a hori hori is my favorite hand tool. Look for “full tang,” which means the steel of the blade goes into the handle so it won’t snap off from the base.

Hand Pruners

This is a tool you don’t want to skimp on. Cheap pruners can break on one cut and also hurt your hands. Quality pruners like the Felco 2 Classic will last a lifetime and include rugged forged steel and aluminum. Whatever you choose, be sure the parts are replaceable, so you don’t have to replace the entire tool if it breaks.

Scuffle/Stirrup/Hula Hoe

This hoe goes by many names, but it’s important that the blade is made of quality steel and can be resharpened.

Kitchen Fork

If I have some weirdly small weeds to scrape away between a fine planting of carrot seedlings, an old kitchen fork does the job.

Harvest knife

A field knife is often under $20 and ideally includes an angular edge for cutting at the base of lettuce, cauliflower, or similar crops. Be sure the knife is easy to re-sharpen, and the handle is durable.

In this video, Epic Gardening founder Kevin explains his go-to gardening tools:

YouTube video

If you have children or volunteers working in your garden and you don’t want your nice tools to get messed up, I recommend heading to a local thrift store or Habitat for Humanity ReStore to purchase some cheap used tools.

Flimsy Plastic Seed Starting Containers

Close-up of Plastic Seed Starting Containers with small seedlings. These containers are black, rectangular, and have six recessed square cells filled with soil.
Choose sustainable options like the recycled seed starting trays or embrace plastic-free soil blocking.

Anyone who cares about the planet knows that plastic is one of the worst wastes that humans have created. Most plastics are full of chemicals, take thousands of years to break down, and degrade into tiny pieces called microplastics that have contaminated our soil, water, and even our bodies! 

Unfortunately, cheap seed starting trays are made from flimsy plastic that breaks after one or two seasons. It usually ends up in landfills or, worse, in microplastic pieces in your garden. I’ve seen hundreds of plastic nursery trays rip and fall apart in the fields on the farms I’ve worked on. They are not sustainable for the long haul, and these seedling tools ultimately waste money over time if you have to buy new ones every couple of years.

Epic 6-Cell Seed Starting Trays are a great alternative. While they are still made of plastic, the material is recycled and extremely rugged. They’re practically unbreakable and designed to last a lifetime in the garden. You can literally stand on and jump on top of these trays without breaking them! Try that with a flimsy seed-starting tray from the garden store (good luck!) 

Another benefit of Epic Cell Trays is that they are engineered specifically for healthy plant growth and naturally “air prune” your seedlings to ensure the roots stay healthy. The large drainage holes on the bottom make it easy to press your thumb up in the tray to pop out seedlings when it’s time to plant.

If you want to avoid plastic altogether, I highly recommend soil blocking. Soil blocks are moist cubes of soil designed for planting seedlings and supporting the roots so they are easy to transplant without shocking them. All you need is a soil-blocking tool, a quality soil blend, and sturdy bottom trays. You can plant your seeds straight into the blocks and let them grow completely plastic-free.

Thin, Rippable Synthetic Materials

Close-up of protecting brussel sprout seedlings with row cover in the garden. This shelter consists of a thin mesh fabric of a greenish-blue hue and is attached to arched half rings.
Choose durable materials like AG-30 floating row covers for long-lasting protection in the garden.

Ultra-thin bug netting, row covers, tarps, or landscaping fabric may seem like a nice idea for protecting plants without suffocating them, but thin synthetic fabrics are prone to ripping after only a short time of use. Once they get a small rip, these materials can quickly fall apart. This is another garden tool that can waste money and harm the environment if you choose flimsy products.

While I am a proponent of using floating row covers in the garden to keep plants warmer and protect them from pests, I only do so if the fabric is thick enough to last several seasons. After all, row covers are made of synthetic polyethylene blends that are not biodegradable or natural. Once they rip and fall apart, they are basically trash. If you’d like to invest in a floating row cover, I recommend getting a thick option like AG-30 to provide maximum frost protection and minimal risk of ripping.

For landscape fabric, tarps, or greenhouse plastic, aim for at least eight mil or thicker. Avoid using sharp materials like landscape staples or sharp rocks to hold the edges down, as this can contribute to ripping and faster degradation. Instead, weigh down materials with sandbags, smooth rocks, or durable greenhouse clamps. Fold up and store your tarps and garden plastic when you’re not using them so they will last as long as possible. 

Plastic Mulch

Close-up of growing pepper plants in a garden with plastic mulch. Plastic mulch appears as a thin, flexible sheeting made of polyethylene or other synthetic materials, colored silver. The plastic mulch is smooth and impermeable, with perforations or slits for plant placement. The pepper plant is characterized by its sturdy stem and lush green foliage, with leaves arranged alternately along the stem.
Mulch made from plastic harms soil, disrupts water movement, and exposes plants to chemicals.

It’s not only unsustainable; it can harm your soil! Plastic mulch is a thin synthetic material that some gardeners, landscapers, and farmers use to cover the soil surface to prevent weed growth. Sadly enough, it can end up suffocating soil microorganisms, disrupting water movement in the landscape, and exposing your plants to microplastic chemicals as it degrades in the UV light. 

Plastic mulch comes in large rolls that can get expensive over time. It’s usually single-use and has to be disposed of at the end of a season. When you try to pull it up from the soil, it usually starts ripping into a bunch of tiny pieces that create litter in your garden or yard, ultimately polluting the environment.

Fortunately, you don’t need to cover the soil in plastic to keep weeds at bay! Nature’s biodegradable mulches are far better options for an organic garden. Leaf mulch, straw, wood chips, and compost all nourish the soil while suppressing weeds and conserving moisture. If you have major weed problems but don’t want to use chemical herbicides, consider a short-term occultation (soil tarping), sheet mulching, and switching to no-till garden techniques

Soil Moisture Meters

Close-up of a Soil Moisture Meter against a blurred background of plants with long, ribbon-like leaves in bright green. The Soil Moisture Meter appears as a handheld device with a slender probe . Its body is made of green plastic. The probe is inserted into the soil to measure the moisture level. The meter features a simple interface with buttons or switches for operation and a small screen with a scale identifying the humidity level.
Soil moisture meters are unreliable and unnecessary; use your hands to check soil moisture.

Underwatering and overwatering are major issues for plants of all types. When you are just starting out, it can be difficult to understand the proper soil moisture for different plants. A soil moisture meter may seem like the perfect solution, but I’ve found that these little garden tools are a waste of money.

Many seemingly advanced tech upgrades to moisture meters break fairly quickly or provide unreliable readings. An expensive soil moisture meter may have excellent sensors that provide accurate readings, but it’s still more money, plastic, and metal parts you don’t need to buy to garden successfully. Didn’t we start gardening to connect more closely with nature? High-tech moisture meters seem to move us farther away.

Whether analog or digital, you don’t need a fancy monitor to tell you if your soil is moist. You have hands for that! My favorite way to check soil moisture is to get my hands dirty. All you need to do is stick your finger 4-6” into the soil near the base of your plant. You can feel how much water is present in the root zone. 

  • If your skin comes out clean or chalky, the soil is probably too dry, and you should water.
  • If your skin comes out with some crumbles and the soil feels like a wrung-out sponge, it’s probably perfectly moist.
  • If your finger is coated in wet soil and feels soggy, the soil is likely too wet.

This method lets you connect more deeply with your garden’s natural ecosystem and get in tune with what your plants need. It only takes a moment to check the soil moisture. You don’t have to purchase any batteries or deal with the plastic waste from a moisture meter.

Electric Weed Pullers

Close-up of soil loosening and weed removal by cultivator in the garden. The cultivator is a handheld or machine-operated gardening tool designed for soil preparation and weed control. It consists of a sturdy handle attached to a series of sharp, pointed tines or blades arranged in a row.
Electric and gas-powered weed pullers are often inefficient and expensive.

Weeding isn’t always the most fun garden activity, but it doesn’t have to be terrible! Electric weed pullers seem like a cool solution, but they often turn out to be a waste of money. These expensive tools are often not any more efficient than hand-weeding. They often require standing in one place for a while as the tines churn the plant, and they don’t always pull up weeds from the root. The batteries and parts don’t often last.  

While a weed puller is better than spraying chemical herbicides, it can still disturb the soil and add unnecessary mechanization to your garden efforts. Perhaps, consider weeding as an opportunity to sit quietly with your thoughts and connect with your garden’s needs so you can prevent future issues. If you aren’t in the soil weeding, you may not notice that water is pooling up in a certain place or that you’ve slacked on your mulching efforts the past few years. 

It’s helpful to see weeds as nature’s messengers. They tell us that the soil is lacking in something or that we shouldn’t have left a certain area bare. They can also indicate which crops will grow better in different garden areas. 

If weeding feels like back-breaking work and you have a major weed problem, I recommend smothering the weeds with a tarp for several weeks, then sheet mulching with newspaper, leaves, straw, or a thick layer of topsoil. Cover crops and no-till methods can help prevent future weed takeovers. 

Specialized Bulb Planters

Close-up of a blue bulb planter on a wooden surface. The bulb planter is a specialized gardening tool designed for efficiently planting bulbs in the soil. It consists of a long, cylindrical shaft with a sharpened, concave blade at one end and a handle at the other. The blade is used to create a hole in the soil, into which the bulb can be placed.
Expensive bulb planting tools can waste money; use a rake handle or drill auger.

Planting bulbs requires a lot of bending over, but an expensive bulb planter may not be the solution you’re looking for. I’ve seen people struggle to get the bulb planter to work right. They end up doing more work and more hunching than if they’d just planted the flowers by hand. Specialized equipment is often a waste of money because you only use it once a year (or less). I’d rather save the investment for permanent infrastructure and more diversity of plants!

Unless you’re planting thousands of daffodils or garlic bulbs, you don’t need a specialized planter. Create a furrow by dragging the back of the rake through the soil. Place your bulbs in the row, then turn your tool over and rake the soil back into place to cover them.

The only caveat for this one is for gardeners growing in extremely heavy soils. A drill auger can be useful for making lots of planting holes in an area with lots of clay. Just be sure to choose a durable auger that you can use for years to come.

Bluetooth Plant Monitors

Close-up of a woman's hand inserting a Bluetooth Plant Monitor into a potted Aloe Vera plant. A smartphone with the screen on is standing nearby. The Bluetooth Plant Monitor is a sleek, compact device equipped with sensors and a small display screen, designed to track and monitor various environmental factors crucial for plant health. it is white, oval in shape, with black probes.
Expensive “smart” plant monitors are unnecessary, as simple observation is more valuable.

With devices ranging from $50 to a whopping $300+, it’s crazy to think that “smart” technology has a place in the gardening world. Electronic plant monitors are equipped with all sorts of sensors and app plugins to keep track of temperature, moisture, and even soil pH. But are they really necessary for gardening? These fancy tools could be a big waste of money.

“Smart” or Bluetooth plant monitors are an overpriced substitute for simple observation. There are few things a plant monitoring tool tells you that you can’t figure out with your own senses. In fact, your observations of a plant’s leaves and soil texture could be far more useful than a supposed “smart” monitor that tells you your plant is under-fertilized. 

The metrics used for these sensors and apps are questionable, particularly in organic gardening, where soil microbiology and ecological dynamics play a large role in crop health. Save your money and listen to nature! Observing plant symptoms gives you more opportunities to learn and grow your green thumb. Gardening is all about reconnecting with Earth, not spending more time on your smartphone.

Insect Traps With High Maintenance Inputs

Close-up of an Ecological fly and insect trap hanging on a tree in the garden. It consists of a small, transparent plastic container filled with a non-toxic attractant solution. The trap features multiple entry points for insects, often designed as small openings or slits along the container's sides. It is yellow in color.
Stick to basic yellow sticky traps for flying pests, avoiding high-tech devices.

Insect traps have evolved into high-tech devices with lights, fans, and all manner of sticky devices. Although some are effective, others require constant re-purchasing of cartridges to keep the trap functional. This creates a dependency on the company to purchase refills for the product to keep working. Moreover, it can amount to a lot of unnecessary plastic waste.

In my opinion, it’s far more economical and effective to stick to basic yellow sticky traps to catch flying pests above your houseplants. If mosquitoes are a major issue, a light trap may be worthwhile, but carefully read the reviews before buying. Many insect traps break within the first few months and fail to capture any substantial amount of pests. 

I prefer biocontrol tactics, like attracting beneficial predators such as ladybugs. You can also repel pests with fragrant herbs or install bat boxes in the trees to help with mosquito problems. A single bat can eat thousands of mosquitoes in one night!

Motorized Fertilizer Spreaders

Close-up of spreading fertilizers in the field using a Motorized Fertilizer Spreader. The Motorized Fertilizer Spreader is a robust, wheeled device designed for efficient and uniform distribution of fertilizers, seeds, or other granular materials over large areas. It features a sturdy metal or plastic frame mounted on wheels, with a hopper positioned above the wheels to hold the fertilizer or seed.
Stick to manual broadcast spreaders for affordable and effective fertilizing in gardening.

Call me old school, but manual broadcast spreaders are far superior and more affordable than motorized ones. Better yet, you can wear gloves and spread small handfuls of granular fertilizer without any equipment at all. Why waste your money on a gas-powered or electric engine fertilizer spreader when nature already gave you everything you need?

If you are practicing ecological, organic, and no-till gardening techniques, you shouldn’t need to spread that much fertilizer anyway! Compost spreading is easy with a wheelbarrow, shovel, and rake.

If you choose to use granular fertilizers like feather meal or Espoma Garden Tone, a classic hand-powered or push-behind manual fertilizer spreader is plenty for any home gardener or landscaper. It’s a nice mini-workout for your arms, and it doesn’t take much time to fertilize a bed at all. Avoid the motorized spreaders, and you’ll have one less tool that needs to be repaired or replaced. 

Electronic Soil pH Tester

Close-up of Electronic Soil pH Tester in soil. It is a compact and handheld device designed for measuring soil pH levels accurately. It features a sleek, cylindrical body with a digital display screen and ergonomic buttons for easy operation. The body of the device is yellow with black elements.
pH meters are costly and unnecessary.

Soil pH instruments range from $50 to $400+ and offer little assistance to the home gardener. Soil pH is a complex and nuanced topic that can change depending on environmental conditions, chemistry, and microbiological processes. The billions of microorganisms in the soil are constantly interacting with each other and plant root zones to shift pH gradients over time and space. Certain plants require specific pH ranges, but you don’t need to test the soil acidity with exact precision.

While you may occasionally struggle with soil that is too acidic or too alkaline, there is no need to constantly monitor the pH. Instead, you can test your soil once per year with a basic, affordable test kit or by sending soil samples to your local extension service for less than $20. If you are super concerned with soil pH, carefully watch your plant symptoms for signs and symptoms. 

Amend acidic soil with compost, eggshells, or agricultural limestone. If the soil is too alkaline, lower the pH using elemental sulfur, peat moss, or pine needles.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, you can purchase and use any garden tools you’d like. If you have a lot of money to spend on nice raised beds, quality inputs, and the best possible tools, do it! It is always worthwhile to invest in quality, durable tools that make gardening more comfortable. 

However, if you wish to save money and avoid generating excess waste, consider avoiding cheap tools that may break and high-tech equipment that may render itself useless. To avoid tools that are a waste of money, ask yourself these questions:

  • How long will this tool last? 
  • Is it built to withstand many years of use?
  • How often will I use this tool?
  • Do I have another tool that can do almost the same thing?
  • Are the technological advancements of this tool disconnecting me from nature?

Often, you will find that you already have most of the tools and observation skills you need! Save that money for more seeds, quality amendments, and long-lasting garden beds to last a lifetime!

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