Tools for Digging

spadeDigging is our most basic gardening task, and here are my favorite tools for getting the job done, and some others you might try.

Long Tools used while Standing

Basic Shovels and Spades

Technically, the bodies and edges of shovels are rounded while those of spades are flat. So both are good for digging but the rounded shovels are best for carrying the soil but when the digging job is a big one. Whatever. I use them interchangeably, according to which has a short handle and which a long one, the long one affording good leverage for those deep digging tasks.

The HGTV guru Paul James recommends that gardeners have both both.

In the photo you see the spade I recently used to remove my entire lawn. A shovel wouldn’t shovelhave worked nearly as well for that task.

Perennial-planting shovels

By definition, these are narrower and what I use for tight spots, to make sure I don’t damage nearby roots — or at least try not to. Photo right.

Bulb-Planting Shovels

These are even narrower, and work well where the soil is easily dug (not so great for cutting roots or getting past rocks).


garden hoeHoes are perfect for removing large quantities of tiny weeds or deep tap-rooted weeds. Elliot Coleman, popular guru of edible gardening, recommends using a hoe regularly to prevent weeds. Photo left.

Scuffle hoes are great for large areas because of their push/pull action. The weeds can just left on the ground to compost in place. But there are SO many types, try your neighbors hoes out to see which ones feel best for you.

Garden Forksgarden fork

pickaxGot rocks or clay? Then the old-fashioned garden fork will help you navigate through and around them. They’re also good for aerating the soil, breaking up clay, and digging up bulbs. Photo right.

The best have 4 tines, not 3, which should be quite rigid (steel is a good material), also a fiberglass shaft and a strong D-handle.


This tool, above all, makes me feel like the Wonder Woman of Digging. I always use it in a sitting position, though, for maximum impact on the clay I’m breaking up and minimal impact on my back. Photo left shows a well worn pickax.

Short Tools for Digging or Weeding while Kneeling


trowelThis is the digging tool I use the most — for planting, weeding, moving small amounts of dirt, and more — so I’m pretty picky about which one I use. This one is my favorite because it’s strong enough not to bend under pressure, it’s big enough to hold some soil, has a pointy end that’s great for cutting, and even measures how deeply you’ve dug! No wonder it’s such a bummer when I misplace it and have to use one of my many others. Photo right.

Steak knives for dividing and slicing

Every year or I stock up on steak knifes at the local dollar store because it’s my favorite best tool for slicing through small perennials like liriope. It’s also the tool of choice for cutting through the roots of pot-bound plants.


Cobrahead for weeding

I once won a Cobrahead and I was hoping to later write that I love-love-love it, but I don’t. I do know gardeners who can’t get enough of it, so do give it a try. Photo left.

mattockHori hori knife

The hori hori knife, or Japanese gardening knife, is the knife that never needs sharpening. It works well, and here are some photos of them.


I call this tool the “Slayer of Invasives” and indeed it is, at least the ones I tackle while kneeling. Photo right.