Using the right tool for the job can make any task easier, and gardening is no exception to this rule. A serious gardener will need a good spade, trowel, pruning shears, and also at least one garden hoe. There are many styles of garden hoes available, and this abundance of garden hoe styles can make it difficult to choose the right one for your needs.
You may find that you need more than one style of garden hoe, depending on how you use a hoe in the garden. If you use a garden hoe only for removing weed seedlings from the garden, either a traditional planter hoe with a rectangular blade or a stirrup hoe would work just fine. But if you think of a hoe as a multi-purpose tool and you want to use it for hilling potatoes in addition to weeding, a stirrup hoe would not be the best choice. Perhaps a pulling or chopping motion is difficult for you ergonomically, but you can more easily tolerate a pushing motion. Physical limitations also play a part in choosing the right garden hoe.
Let’s talk about some different styles of hoes so you can determine which garden hoe is right for you. We’ll start with my personal favorite; the stirrup hoe mentioned earlier. The stirrup hoe, shown in the photo, is also sometimes referred to as a scuffle hoe or an action hoe. The blade of this hoe is shaped like a stirrup on a saddle, and the blade oscillates a bit where it attaches to the handle.
This “action” makes a stirrup hoe useful for both pulling or pushing motions, thus both sides of the stirrup have a sharpened cutting edge. The stirrup garden hoe makes weeding a quick and easy job as the double-edged blade skims just beneath the surface of the soil, easily cutting through larger weeds and lifting tiny weeds right out of the soil, exposing their roots to the drying effects of the sun. Using a stirrup hoe, the entire garden can be weeded in no time flat.
Another useful garden hoe is the old standby, the planter hoe. Its rigid, flat, rectangular blade is generally at a ninety-degree angle to the handle. A planter hoe is used to cut off weeds at their roots using a chopping motion. But a planter hoe is also useful for moving small quantities of soil short distances in the garden, such as for hilling potatoes or digging a short trench for seedlings. If you want to buy just one good multi-purpose garden tool, a planter hoe would be a good choice.
There are many variations on the standard planter hoe. Some have wider blades, some have narrower blades, while others have a long, narrow blade or a blade that is sharpened on three sides. A garden hoe with a rather long, narrow blade may be referred to as a collinear hoe. This style of garden hoe is ideal for weeding in tight spaces, allowing the gardener to remove small weeds between seedlings while standing, without getting down on hands and knees.
Another style of garden hoe has a blade with a trapezoid shape; this one is narrower where it attaches to the handle and wider at the bottom cutting edge. The sharp corners of a trapezoid hoe make it handy for cutting out tough weed roots.
Yet another type of garden hoe is a Warren hoe. It has a triangular blade that is attached to the handle at a ninety-degree angle. A Warren hoe is also useful in tight spots, and the pointy edge is useful for digging furrows and pulling out tough weeds.
There are also a variety of short-handled hoes available. The short-handled hoes I’ve seen are generally of a more specialized variety, with a blade that is much sharper and more angular than a typical long-handled garden hoe. A short-handled hoe is used in tight spaces where it is necessary to work while kneeling or sitting.
No matter what style of garden hoe you like to use, it is very important to keep the blade sharp. A sharp blade makes weeding the garden so much easier than using a hoe with a dull blade. It isn’t necessary to sharpen the hoe each time it is used – who’s got time for that when weeds are taking over? – but a garden hoe should be sharpened in the spring and regularly throughout the season. If you’re handy with a file, a few quick swipes will sharpen the edge of the hoe blade, or you can use a small handheld knife and tool sharpener. Either works just as well.
Since I nearly always have the garden hoe with me while working in the garden, I like to use it for more than its intended purpose. If I need to make a straight line for a furrow, I lay the hoe down next to the intended row and use the hoe handle as a straight edge so my furrow doesn’t wander off at an odd angle. I also use a black felt tip pen to mark the handle in one, two and three foot increments so it can be used to measure the distance between plants or rows.
The local hardware store will no doubt offer ordinary planter hoes for sale and possibly a stirrup hoe or two. But if you want a more specialized garden hoe, you may have to look for it in a gardening catalog that offers a variety of tools for gardeners.