Which weeding tool is best for you?
There are people who profess that weeding is their all-time favorite gardening task. They swear a Zen-like calm comes over them as they yank, tug, and uproot their creeping Charlie and quackgrass.
I am suspicious of such people, the same way I’m suspicious of people who clean their houses from top to bottom when they get upset. (I’ve always found a bag of potato chips in front of the television is much more soothing.)
So when it’s time to tackle weeding, I want a tool that will help me finish the task quickly and efficiently so I can move on to my favorite garden task—planting.
There are many new and inventive weeding tools on the market. Just browse through any garden supply catalog or look through a well-equipped garden center to see countless types of hoes, hand tools, hoops, and blades designed to eliminate weeds. Here’s a list of things to consider when shopping for a weeding tool:
Handles. Some weeding tools come in both short- and long-handled versions. Short handles give you a bit more leverage, but long handles are easier on the knees.
Quality. The tool should feel light but substantial and fit well in your hands so you won’t get blisters and strains.
Construction. The fewer separate parts there are to a tool, the less chance there is that something will come loose. Avoid tools where the metal portion is attached to the handle or shaft with only a screw. The screws tend to come out easily.
Sturdiness. Hold the metal part of the tool in one hand and the portion of the handle right above the connection of the handle and metal in the other. Wiggle it as hard as you can. It should feel solid and have absolutely no give.
No matter what weeding tool you decide to use, here are some tips to make the process easier:
Wear gloves. An hour or two of bare-handed weeding can result in a nasty blister or two.
Work when the soil is moist. If the soil is bone dry, the roots of the weeds will remain in the ground. If the soil is too wet, you can damage the soil’s texture, and it will dry into problem clumps. The best time to weed is when the soil is damp—right after a moderate rain or watering, or two days after a heavy rain.
Weed often and early. You’ll save hours of labor if you get weeds while they’re small rather than waiting until they’re larger. And never let a weed go to seed. Otherwise, you’ll have hundreds of seeds scattered in your garden.
Coordinate weeding with mulching. In areas where you’d like a light layer of mulch, such as around vegetables or annuals, first weed thoroughly in early spring. Then, in late spring, lay down an inch or two of organic mulch that will break down easily, such as shredded leaves, cocoa hulls, double-shredded wood mulch, or grass clippings that are free of herbicide. You’ll have destroyed the worst of the developing weeds for the season and will slow down weeds that develop in the mulch. Spot weed as needed afterward.
Mulch is a wonderful weed suppressant, but it can also make weeding problematic when landscape fabric is underneath the mulch. In areas with a heavy layer of mulch, such as around shrubs, use a sharp, pointed weeding tool or the tip of a hoe to remove developing weeds. Be careful not to rip through any landscape fabric that might be underneath. If desired, top with a fresh layer of mulch, making sure it’s no deeper than 3 inches.
Hoe or pull?
More than one gardening couple has an ongoing dispute about this one: Do you hoe a weed or pull it? The answer is, “It depends.”
Large weeds, those more than a few inches high, are useless to hoe. Even if you slice through their stalks, their root systems are so strong that they’re likely to come back. The only way to get rid of them is to pull out the entire plant, including the roots. On the other hand, a hoe works well for patches of tiny weeds.
Some weeds, such as purslane, like nothing better than a good chopping with a hoe. They see this not as eradication but as propagation—each tiny bit of plant left in or on the soil merrily starts a new plant. Definitely pull these monsters.
Remember, weeding with a small tool is often a combination of digging and pulling: You may be pulling on a weed with one hand and digging up its roots with another.
Choosing a weeding tool
Our buyer’s guide to getting what you need
Tool: Cape Cod weeder
Comments: Point the Cape Cod’s sharp end downward to plant small annuals. Turn diagonally to cultivate soil. Turn horizontally and take out a swath of tiny weeds in one stroke. The narrow design makes it ideal for getting weeds out of tight spots. Long-handled types available.
Price: $12 to $25 for short-handled version; $20 to $35 for long-handled version.
Tool: Asian plow
Comments: This tool is also sold as an EZ digger or a Korean plow. Use its sharp end to hack a hole in dry or hard soil, reach large and persistent weeds, and mix dry materials. Turn the point to the side to uproot a swath of tiny weeds. It’s less precise than the Cape Cod weeder, but more effective in hard soils and with large weeds.
Price: $8 to $15 for short-handled model; $20 to $25 for 57-inch model.
Comments: This weeding and cultivating tool has an almost cult-like following. It’s held a little like a golf club and can slice just barely under the soil’s surface to cultivate and knock out new weeds. Use when the soil is loose and friable and for early weeds.
Cost: $55 to $65
Tool: Broad hoe
Comments: The broad hoe is big and sharp enough at the corners to hack out medium-sized weeds and wipe out swaths of tiny weeds. Moves earth and makes trenches and hills in the vegetable garden. Because of its long handle, you don’t have to bend over. Because it’s less agile and precise than other weeders, it’s hard to avoid nicking or knocking over plants you want to keep.
Cost: $15 to $40
Tool: Warren hoe
Comments: The warren hoe is like the broad hoe, only better. Its triangular or heart-
shaped business end gives you more precision than the broad hoe, allowing you to get around flowers and delicate vegetables. The warren hoe doesn’t move soil as well as a broad hoe, but that’s also its beauty—you don’t have to smooth the soil after removing weeds because it barely disrupts the soil. A super-long handle means no bending or kneeling.
Price: $15 to $35
Comments: The cultivator is commonly used as a weeding tool, which is a mistake. This tool is excellent for loosening the soil’s surface for better water absorption or roughing it up to scatter seed. But it’s not for weeding, folks. Think about it. All the fingers do is rake tiny trenches into the soil. It’s great for loosening soil, but awful for weeding.
Price: $5 to $15
Veronica Lorson Fowler is a freelance writer living in Ames, Iowa.