You can use hoes to lay out rows, dig furrows, cultivate around plants to loosen the soil and kill weeds, create hills and raised beds
, break up clods, and prepare bare spots in lawns for reseeding.
The standard American pattern hoe is a long-handled tool that allows you to work without too much bending. It has a broad, straight blade, a little larger than 6 inches wide and 4 inches deep. However, many gardeners prefer a nursery hoe, which is lighter and has a 2- to 3-inch-deep blade.
Use an oscillating hoe to slice weeds just below the soil surface. It cuts on both the push and the pull stroke. On modern variations, often called “hula” or action hoes, the slicing blade moves back and forth to cut while being pulled or pushed.
Narrow hoe blades use your arm power more efficiently than wider blades. The hoe handle should be at least 4½ feet long so you can work without bending over and straining your lower back muscles. In general, when working with hoes, try to remain standing upright and run the hoe blade below and parallel to the soil surface. Keep your hoe sharp so it will cut through weeds rather than yank them out.
A standard American long-handled shovel is good for mixing cement and for scooping up soil
, gravel, and sand. You can also use it to pry rocks and root clumps from the soil, although a heavy-duty prybar is more effective and efficient for these tasks. You also can use a shovel to dig planting holes, but a garden fork or a spade generally works better for most digging.
The standard shovel handle is about 4 feet. The shovel handle should come to shoulder height or higher. Shovels should also have a turned edge or footrest on the top of the blade to protect your feet when you step on the tool.
Spades have a flat, rather than scooped, blade with squared edges. With a spade, you can cut easily through sod and create straight edges in soil. Use a spade for digging planting holes, prying up rocks, dividing and moving perennials, cutting unwanted tree
and shrub roots, tamping sod, and digging trenches.
A spade handle is generally shorter than a shovel handle, usually ranging from 28 to 32 inches. Like shovels, spades should also have a turned edge or footrest on the top of the blade.
Spading forks cut into soil, usually more easily than solid-bladed tools can. A spading fork is handy for loosening and mixing materials into the soil, dividing perennials, and for harvesting potatoes, carrots, and other root crops. The tines of a standard spading fork are broad and flat; those of the English cultivating fork are thinner and square. The English version is better for cultivating and aerating soil. Use a pitchfork (3 tines) or a straw fork (5 to 6 tines) for picking up, turning, and scattering hay mulch, leaf mold, and light compost materials.
The standard handle length for a spading fork is 28 inches. Very tall gardeners may prefer a 32-inch handle. Short gardeners, including children, should use a border fork, which has shorter tines and handle.
Trowels: Use a trowel to dig planting holes for small plants and bulbs, for transplanting seedlings, or for weeding beds and borders.
Some trowels are made from forged steel and fitted with hardwood handles; good ones are also available in unbreakable one-piece cast aluminum. Trowels come with a variety of blade widths and lengths. Choose one that feels comfortable in your hand.