In my garden shed, you will find several different-sized brooms, dustpans, shovels, rakes, and hoes. Yes, hoes.
Of all the garden tools in my collection, rakes and hoes get the most attention.
You might wonder what there is to say about hoes, but there are different types used for different garden tasks, and I have been talking about them a lot lately.
If you have a garden hoe or have one pictured in your mind, it is probably the popular draw hoe. It is for chopping the soil and then drawing or pulling it towards you. It can also break up clods or clumps of earth along the way. When you see a farmer on tv or in an advertisement they are using a draw hoe.
The draw hoe may be the most common, but that doesn’t mean it is the best choice for your chores. The straight blade can be hard to maneuver in the mature garden, and the basic construction can make it uncomfortable to use for a long time.
It is best used for working larger areas for spring planting and digging weeds. It can be handy to move soil when digging and of course, hilling potatoes. Hilling potatoes is garden talk for mounding soil around the base of potato plants as they grow. This protects the growing tubers from the elements.
Another category is reciprocating or shuffle hoes. These hoes have a moving blade that is hinged, so it scoots across the soil as it moves forward, then scrapes and cuts the soil with the return movement. This cutting in both directions removes weeds closest to the top or weeding between rows and larger plants in the garden.
The stirrup hoe is part of this category. It easily skims across the soil, removing young weeds and moss. Because it doesn’t dig deep, you may want to hoe the weeds throughout the season. It’s easy to use, and the back-and-forth action is easy to control. Funny story, I gave this hoe as a birthday gift to a fellow gardener – and we are still friends. Maybe that’s why we’re friends! Let’s hope they have had fun skimming weeds and cleaning garden beds.
My favorite hoe, and the one I reach for almost every time, is the warren hoe. It is triangle shaped with a pointed end. I used it last week when planting spring bulbs.
The pointed edge makes digging easy. When planting rows of seeds in the springtime, this is the tool you want. Place the sharp tip in the soil, then pull it to create furrows or rows that the seeds or bulbs can be dropped into quickly.
I use this hoe for weeding. I like the precision this tip gives me, reducing the risk of cutting a mature plant by accident. I also twist the blade and use the long sides of the triangle to move soil around small areas in the garden bed.
The key to the success of using hoes or any of the many other types – and there are many – is to hold them at the correct angle. Aim for the back of the blade to be 20-30 degrees to the ground. If you hold it too low, you get more of a chopping action and too-high grazes across the top of the ground.
Finding the correct angle to hold the tool will come through practice. You will learn what is comfortable and effective for you. Hoe handles are generally 5 feet long. This works for most of us, but if you are tall, look for long-handled tools to save you from a backache.
The right tool makes the job easier. It’s true, and it is also how I justify having a selection of hoes for my small garden beds. It is even more important if you are gardening in a large area. Adding tools to your gardening arsenal now will help with your fall chores and give you a head start in the spring.