WHICH HOE TO USE?
Dr. Leonard P. Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont
Are you still using a traditional hoe in the garden for weeds? Perhaps one of the newer styles might be easier and more appropriate.
The traditional hoe is of course that one with a wide blade, perhaps six inches wide, angled at a right angle to the handle. You use it by pulling through the soil, and for this reason it is often called a "draw hoe." It is used to dislodge weeds, dig, or to mound soil. For smaller gardens or raised beds, you might consider a slimmer version, only about four inches wide. This is also lighter in weight, so easier on the muscles if using for long periods.
Another hoe that can be used to cut off weeds just below the soil line, either by pushing or pulling, is often called a diamond scuffle hoe. It is used in a scuffling motion back and forth. The blade of this hoe is angled correctly to keep you upright when weeding, so is easier on your back. The blade resembles two long triangles attached at the center. They resemble wings, and so this may be called a "wing hoe." The long sides of these triangles are the sharp ones that cut the weeds. These hoes are good for working in rocky soil, young weeds, or previously cultivated soil.
If you have rocky soil, you also may want to try a "collinear hoe." This has a narrow blade, about one inch high and four to six inches wide. The sharpened blade is on the same plane as the bottom of the handle, hence the word "collinear". This is useful for keeping the blade traveling in a straight line, even if it hits an obstruction such as a stone or branch. It is best used in a sweeping motion beside you, rather than in front as most hoes. Since best for light weeding, such as around onions, it is sometimes called an "onion hoe."
The Dutch hoe is designed to be used by pushing rather than pulling. The blade is often a cross between a rectangle and wide triangle in shape, sometimes with open center. The sharpened edge, up to six inches or so across, is angled so you can push it just beneath the soil to sever weeds. This hoe is best used on young weeds, in previously cultivated soil, or for edging.
Since I weed around many established perennials or tender flowers, to avoid damaging them I use a "stirrup hoe" or variation. You may see these also called "loop" or "circle" hoes, depending on their shape. The stirrup hoe looks just like the stirrup on a saddle. The lower, flat surface is the sharpened blade that cuts by pulling along or just under the soil. Since the sides are not sharp, you can get right next to desirable plants without damaging them. Often these hoes can also be found on short handles for fine, hand weeding.
My favorite version of the stirrup hoe has a set of three, large prongs on the opposite side. I can use the prongs to loosen clumps of grass or large weeds, then turn the handle 180 degrees and use stirrup hoe to finish the job. Other hoes may have narrower blades, and other forms of cultivating tines on the opposite side.
A variation on the stirrup hoe has this same shape, only the lower blade is sharpened on both forward and back edges. The blade actually moves slightly, or "oscillates," with the pushing or pulling motion to keep at the right angle for cutting. If you're used to a fixed blade, the movement of this "oscillating hoe" may take some getting used to.
If you're just looking to make a trench to plant or sow seeds, some
use the corner edge of the traditional draw hoe. There are hoes just
for this purpose though, either in a triangular or narrow diamond shape.
These are the basic versions of hoes, with as many variations as there are manufacturers. Often these have slightly different shapes, more square or more rounded for instance. Depending on their original use they may have such names as "cotton hoe" or "grape hoe". There are even hand hoes now with curved handles and wrist holders, designed for those with weak arms or other physical challenges.
Whatever hoe you buy, you should also buy a sharpening tool, and sharpen
your hoe frequently. Otherwise you'll spend a lot more effort weeding
than needed, or wont even get the job done. My favorite is a file
with sharp and hard diamond particles. A few swipes of this across
my hoe blade and it once again becomes quite sharp.