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Tools Used for Digging the Soil

By Chris Deziel

Gardening is all about manipulating dirt, whether it's cultivating topsoil for weed control, hollowing out holes for planting or hewing trenches to improve drainage. The digging tools you need depend on the type of garden you have, the job and the soil conditions -- and there's a plethora from which to choose. Most of the diggers you need are powered by sweat, but you can get gasoline-powered versions for large jobs.


The basic shovel consists of a slightly curved metal plate on the end of a handle; much like a spoon, its purpose is to penetrate and scoop. A single type wouldn't meet all your needs, so there are several.

Round-Point Shovels

This classic garden digging tool has a rounded blade with a pointed tip to enable it to break hard ground. Few gardeners can do without this utilitarian implement -- it's useful for scooping sand, gravel and loose soil, as well as digging holes in hard dirt. Variations include:

  • trenching shovels, which have a flattened bottom and raised edges to facilitate trench formation.
  • drain spades, which -- despite their name -- are round-point shovels with long, narrow blades that dig deep, narrow holes.
  • garden trowels, small versions of drain spades with short handles for digging small holes and planting individual plants.
  • post-hole diggers consist of a hinged pair of round-point shovels connected to a pair of handles, and they function much like tongs -- digging and scooping at the same time to create perfectly formed holes for posts and plants.

Garden Spades

The distinguishing feature of a spade is its sharp, flat edge, which enables it to cut neatly through turf. A spade is the tool you want if you're edging your lawn or manicuring the topsoil in your flower garden. It's useful primarily for digging at ground level -- the flat edge of its blade doesn't do well in dense or rocky soil.


The classic hoe has a flat metal blade mounted at a right angle to a long handle, and you use it in a chopping, digging or pulling motion to break and turn soil. Life would be boring if there were just one type, though, and in fact, there are many, including:

Pointed Hoes

To make soil penetration and weed removal easier, gardeners use pointed hoes, such as,

  • plow hoes with a triangular head for easier soil penetration.
  • grub hoes for digging, cultivating and weed control.
  • gooseneck hoes, which can dig deep and cut through taproots well below the surface.

Weed-Wacking Hoes

Some hoes are designed primarily for surface weed control but are also useful for digging and rearranging topsoil. These include the triangular scuffle hoe and the push hoe.

Picks and Forks

A pickax is a must for anyone who works with rocky or compacted soil. A cross between and ax and a hoe, this tool usually features a spade-like blade on one side for digging and moving dirt and a pointed tine on the other for pulverizing rock.

A pitchfork's tines penetrate dirt more easily than a shovel blade, and while you can't pick up soil with it, you can can loosen the dirt and move it around. It's useful for aerating soil prior to sowing your spring crops.

Power Digging Tools

Large projects, such as erecting a fence or installing a drainage field, often call for gasoline-powered diggers. The most useful ones to have in your tool shed are a medium-sized hole auger, a rotary tiller for cultivating your topsoil and a trencher. The auger is basically a large corkscrew, while the trencher and tiller both have windmill-like cutting and digging blades.


About the Author


Chris Deziel has a bachelor's degree in physics and a master's degree in humanities. Besides having an abiding interest in popular science, Deziel has been active in the building and home design trades since 1975. As a landscape builder, he helped establish two gardening companies.