Modern-day garden hoes are specialized tools that surpass primitive multipurpose implements. Using a suitable hoe depends on the job at hand, such as weeding, cultivating the soil or sowing seeds.
When you picture a garden hoe, the traditional hoe is likely the one that comes to mind -- a long-handled tool with a wide blade positioned at a right angle to the base of the handle. It’s also called a draw hoe because you use it by pulling it through the soil to uproot weeds or to mound the soil. This could also involve "hilling up" an area to sow squash (Cucurbita spp.) seeds. The blade typically is 4 to 6 inches wide, and you can also use it to chop roots and dig in the dirt. Choose a 4-inch blade if you have a smaller garden or if you have raised beds.
A scuffle hoe is so-named because of its push-pull action. As you work in the garden, you keep this hoe on the ground and work it back and forth, so you don’t have to lift it to use it. Scuffle hoes take different shapes, but they’re all designed primarily for weeding. A stirrup-shaped scuffle hoe has a double-sided blade that cuts in both directions as you push and pull it. A diamond scuffle hoe’s blade looks like two triangles that are joined at the center, resembling wings, which gives it another common name -- the wing hoe. The diamond or wing scuffle hoe is generally easier on your neck and back than other weeding hoes because of its longer handle, which is 6 feet long compared to a standard-length handle of 54 to 57 inches long.
A collinear hoe is designed to use beside you in a sweeping motion instead of a chopping or push-pull motion in front of you. As you work up and down between your garden rows, you move the collinear hoe as if you were sweeping to rid the garden of weeds. With a narrower blade that’s only 1 inch high and 4 to 6 inches wide, the collinear hoe is suitable to use around shallow-rooted crops that require light weeding, such as lettuce (Lactuca sativa) and onions (Allium cepa), which is why you may see it called an onion hoe.
Cleaning and Sharpening
Garden hoes are optimally effective if you maintain them properly. A hoe works better if you remove dirt after you use it, and if you have clay soil, you may need to use a wire-bristle brush to clean it. After you dislodge any dirt with a jet of water from your garden hose, dry the hoe with a rag. A good use for recycled lawn mower oil is applying a light coat on a cleaned hoe blade to help prevent rusting. But even hoes that you keep clean and oiled may rust, which is a hazard for any garden tool that is used in soil. To remove rust, you can use a tool, such as a diamond file, to lightly abrade the rust particles away. Keep garden hoe blades sharp by having them professionally sharpened or by using a coarse hand file, a sharpening stone or a grinding tool drill attachment.
- University of Vermont Extension Department of Plant and Soil Science: Which Hoe to Use?
- University of Wisconsin-Madison Biological Systems Engineering: Try a Long Handled Diamond Hoe for Weeding
- University of Vermont Extension Department of Plant and Soil Science: Cleaning Garden Tools
- North Carolina State University: Weed Control in Vegetable Gardens