Master Gardener - Julie Barnes
Trials for Trowels
By: Julie Barnes
A handheld trowel is a gardening tool that is used rather frequently. Resembling a shovel or spade, it is used for potting, planting, transplanting, weeding, or digging. But, a trowel is not just a trowel. Choosing this tool can overwhelm even the most dedicated gardener since there is a plethora of diverse shapes, material choices, variations for use or still, what works comfortably. A trowel is composed of a blade with a handle. Blade shape can be flat, curved, scooped and even have gradations to simplify various garden tasks. Blade styles include traditional, transplanting, potting, digging, and planting:
Traditional blades start out wide and narrow to a rounded or slightly pointed end that may or may not be sharpened in order to dig into soil. A basic garden trowel is used for almost anything. It’s slightly curved shape with pointed or rounded ends are great for planting, transplanting, scooping or transferring dirt, etc.
Transplanting blades will perform the same functions as traditional but are longer and narrower to dig deeper for plant or root removal. A transplant trowel can also have measurement etching to determine how deep to make planting holes or to gauge spacing between plants. The long, slender blade makes it ideal for tight areas.
Potting blades have a pronounced concave curve for transferring soil from one location to another. A potting garden trowel or soil scoop has a wide blade with higher curved sides in a bowl shape to fill containers with potting mix, fertilizer, compost or other amendments. There are some with serrated edges and a pointed tip that can be used to break up root bound container plants at the end of the season.
Digging blades have a straight slightly curved shape that is sharp on one side, serrated on the other which then elongates to a point. A digging garden trowel or soil knife is shaped like a dagger engraved with measurements. This multipurpose tool allows you to dig, transplant, saw and cut perennials for divisions, and even measure soil depth for plantings.
Planting blades are traditionally wide with a flared blade and sharp pointed tip. A planting garden trowel works great when digging larger holes to plant annuals or perennials from 4-6 inch pots. It is especially handy for planting in containers where the ample blade can scoop soil and the pointed tip can easily cut through roots.
Trowel Blades Can Be Made Of Stainless Steel, Carbon Steel, Or Aluminum To Suit A Range Of Needs:
❖ A Stainless steel blade is the most popular, long lasting and easy to sharpen.
❖ Carbon steel is incredibly hard and durable, especially when striking into rocks or cutting through roots. Sharpening this type of blade will be complex. But, it should not need sharpened too often.
❖ Aluminum is lightweight and is best for simpler tasks, such as potting. It is not made for digging into hard soil where it can bend easily.
A handle that has suitable length and decent grip enables the user to lift the blade when performing gardening tasks. It can be made of wood, rubber or plastic. Telescoping handles assist people who have trouble bending down low, while ergonomic handles give better leverage to gardeners who have arthritis in their hands.
❖ Handle length will affect how the tool feels in your hand. If it is too short, it will put pressure on your hand with less room to grip. So, a handle should be a minimum of 4 inches with the best ergonomic benefits being closer to 5.5 inches.
❖ The grip makes the trowel comfortable and easier to hold. Typically handles with cylindrical or oval shapes offer the best grip instead of flat edges.
❖ Ergonomic handles make repetitive tasks easier and safer. They reduce muscle injury or strain by minimizing flexing, extending, and radial deviation of the wrist (bending or twisting the wrist toward the thumb) by creating a neutral wrist posture.
As you can see the right trowel can make gardening less work.