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Updated May 2022
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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Buying guide for Best trowels

If you only purchase one gardening tool, make it a trowel. This miniature shovel lets you make small holes of precise depths. You can use it for a wide variety of gardening tasks ranging from sowing seeds and planting bulbs to aerating soil and transplanting flowers.

While a garden trowel is a versatile tool, there are several types with slightly different features. If you have a specific task in mind, you need to purchase the right tool to do the job as efficiently as possible. Also important is paying attention to the tool’s quality and ergonomics because durability and comfort are the two main criteria when looking for a trowel.

Whether you’re an expert gardener with a vast amount of experience or someone who’s trying out a new hobby, you can benefit from a comprehensive guide on the topic. It’s also helpful to peruse a curated list of top trowels so you can get a quick idea of your best choices.

trowels
If you don’t have any gardening tools, consider purchasing a traditional trowel as part of a set that also includes a hand rake and a weeding trowel.

How to buy the best trowel

What is a trowel?

This versatile gardening tool is a small, shovel-like implement that only requires one hand to operate. It’s used for digging, weeding, mixing fertilizer, aerating soil, planting seeds, transferring plants to pots, and more. There are several subtle variations in the design that make particular models better suited for different tasks.

Garden vs. masonry trowel

Garden trowels and masonry trowels are completely different tools. You can’t substitute one for the other. The blade of a garden trowel is scooped to let you lift dirt and plants. The blade of a masonry trowel is flat. It's used to spread, level, and shape wet mortar, concrete, or plaster. This article focuses on the garden tool.

Types of garden trowels

There are many types of garden trowels, and each is shaped a little differently to perform a specific task. Some of the most popular types are traditional, transplanting, weeding, and potting.

Traditional: This looks like a small, narrow shovel with curved sides. It's a versatile tool that’s used for digging and planting.

Transplanting: This is similar to a traditional trowel but is narrower with a sharper tip. The tool is designed this way so it can get into tight spots like flower beds to safely remove seedlings, bulbs, and small plants.

Weeding: This is similar to a transplanting trowel but with a forked end. It can cut through roots, but its main purpose is to dig down deep to remove a weed at the base so it doesn’t grow back. This type of trowel is also effective in rocky soil.

Potting: This has a wide blade with a deep curve. It holds more soil than the other types, and the curve matches the curve of a pot to make it easier to put a plant inside.

The measurements on a trowel blade let you see how deep you're going when digging up plants or sowing seeds.

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Features to consider when buying a trowel

Blade

The blade is the part that does the digging. The four key elements to consider are length, width, curve, and material.

Length: The length of the blade determines how deep you can dig. If you're trying to get under a plant to remove it, a longer blade is best.

Width: If you're working in a tight area or rocky soil, a narrow blade is the most effective. If you're digging a large hole for planting, consider a trowel with a wider blade.

Curve: The deeper the curve of the blade, the more soil the trowel can hold. The curve is also important to consider if you want to use your trowel in pots. A flatter blade won’t fit as well.

Material: The best blades are made of stainless steel because it's lightweight and durable. A carbon steel blade offers the same benefits, but it's prone to rust. Aluminum and plastic are options you should only consider if budget is a priority, because these materials aren’t as durable as steel.

Handle

The handle is the part of the trowel you hold. The two most important elements to consider are shape and material.

Shape: Most handles are a simple, short shaft, and these are fine for most people. If you want the best handle for your hand, look for a curved one. Curved handles are superior because they place less strain on the wrist while digging. However, they can be difficult to find and can be more expensive.

Material: Many gardeners prefer wood, but it’s more expensive and may splinter over time. Rubber and plastic are more affordable and provide a comfortable grip, but they don’t have the pleasing feel and heft of wood.

Extras

Depth gauge: To help you know precisely how deep you're digging, many trowels have a depth gauge in inches and centimeters engraved on the blade.

Serrated edge: If you have a lot of roots to dig through, consider a trowel with a serrated edge. This handy feature lets you saw through troublesome roots.

trowels
DID YOU KNOW?
If the blade of your trowel gets dull, you can sharpen it with WD-40 and a file. The trick is to only file in one direction and follow the bevel of the blade.
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Helpful accessories to use with a trowel

Gardening gloves

You want to protect your hands from injury and dirt as you garden, and the best way to do that is by wearing a quality pair of gardening gloves. Various types provide excellent dexterity or grip or are tough enough to prevent punctures from thorns.

Kneeling pad

Gardening often requires kneeling for extended periods, which can be uncomfortable. To protect those all-important joints, you need a cushioned, waterproof kneeling pad.

Dust mask

The dust created while gardening probably isn’t life threatening, but if you have allergies, it can make you miserable. A high-quality, adjustable dust mask can prevent you from inhaling pollen and dust while working in the garden.

Sunscreen

You need to protect your skin from the sun any time you're outside. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends using a sunscreen of at least SPF 30.

How much do garden trowels cost?

Inexpensive

An inexpensive, basic garden trowel costs roughly $6 to $12. The key criterion to look for is quality because it can make the difference between an inexpensive trowel that doesn't make it through a month and one that lasts for years.

Mid-range

Between $12 and $18, the trowels have extras that make them stand out from each other. You can find a garden trowel with an ergonomic handle, depth gauge, and/or serrated edge in this price range.

Expensive

Unless you're purchasing a set of small gardening tools, you probably won’t want to spend more than $20 on a garden trowel. A high-end tool made of forged steel with a sharp beveled edge and a durable wooden handle that’s protected by the manufacturer isn’t a bad investment. However, it might be overkill for the occasional gardener who will be satisfied with a lower-priced trowel.

If you do a lot of camping, look for a packable garden trowel with a folding handle.

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Tips

  • Maintain your tools. Sharp, clean tools are the safest and last the longest.
  • Dig early in the day and when the ground is moist. In summer, plan to finish your gardening before it gets too hot. If the soil is compact and hard and there’s no rain in the forecast, consider moistening the soil before you start to dig.
  • Protect yourself. A garden trowel is essentially a tiny shovel. When digging, make sure you're close to the ground and in a position that won’t strain your back. It's easy to injure your wrist when digging, so don’t reach, twist, or apply too much force. To protect your knees from injury, consider resting them on a kneeling pad. And wear sunscreen to protect yourself from the damaging rays of the sun.
  • Wear protective gear. Gardening gloves will keep your hands clean and protect them from thorns and blisters. Digging in the soil can stir up dust and pollen that you breathe in. A dust mask can protect you from inhaling these particulates.
  • Don’t garden after you’ve applied herbicides. Herbicides are hazardous to human health. If you use them, follow all the directions carefully, including waiting three days after application to work in the garden.
trowels
A garden trowel makes an excellent and very durable shovel for building sand castles at the beach.

FAQ

Q. How do I clean a garden trowel?

A. If you regularly use your trowel, the most important thing you can do is rinse and dry it after each use. Never put a tool away dirty. If you notice rust beginning to form, remove it with steel wool or a stiff wire brush and apply a light coat of vegetable oil to trouble spots.

Q. How do I remove tree sap from my trowel?

A. Tree sap won’t come off using regular cleaning methods. While some websites recommend using turpentine, it's a hazardous substance that can irritate the skin, burn the eyes, and harm the lungs, kidneys, and nervous system. Instead, consider using a product specifically formulated to remove sap that poses only a minimal risk to the user. You can also find recipes online to make your own sticky-substance remover.

Q. Do I need to disinfect my trowel?

A. Yes. Disinfecting prevents the spread of diseases. Use 70% isopropyl alcohol to wipe down the tool after each use. For more thorough cleaning, use one part liquid bleach with nine parts water. Be careful if you choose to use bleach because it's highly corrosive and can irritate skin, nasal passages, and lungs. Work outside and wear a protective mask and chemical-resistant gloves when handling bleach.

Q. How do I store a garden trowel?

A. Nearly every one of these tools has a hole in the handle. The best way to store it is to hang it from that hole in a cool, dry location that’s protected from the elements. Before storing your trowel, however, make sure it’s thoroughly clean and dry so the materials won’t rust or deteriorate.

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