Spades, shovels and trowels

Spades, shovels and trowels

What are your favorite garden tools for soil work? I would think the most over-utilized tool in all of gardening would be the spade. This general purpose tool has come to symbolize the gardening spirit all over the world since it can do so many nifty things. You’ll soon find out quickly enough though, that soil work does require more than a simple spade. The heavier duty tools are the shovels, trowels, and hoes.

Since you’ll be doing some reasonably heavy stuff, test the tools before you purchase them. Durability is important, but so are your hands. They should feel right and shouldn’t be too big to handle, or too heavy. These days, the hoes and shovels are usually made of alloys (several types of metals mixed together) so they shouldn’t be as heavy as in the days of your forefathers, whom I would think really toiled on the land handling those tools fit for an ogre!

Shovels and spades are of course used for digging holes and trenches. The spades and trowels can be used for transplanting purposes. They come in the D-handle and straight handle styles.

Basically, the difference between a spade and a shovel is this – Spades are meant for loosening soil and prising it up; shovels are meant for shifting earth from one location to another. Also shovels have goosenecks behind the blade that help to lift the shovel out from the ground after it is embedded. On the other hand, spades have no lifts.

A few kinds of shovels and spades

  • Round-point shovel – This shovel is the most common type and used for digging ditches and scooping up earth. It is available in both the D-handle and straight. Such is its versatility that it features in a few other variants such as the garden shovel and irrigation shovel (for ditches).
round point shovel
Round point shovel
  • Square-point shovel – This is the best suited shovel for shoveling earth and snow. It is handy for leveling small knolls, provided the soil isn’t too compact. As the name suggests, its blade is shaped like a square. The D-handle type shown below is the best, as shoveling earth isn’t really easy on the hands.
square point shovel
Square point shovel
  • Square-end spade – This is useful for prising, and cultivating, breaking up clods and lumps of clay, and also smoothing out the edges of ditches. This spade also comes in the D-handle and the long, straight handle type. It is similar to the square point shovel, just smaller/shorter though.
square end spade
Square end spade
  • Transplanting spade – This spade is useful for herb gardening, and mostly used for transplanting shrubs or other small plants.
transplanting spade
Transplanting spade


Trowels are the smallest versions of spades available. You can use trowels for any kind of work to do with small plants such as bulbs, bonsai, orchids, vegetables, herbs, annuals, and small perennials. They are also handy for weeding tasks – digging out the roots of weeds.

drop shank trowel
Drop shank trowel

The most popular trowels are the drop shank types due to their versatility. Trowels are often referred to as spades by the ignorant; however, spades can be much larger. Try to get a good quality trowel as they often get bent or broken due to frequent usage.


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