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Mon, Aug. 19

Gardeners, let’s praise the hoe

This photo shows garden hoes. The winged weeder, right, and the wire hoe are two of a few styles that are a pleasure to use as their sharp edges run along just beneath the surface of the ground. (Lee Reich via AP)

This photo shows garden hoes. The winged weeder, right, and the wire hoe are two of a few styles that are a pleasure to use as their sharp edges run along just beneath the surface of the ground. (Lee Reich via AP)

Hopefully, I’ve caught you in time, before your weeds have grown lusty. I want you to consider the much maligned hoe.

Wait! Don’t stop reading. I know hoeing is the activity that (perhaps because they had to do it when they were young) makes too many adults give up gardening altogether. Hoeing was undoubtedly in Charles Dudley Warner’s mind when he wrote, over a hundred years ago in “My Summer in the Garden,” that what a gardener needs is “a cast-iron back with a hinge in it.”

The bad rap that hoeing has among many people comes from using the wrong hoe, the wrong way, at the wrong time. In fact, hoeing can be a pleasant activity that does a better job of weed control than a tiller.

FOR CONCRETE

The garden hoe that most people have hanging in their garages, and generally do not use, has a heavy rectangular blade that is roughly 6 inches square and is mounted roughly perpendicularly to the handle. I also own one of these, but I do use mine — only for mixing concrete, a job for which this hoe is ideally suited.

BETTER HOES

To keep the garden weeded and the soil surface loose enough to let rainwater seep in, you want a more delicate hoe. These would have small, sharp blades that are parallel to the soil surface when you grip the handle in a comfortable, upright stance. They are relative newcomers to the garden scene, and include the scuffle hoe, colinear hoe, diamond hoe and the winged weeder. None of these requires a chopping motion or a cast-iron, hinged back.

Newer on the scene is the “wire weeder.” This one works best in loose soil that has been weeded by hand or hoed regularly. Under these conditions, the wire weeder is a joy to use.

USE THEM CORRECTLY

Using hoes is so easy because you’re not moving a lot of soil. You’re cutting a slice just below the surface, and doing so with a sharp blade or a wire.

Not disrupting the soil also has future benefits. It leaves the roots of nearby garden plants unscathed.

Timing is important. You must hoe before weeds grow too lusty.

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