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A run of the hoe saves two of the hose! Why and how to hoe

Hoeing, why hoe and how

Often overlooked, hoeing is nonetheless an important maintenance action. Whether in growing beds and along borders in ornamental gardens, or among rows of veggies in the vegetable patch, it’s crucial to maximize growth and water. Discover why it’s crucial to hoe, and how to do it.


According to the dictionary, hoeing is: “A form of maintenance for crops that involves loosening the surface layer of soil, done with a hoe or a toothed tool.” In simple terms, to hoe means to break up the crust that forms on the soil surface to keep it crumbly.

This crust problem often occurs with clay and loamy soils. Particles in this type of soil are so fine, that when heavy rains fall, a beating crust forms. This crust is nearly completely waterproof and must be broken to allow water to re-enter the soil.

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Why hoe?

There are many reasons to hoe. Indeed, breaking the soil crust triggers many benefits:

  • Benefits of hoeingEnhance water penetration into the soil during rain or watering. This prevents runoff that stops water from reaching roots. Gardeners often say that a “one good hoeing is worth two waterings“.
  • Stimulate underground life by increasing air exchanges in the soil.
  • Reduce water evaporation caused by capillarity. Indeed, a continuous surface crust acts a bit like a sponge that sucks water up from lower soil layers.
  • Weed. Yes, by regularly stirring up soil, you prevent germination for unwanted seeds. The tool even helps cut roots off from already established weeds.

How to hoe?

The right tools for hoeing

Tools for hoeingWhile the hoe is the first tool that comes to mind for hoeing a garden or vegetable plot, there are a few alternatives.

The claw, or cultivator

Also known as “old 3 tooth” by gardeners, its points ease soil penetration for a simplified hoeing. Its main drawback is its lower weed control efficiency: roots are not cut and can end up in a dirt clod, which might be enough for their survival.

The spading fork

Its work is more precise for hoeing a bed with borders, for instance. It even allows for soil lifting for a nicer result.

The main flaws of the spading fork are:

  • a lack of ergonomics, especially if the handle is short and there’s not grip at the end;
  • longer prongs make you work the soil down too deeply;
  • it’s harder to work soil at the start of the season on soils compacted by rain.

The garden hoe

More versatile than the first two tools, the garden hoe allows both for cutting weed roots and loosen the soil surface. Despite this, work remains rougher and its use is likely to be reserved for the vegetable patch rather than the entire garden.

The technique for good hoeing

Soil crust breakingYou usually start hoeing in early spring, around March-April, when winter rains start abating. Indeed, it’s easier and better to hoe on almost dry soil, certainly not soaked ground. Hoeing then continues until the end of summer, regularly.

It is not necessary to stir the soil too deeply to hoe. A few inches are enough to be effective.

Finally, for sharp tools such as the hoe or the garden hoe, make sure they are sharpened before using them.

Images: Pixabay: Cornelia Gerhardt, Stan V. Petersen, Maria Betleja, Dean Moriarty
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