Garden Myths - Learn the truth about gardening

Hand Garden Cultivator

This garden tool is designed for weeding and loosening the surface of your soil. You see them everywhere and I always wondered why people buy them??? I’ve never found any use for them.

Hand garden cultivator

Hand garden cultivator

Hand Garden Cultivator

Since the handle of the hand garden cultivator is very short, you have to get down on your hands and knees to use it. If your garden bed is any wider than about 3 feet, you will have to crawl into the bed to use it. So now your knees are trampling your flowers to say nothing about your aching back!

What is it used for? I think you might use it to remove weeds and cultivate the soil. Let’s look at these.

Removing weeds

The tines on the hand garden cultivator are skinny and cylindrical. They are not designed to catch and pull on weeds. They just pass by weeds. The only way to weed with this tool is to loosen the soil and then pull out the weed by hand. We all know that loosening the soil brings weed seeds to the surface creating an even bigger weed problem. This tool is just not effective for weed control.

Soil cultivation

A very common myth is that you need to loosen the surface of your soil ie cultivate it. Rain drops will compact your soil and form a hard surface. This is the crusty surface you get over time. It is true that water does not soak into this crust as well as on cultivated soil, but cultivated soil soon forms a new crust. It is a never ending chore to keep the crust off the soil – if you do it manually.

Cultivating the soil increases the number of weeds, as discussed above. Since weeds are both esthetically undesirable, and they rob nutrients from you plants, you don’t want more weeds. Cultivation of your soil is NOT a good practice. Add a mulch instead; it will keep weeds from sprouting and keep the crust from forming.


This tool might work for scraping soil off the bottom of your boots and it could also be used to scratch a mosquito bite in a hard to reach place. Other than that it is a useless tool for gardening. Even the long handled version is not very useful since you should not be cultivating your soil.


1) Photo Source: Frank

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Robert Pavlis
Editor of
I live in southern Ontario, Canada, zone 5 and have been gardening a long time. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

I hope you find Garden Myths an educational site that helps you understand your garden better.

11 Responses to 'Hand Garden Cultivator'

  1. Ray says:

    I use this tool to remove excess soil at the base of a tree. It allows roots growing away from the tree to pass through, and helps me find girdling roots that need cutting, all while exposing the root flare so often covered up in containers, or in overmulched landscapes.

  2. rick padgett says:

    Good broad range of information.Nice job.

  3. rick padgett says:

    I have found the indestructible small hand tool for the garden.You can pass it down to your children.This is a 12/ 14 ” crowbar.Yes, like for pulling nailswith.They are about 3″ wide with a right angle at one end, like a little hoe.Other end somewhat flat, not sharp and will slide under any weed to cut it off.Absolutely perfect for close weeding, solid steel.At Lows, Home Depot & other.
    If you need more details let me know.

  4. Jude says:

    I have one with three tines that I use for hand-weeding. Yes, I’m on my knees (and knee pads), but sometimes it’s the easiest way to see what’s going on, particularly in among established planting. When I was a trainee gardener, I learned so much by hand-weeding up close that was not taught in college. (I don’t do so much now: I don’t have a problem getting down to it, but getting up again is a lot harder than it used to be!)

    However, my tool has three tines bent into right angles, not five curves as in the picture, and is easy to hook under roots to lift a weed. It’s great for shifting creeping buttercup, for example.

    I have to agree that the one in the picture looks badly designed.

  5. Julie says:

    I use my long handle cultivator to move around and aerate the organic matter in my compost pile.

  6. janet says:

    I have a cheap version of the cultivator that is in your photo. The plastic tines work very well at moving the layer of mulch away from a planting hole that I am about to dig. If I move the shredded wood mulch out of the way first, it is more easy to dig the soil with a shovel. I also like this tool for gently moving mulch from away from the trunks of my trees that are planted too deeply. Thanks for the great information. The fact that you take rebuttal commends adds to your credibility.

    • I just use the shovel to move the mulch away, and then dig – without bending over 🙂

      • janet says:

        Sometimes the shape of the blade of the shovel that I am using to dig is rounded and does not move the mulch away as effectively as this little tool. Yes, I know it involves the extra trip time to get the silly thing. But if I have multiple holes that I am digging, or if I am clearing a neat little patch for planting annual flowers, it can make the overall task a bit easier. I am bending anyway to plant all these little plants. Anyway, the tool is not totally useless for me. I think I paid about a dollar for it.

  7. scollins43 says:

    I have a finger weeder and I use it every day I am in the garden. Yes, I do get on my knees, but I have knee pads that slip into my gardening pants. I get a lot of satisfaction getting so close to the soil and the plants.

  8. Inger says:

    I think it would be useful for containers and for weeding when you need to loosening the soil to pull out the weed