Hand Garden Cultivator

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Robert Pavlis

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.

Building Natural Ponds book, by Robert Pavlis

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

I have been gardening my whole life and have a science background. 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!

20 thoughts on “Hand Garden Cultivator”

  1. I think the best use of it is in vermicomposting for burying trash so the flies won’t get to it, but reducing the chance of severing any worms that are close to the surface.

  2. Yeah, I think this is much more useful for small spaces like containers.
    I often use my gloved hands rather than a trowel, due to physical issues – often enough a three-prong cultivator is the better tool for the job. Mixing soil comes to mind. …Could’ve avoided filling my gloves up with soil yesterday… I really need to get organized…

  3. I agree that more mulch is the smarter way to reduce weeding, especially in ornamental gardens. For vegetable gardens, I tend to prefer a thinner layer of organic matter on the top, using a well rotted manure or compost 1″ thick or less. I’ll cultivate more in the veggie garden, while in my client’s landscapes I’ll lean towards heavy mulching.

    I have a long handled sturdily built 4 tine cultivator made by Carona that I use in place of a hoola hoe, or stirrup hoe. I maintain beds for clients with large homes, at one particular residents, the designer spaces the plants quite far apart. I do add mulch, but for some months I use that 4 tine cultivator like a giant eraser. I push and pull it like a hoola hoe, but it is less hard on my body. This is while weeds are in the thread stage. At home in my vegetable garden I sometimes want to work on my knees on a soft cushion and use lighter tools. In that case, I’ll use a 3 tine hand cultivator. I’d like to buy a hand cultivator from Dewitt, but I don’t find that rounded curving design to be appealing (the one in your picture).

    The level of organic matter on the surface of my vegetable garden changes due to weathering, but I’m fine with the amount reducing on the surface in cycles because I do direct seed some things now and then. I live in an area with a clay soil, blackland prairie. Having small fragments of compost stirred in the top inch of soil is quite helpful when it comes to direct seeding.

  4. I have a three-pronged fork of this general design. I use it for exposing the root nodes of vinca as I remove it, which is an ongoing project for me since my fence neighbor has it growing all along our shared fence line. It does the best job of any of my hand tools at this.

  5. You’re not supposed to try cutting down 2 foot tall weeds with soil cultivators.

    Your ground does not have infinite numbers of weed seeds in it.

    Taking a soil cultivator out every day weeds for you while preventing the ground from hardening.

    When you have 1mm high weeds or smaller, or maybe even slightly bigger, pulling through the soil and loosening it does what all plants hate, it exposes the roots to bare air and weather. Even if they aren’t pulled out, the soil around the roots have been removed. This kills them.

    Even so, normally a soil cultivator will pull out small weeds and you’ll see them litter the ground, flat and all over.

    These small hand ones are for delicate work around vegetable plants. You can find standing size cultivators with 3 or 4 tines that work on a long handled pole same as a shovel or standing hoe.

    The last thing you want to do is hit the roots of your vegetable plants with them, that is why there is a ground one.

    Water today, cultivate soil tomorrow. Kill weeds an aerate in one fell swoop.

    If you’re taking a fork to large weeds, you’re a fool. If you take a hoe or machete to 1mm high weeds just coming out of the ground, you are also a fool.

    All tools have a use. That you cannot find the use is not an impugnement of the tool.

  6. I don’t use this particular cultivator, I own a three-pronged small one. I love it. I have a small garden, intensively planted, and my little scratcher keeps the soil loosened. The folks that teach gardening say it lets the air in,and Isuppose it does. What it does for me is create a dust mulch, and then allow the rain to enter the soil easily when it rains.


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