I became enamored with the claw by watching my brother at work in his Oklahoma vegetable garden, and it was one of the first gardening tools that I purchased. I have found it to be extremely versatile and easy to use. It is great for those spots in your beds that need cultivation but are too tight to use a tiller in.

In looks, it resembles a four-point walking cane with two handle grips. It is designed to allow you to thrust the four sharp tines into the ground and, with both hands on the handles, twist clockwise as though you were screwing the lid onto a jar. The twisting action moves the tines through the soil, breaking it up with relative ease.

I use it to cultivate small planting areas, remove grass or weeds from the beds, or by thrusting the tines into the ground and jiggling the handles just a little, I can loosen soil that has been compacted by too much foot traffic.

When I have finished working, it’s quick and easy to put away for another day’s work.

Loraine Reazin, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


Spring has arrived. You can smell it and feel it. Your garden is planned, and soon you will be digging, planting, and seeding. It is a grand new beginning. This time you are determined to do everything right, and it will be just what you dreamed of.

Along with your vision will surely come those noxious, terrible, pesky weeds. My favorite way to eradicate them is with my trusty Japanese hand hoe. This is a marvelous device-so simple, so lethal, and so aesthetically pleasing. A wooden handle the color of honey is attached to a slim black metal rod 18 inches from end to end. The rod has a narrow triangular 12 x 5 x 9 inch blade and is connected between the short sides at the tip of the triangle. Only the long edge of the blade is sharp. Its use is so easy on your wrists and arm. To use the Japanese hoe, you only have to pretend to “shake hands” with the handle, position the sharp blade behind the weeds, and gently scrape the hoe in the earth and pull towards you. The ever-so sharp blade slices the weeds and gathers them into a neat, compact clean-up pile ready for your bucket. The Japanese hand hoe comes in both right- and left-handed versions, too. It makes the necessary weeding chores of gardening almost a Zen !

When you are looking at the glamorous garden catalogues or when you are cruising the nursery stores, be on the lookout for this tool. I’ll bet that if you use it, it will be one of your favorite garden tools too.

Toni Gilberts, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


My favorite small, handheld gardening tool is the cultivator. This three-pronged tool makes it easy to plant, weed, and cultivate in your garden especially in small areas.

I’ve noticed when I dig with a trowel it produces a hole that has hard or compacted sides. Digging with a cultivator leaves the soil area loose. The loose soil makes it easier for newly transplanted plants to establish new roots. Weeds can be gently removed with little impact to the area around them. Using the cultivator to break up encrusted soil surfaces will add oxygen to plants.

When it is time for work in my garden, I always have my cultivator handy for putting in new plants, transplanting, weeding and working the soil around “existing plants.” It is my favorite!

Remember: Keeping your tools clean will insure many years of service and keep your plants healthy, too.

Pat High, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


Digging a new bed? Cleaning out an old one? There is a tool that will help break up that East Texas clay and take care of smaller roots around established trees. It is a tool that is a combination pick and hoe. It is called a mattock. A mattock has a wide, flat blade on one end of a head that is ideal for chopping roots, clearing debris, edging, and other landscape work. The other side is a pick, which is perfect for hard-packed soil. It is safer than using an ax and quicker than using separate tools. It is a great multi-tasking tool!

Jan Moch, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


Quality garden tools represent a substantial investment by gardeners. The initial cost for quality tools may be high, but they will pay for themselves in terms of reliability and durability over time. In selecting garden tools, look for the following:

  • Tools made of a heavy gauge metal
  • Blades that have smooth, sharp edges and are free of nicks
  • Blade extensions that completely encase the tool’s handles
  • Handles made from hickory, ash, or high-strength fiberglass
  • Tools with size and weight suited to your height, strength, hand size and arm

When selecting garden tools, consider not only their utility, longevity and durability, but also their size and comfort as you use them.

Gil Scott, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


Have you spent hours and sometimes even days preparing your garden beds? Shovel after shovel, turning the soil, adding organic material, shoveling again, raking down, then nursing a tired back? I did this for years until I decided I was not going to be afraid of using a tiller. Now it is one of my favorite tools.

When my husband and I moved into a new home two years ago, I quickly realized that the yard had a base of red clay. Of course, the previous owner had put in the requisite row of shrubs around the foundation, and they looked like weary soldiers. That was not for me! I wanted big curving beds, lush beds full of color, true shrub and flower beds! But after a few weekends of digging through the builder’s foundation sand only to find red clay, I thought my goals might be a bit too much. That’s when I saw an advertisement about small tillers. It looked easy and not so scary. Now I think it’s the only way to go!

I bought a small tiller that weighs about 20 pounds. It is easy to start and easy to handle. I busted right through the clay and roots with no problem. The first pass broke up the soil. I shoveled in lots or organic material on top of that and ran the tiller through a few more times. A little raking, and I was ready to go!

Really, what you can do with a tiller in one day would normally take you several weekends doing it the old way. It breaks up compacted soil and works in organic matter, increasing oxygen as it goes. I use it in raised vegetable beds and in my flower beds as well. It’s small enough to work the soil just where you want it, leaving shrubs undisturbed but preparing the ground for annuals or new plantings. It will also dig holes up to about a foot deep.

I received my tiller as a gift from my husband (he was probably tired of my asking for help), but you can also rent one at a local rental store. Don’t be afraid to try a tiller; good things come in small packages. You will wonder what took you so long.

Jana Bowman, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Posted in Tools and Equipment