Get a Good Digging Fork for Growing Flowers
I don’t know how anyone can garden without a good digging fork.
A digging fork is a garden fork. It’s also called a spading fork. In the US, most gardeners don’t have one. Or they have one that isn’t nice to use.
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Looking for a good fork in the regular places usually turns up inexpensive or overpriced tools that are not really up for the variety of jobs a gardener can use it for.
Because a really good digging fork is like a pair of walking shoes that fit like glove. Shoes that you never notice are on. You just walk with no discomfort. No slipping and sliding. You go comfortably and effortlessly.
Don’t have a good digging fork? First let me show you how essential this tool is. Then I’ll point you to the best ones.
What do you do with a digging fork?
I don’t use a tiller. I use a fork.
I’m not a gardener that “turns the soil.” I firmly believe in and follow no-till or low-till practices. These practices maintain and feed soil organisms that do all the work of generating and transferring nutrients to the roots. And the roots actually direct the soil microbes. (It’s truly a beautiful thing.) Here’s a fuller description and one here.
But even when I was a double digger, I used my fork to double dig every single bed.
To begin a new garden, which I’ve done three times over the course of the past three years (and I have many new beds to start this year), we certainly need a clean slate to start with.
We may need to loosen up sod, remove grass, weeds, shrubs, and such. And we may need to loosen soil to level an area.
Working with a shovel is fine. But when the soil is compacted or filled with plants needing removal, digging in can be tough and laborious.
That’s where a digging fork comes in.
Mine has sharp tines on a head that’s wide enough to let me put my foot onto it and use my weight to sink the tines deep enough to wiggle the soil to loosen it. This makes pulling the weeds and plants easy.
To start a new bed, using my digging fork gets the soil ready and allows the amendments in.
Use a digging fork to start a new bed
Once the ground is clear, the soil should be loosened. I spread my compost and other amendments on top of the bare soil. When the soil is not too wet or too dry I start at the middle of the bed, where I can reach easily, and methodically sink the fork in to the full depth of the fork’s head, and wiggle it back and forth a bit. I look to see that some of the amendments are falling into the holes created, but not all of them need to. This gets some organic matter down into the soil. The rest stays on top to be taken in by earthworms and other soil habitants.
I repeat working from center to the edge of the bed then down from one end to the other. Then back up again for the other side.
Once the soil has been lightly loosened, the bed gets raked out smoothly for planting.
For preparing larger holes for larger container plants
Use a digging fork to pierce tight soil and wiggle it into the soil to loosen it so that a shovel can then be used. This pre-loosening can be a great help when digging large holes.
When you have a hole all dug, you may want to score or stab the soil around the sides to help new roots dig into the surrounding soil. I do this with every plant I plant into native soils.
Digging forks help with lifting roots out
Your fork will help you lift bulbs, tubers, and vegetables like potatoes gently from the soil. It even makes harvesting carrots easier.
If you want to divide bulbs, rhizomes like irises, and even if you’re dividing spreading perennials, like bee balm, a fork is a good way to get at the roots gently.
Your fork will help you with transplanting, too, if the soil around a plant is a bit compacted. This can allow the shovel easier access to the roots that need to be cut.
Removing tenacious, pesky roots
Use the fork to remove tenacious weedy grass like Bermuda grass (with those long-running, deep stolons) to prepare for a new space for a garden. And for loosening up the soil to get at wild, invasive blackberry roots.
What NOT to do with a good digging fork
- It’s not for prying rocks out of the ground. The handle could break. Like my husband’s. I got him a fork like mine, only longer because he’s tall. Right away he went to dig some rocks out of a hole he was digging—for a building project, not gardening. That fork, one of the very best made, snapped its handle.
- Some forks, as you’ll see, below, promise higher strength. But still, your fork is meant for gardening. Always err on the side of caution.
- Don’t try to dig in soils that are too dry for digging. Wait until soaking rain comes to soften it deeply. Otherwise you’ll damage the soil structure for a long time. And if it’s too wet, the same, wait till its moist but no water comes out when you squeeze a ball of it.
The best digging forks
There are a few qualities I feel that are essential for a good gardening fork.
- Square tines that taper to a point. Mine probably weren’t as sharp as they are now, I think they sharpened over years of use. But the square tines with a point pierce the soil very well, which is really the whole point of using the fork. And be careful with them. They’re sharp! (Yes, I’ve had one accident, not too serious, could’ve been much worse.)
- Enough space at the head of the tines to place your foot so you can put your body into pushing it into the soil. This saves your arms and energy!
- You want the tine head to be at least 7 in. wide, enough space to fit your foot on.
Forks are often referred to as pitchforks and promoted as manure or compost spreaders. The fork can be used for these things, if the material is right. But they just aren’t built like pitchforks. Pitchforks have thinner, longer tines and are more curved for better scooping.
It’s a digging fork you’re looking for garden soil work.
And realize that most forks have a slight curve.
Here are my suggestions:
For reference, my fork has these dimensions:
Overall length: 36 ¼ in.
Total handle length: 28 ¼ in.
Tine length: 8 ¼ in.
Tine head width at top: 7 ¾ in.
Tine head at bottom: 8 in.
The tine head top is where your foot needs to go so your whole body works the fork, not just your arms… which is hard and tiring!
I am 5’ 7” tall, and the fit is perfect.
Digging forks are bigger than the forks sold as border forks. The advantage of having the digging fork for everything you want to do with it is the larger head for your foot to use. So I recommend a passing on border forks. Stich with regular digging forks.
My digging fork is a Bulldog and I recommend it the most!
1. Bulldog Digging Forks: I got mine long ago from Smith & Hawken when they were starting out. I had no idea how useful a good fork would be, but I loved it from the beginning. I took good care of it by never, ever leaving it outdoors overnight (no dew, rain, freezing). And it’s still my most important tool.
They’re an English company that’s been making gardening tools for tools since 1780. They have a lifetime guarantee, but when you break a handle, you need to ship the thing back to the UK. They use the strongest ash wood and are the strongest forks available. (In my opinion.) (But don’t abuse them.)
For the US:
I’ve found two sources:
1. Bulldog Tools USA : Only the longer handled one, 32” handle has been available for a while. The overall length is 43”. This is good for taller people (it’s the one I got for my husband) Price is $65 plus shipping.
For a stainless steel version of the same, it’s the Pedigree version, with the 32” handle, 43” overall length, very pretty, smooth finish for sliding into soil, for $65.
2. Red Pig Tools: Based in Oregon, this business forges and makes its own tools. They also carry the Bulldog digging fork in the 28 in. handle length making the overall length of the fork 39 in. They sell it for $105 plus shipping.
This is the tool I have. The tines sharpened over the years and the green wore off making it slide into the toughest soils (if the moisture is right).
Red Pig Tools has other beautiful tools and they take custom orders… so you could have your own essential digging fork tailored to your specific needs. I’m sure it’s pricey, but so worth it!
For the UK:
The Bulldog website in the UK doesn’t sell tools from their site but they list the stores in the UK that carry them. Here are two of them:
- Expert Garden Tools: They have the premier series of forks with both the 28 in. handle length and the 32” length, but not the really nice stainless steel one.
- Hutchings Timber: They have the Bulldog Digging Fork with a 28” handle and a tine head 7.5” wide and with an ergonomic handle. (I’ve never had any hand strain from the handle, probably because I use my foot and whole body weight.)
I think the Pedigree Stainless Steel Digging Forks from Bulldog are best. Look for those. They have good sharp tines for piercing compacted soil and a smooth surface to slide into soil easily, even tight, clay soil.
2. Spear & Jackson: The next digging fork I’d recommend is the Spear & Jackson. This is another very old company that has makes good English garden tools. They’ve been making their tools since 1760.
They have a few forks to choose from. My suggestion would be the Kew Gardens Collection Neverbend Digging Fork, with smooth stainless steel, a tine head 11 in. deep by 7” wide, overall height 41 in., and square, sharpened tines.
For the UK: On their website there’s a store locator for each item, referring you to locations in the UK.
The Spear & Jackson Neverbend Carbon Steel Digging Fork features some extra strength and the tine head is about 8 in. wide, but the tines are not as sharp. One reviewer on Amazon stated he ground the tine ends to be sharp himself and that worked well. It’s available on Amazon for $61.48 for the 39 in. fork.*
And there’s the Spear & Jackson Neverbend Professional Digging Fork*, 39 in. long for $46.87.
The Neverbend series may be good for people who will do what I advise not to do. I’ve been a professional gardener and landscaper and I have always used my original digging fork. With never a problem. When it came to prying out rocks I’d use my much cheaper shovel and/or a pickaxe to save my digging fork.
3. Berry & Bird: This is a Chinese company with a warehouse in California. Their tools look good on their site and the reviews on Amazon are quite good.
I have no experience with them but their fork has desirable qualities.
The 43.9 in. long stainless steel Heavy Duty Spading Fork has a tine head bottom width of 7.2 in. and goes for $69.99 on Amazon* or you can get this fork on the Bird & Bird website for $74.99, plus shipping.
When using your new digging fork just keep in mind that the handle is the part that breaks most often. So use caution and take my advice to not use the fork to pry too much. Use a more appropriate tool.
On cheaper tools the tines or shaft may break. Get a tool with a good guarantee, but also, treat it with respect.
If you don’t have a digging fork that’s pleasant to use and works well for you, PLEASE get a good one. You’ll thank me!
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