Garden Tools

Choosing the Best Shovel for Your Gardening Needs

There's more than one best shovel. Let's dig in and find out which one is the best for you.

A shovel is a shovel is a shovel. Unless we’re talking about the best shovel. Then there are all sorts of shovels. Short-handled, long-handled, rounded, round-point, square-point, serrated, trenching shovels, ditching shovels, digging spade, garden spade, perennial spade, and scoops. They’re made from steel, stainless steel, aluminum, carbon fiber, and plastic. They range in price from under $10 to over $100.

In terms of a one-size fits all shovel, I really like a spearhead spade like this one.

Though, it’s mostly limited to certain gardening tasks, so if I was picking just one shovel, this isn’t it—it’s simply not big enough. Try moving dirt with this thing!

Clearly, I’ve taken on an impossible task in writing about choosing the best shovel for whatever garden tasks you may have planned. Sure, if money were no object, I could go out and buy a specialized shovel for each garden task. And maybe if I was a garden guru, like the gardening version of Bob Vila, I might have an entire supply of shovels and other cool gardening tools.

My aesthetic is more along the lines of getting as much as I can out of as few tools as possible. I mean, sure, I do love garden tools, but I also have to be realistic. Anyway … on to the shovels.

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Picking the best shovel to help you create the garden of your dreams

Alright, let’s break down all these different shovels. Ultimately, we’re pretty much just trying to dig a hole or maybe move some dirt. How complicated can that be? So take all those specialty shovels off the list. In almost every case, there’s a general-purpose tool that will do the same job. I know. I love the serrated-edge shovel, too. And while it may be the best shovel for dealing with thick root systems, a few good jabs with a regular shovel will usually do the trick.  But if you do want a serrated-edge shovel, this is a great one.

While we’re at it, take out the short-handled shovels, too. Long-handled shovels are easier on your back. And if you’re getting into that close-up digging, switch to a hand-held spade or something similar. See! We’ve already cut that big list down to a workable size! But, you know, if you’d like a short shovel, I like this one, and so does my preschooler!

Of course, that was the easy part. Now we get into things like materials, price, quality, and so on. Some of it also has to do with preference. The more steel or wood a shovel has, the more it will weigh. There are a few things that make shovels very different, however.

Blade shape

There are two common types of blades on shovels: round (or round point) and flat (or square point). Round-blade shovels are referred to as digging shovels, while square-point shovels are called transfer shovels. Why? The rounded blade makes it a little easier to get that digging shovel into the dirt. And the flat, broad surface of the square-point shovel makes it easier to hold more dirt so you can “transfer” it elsewhere.

Here is an example of a good round digging shovel.

And here is an example of a good flat transfer shovel.

Blade material

Almost all your shovel blades will be made of steel. The best shovel blades are forged from a single piece of steel and hammered into shape. Of course, you’ll pay extra for that, but between you and me, when the zombie apocalypse comes, I want a shovel that I can use to dig with and to fight off zombies. 

Handle material

Steel, wood, or fiberglass are your options here. Fiberglass is growing in popularity because it’s lighter and is supposed to last longer. Wood is the more traditional handle material, although it is possible for it to splinter under heavy use. Steel handles aren’t as common, but you can find them. These could probably last forever, but they can get heavy. However, they won’t splinter like wood, and they don’t have the flex of fiberglass. (So now I’m thinking all-steel for the zombie fight.)

Your garden tasks

Always the best tool, or in the case the best shovel, for any job is one that’s suited to the job. And, also, we don’t want to buy a billion tools. Still, if you can think about what you need to do with your shovel (digging? mostly moving dirt?), you can narrow down your options a bit more.

Which shovel is the winner?

So which is the best shovel? If I had to pick one, I’d go with a traditional round digging shovel with a steel handle. If the purpose is for digging and not moving around dirt or mulch, you’ll get more out of it. Here are a few good options. 

This Hooyman is a highly rated gardening shovel, and is listed at the top of many gardening lists for a few reasons: It’s made of high-carbon steel, has amazing grips, and the shovel is even slightly serrated.

Another top shovel is this Fiskars shovel, which I bought because I’d been told so many times that it’s the best shovel folks had ever used. Having broken more than one shovel in my life, particularly the handle, I was intrigued. This is my second favorite shovel next to the Hooyman above, and the one I’d get if you prefer a handle.

After all, as long as you take care of your equipment, these garden tools will last pretty much forever. And by the time you buy four or five cheaper shovels over a couple of years, you’re already spending as much as you would on a well-made shovel. And these aren’t that expensive!

In truth, though, I think it’s entirely reasonable to have one good digging shovel and one good transfer shovel. For a transfer shovel, I’d get the Fiskars Ergo-D Transfer Shovel. It’s strong with a welded boron steel blade and steel shaft that provides durability that far outlasts wood-handled tools and won’t flex like fiberglass. Fiskars also come with a life-time warranty. Any good shovel does!

And despite what I said earlier, I’m not opposed to a few specialty garden tools if the need is truly there. But if you want to save some money, try using one of your all-purpose shovels for the job first. You may find that forged steel, round-point, steel-handled shovel is all you need for most garden tasks. And for fending off zombies.

Do you have a favorite shovel? I’d love to read about it in the comments. 


Discover 7 top tips for growing, harvesting, and enjoying tomatoes from your home garden—when you access the FREE guide The Best Way to Grow Tomatoes, right now!

By Amanda MacArthur

Amanda MacArthur is Senior Editor & Producer for Food Gardening Network and GreenPrints. She is responsible for generating all daily content and managing distribution across web, email, and social. In her producer role, she plans, edits, and deploys all video content for guides, magazine issues, and daily tips. As a best-selling cookbook author, Amanda cooks using ingredients from her outdoor gardens in the summer and from her indoor hydroponic garden in the winter.

6 replies on “Choosing the Best Shovel for Your Gardening Needs”

Shovels I find most useful in my very small garden are (1) with a narrow long blade for digging holes and (2) a small rounded blade for general digging. I don’t use shovels often, preferring to dig holes to receive transplants with a 4-inch auger powered by an electric drill and a forked spade, hoe, and rake to prepare soil for seed sowing.

Don’t forget to take ergonomics into the equation. Shovels have an angle between the head and the handle. It called the cant. The ones with more angle are better suited for moving material. The straighter shovels are better for digging holes. Sure, you can dig a hole and move material with either but if you are doing a lot of either, ergonomics plays a big role in how much Tylenol you need that evening.

I have a tree-planting shovel that I love. The blade is 16″ long and 6″ wide. The back of the blade is reinforced with an wedge of welded steel. The foot steps are 3″ x 1+1/2″ rubber pads bolted to the blade. The handle is steel, 46″ with a D-handle. I planted hundreds of trees and shrubs with this tool. It is great for digging out stumps, roots and prying rocks, cement culverts and pavers out from under 6 inches of soil. Never bends or breaks. It’s kind of a hybrid between a shovel and an axe! Professionally it’s used by inmates to plant forest seedlings in the Olympic mountains.

Hi Jim. I read your post on Food Gardening Network about your “tree-planting” shovel. Can you tell me where you bought it and for approximately how much?
We have banana stumps that need to be removed.
Thank you in advance.
Elaine T.

I prefer the rounded shovel for 90% of tasks around the home. Usually digging a hole for some reason or other: fence post, mail box post, trenching, loosening soil, burying bodies is more common than transferring material. A sharp tipped round shovel will cut through most roots, a file can sharpen it, if needed. I also have a snow shovel – required- in New England and a flat or square shovel for moving dirt.

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