7 Uses That Shovels Have in Gardening

You’ll need a shovel for your gardening activities–whether you keep a small backyard plot or have a large piece of land for your plants. Shovels are handy yet essential tools with numerous uses suitable for multiple activities–even in non-gardening projects like construction and general maintenance. However, how much benefit can you get from a shovel if you use it in gardening?

In gardening, shovels can be used for:

  1. Breaking and tilling the soil
  2. Scooping materials like mulch and compost
  3. Cutting grass, roots, and weeds
  4. Creating and maintaining edges during landscaping
  5. Digging holes and trenches for plants and plant beds
  6. Planting and transplanting
  7. Making holes for fence posts

This list is by no means exhaustive, but it does cover the primary ways you could use shovels when you’re performing most gardening activities. In this article, I’ll dive into these uses and highlight the best kind of shovels to complete each job correctly. Let’s get started! 

1. Breaking and Tilling the Soil

Shovels are more or less the workhorse of garden tools, and they shine when it comes to breaking, tilling, and turning the soil. These activities are necessary if you prepare the ground for new growth, remove easy weeds, or add manure to the earth.

You might use a shovel to break and till the soil when mulching, applying compost, or harvesting. You can also use a shovel to break the soil to encourage plant roots to reach further underground and grow healthier shoots.

Regardless of your reason for breaking and tilling the soil, it’s impossible to doubt the practicality of shovels. Shovels work just as well as tools like hoes and pick axes while offering more versatility and somewhat better grip than them–especially if you’re an amateur gardener.

For example, you’ll get better use out of a shovel when applying manure to your soil. You’ll be able to break, till, and turn the soil with the same tool you use for moving and spreading manure.

Still, it’s not uncommon for some gardeners to not enjoy using shovels to break and till the soil.

And while most shovels will work when breaking and tilling your garden soil, I recommend using a trench shovel for best results. Be sure to get a high-quality product that enables you to break and till the soil as efficiently as possible.

2. Scooping Materials Like Mulch and Compost

You can also use a shovel to scoop and move materials in the garden. These materials include mulch and compost, but the tool will also work for soil and fallen leaves. In fact, scooping materials is what comes to mind when most people think of shovels.

You can use shovels to move materials from one place to another or with the help of a wheelbarrow.

But not just any shovel will work when scooping materials. You’ll need a square-point shovel or a scoop shovel to complete the task. These shovels have broad, flat blades that move anything, including hay and compost piles.

You can also use these shovels to move finer materials like sand and snow.

3. Cutting Grass, Roots, and Weeds

I know this sounds a little unconventional, but you can use a shovel to cut grass, remove roots and eliminate weeds in your garden. In fact, they’re sometimes more practical alternatives than specialized tools like lawnmowers.

Shovels have blades that can break into the earth with relative effort, and they can make the backbreaking work of weeding more efficient. All you need to do is dig into the soil and remove the weeds just like you would when digging a hole.

They’re also excellent tools for weeding because you can use them to remove plant roots and shoots simultaneously, ensuring your weeding activities are more effective.

I’ve found that weeding with a shovel is easier just after a good rain. The ground is usually easier to manage at that time, and I can remove the grass, roots, or weeds with little effort.

As always, almost any shovel will do when using the tools in this manner. However, I’d recommend you go for a scraper if you want a handy shovel to control the roots and weeds in your garden. 

Scraper shovels usually have serrated edges for convenience, and you use them like you would use a machete or hoe–with less effort, of course.

4. Creating and Maintaining Edges During Landscaping

Another use for shovels in gardening is creating and maintaining edges during landscaping. Most people keep gardens for the joy of tending to life, cheap food, and great aesthetics. However, landscaping is a significant part of gardening, even if you aren’t gardening for aesthetics.

Landscaping ensures your garden looks excellent, but it’s also a handy practice to ensure your garden stays clean, and your plants flourish. Landscaping doesn’t always have to be overly dramatic, and your garden and plants will thank you for small practices like trimming, pruning, and edging.

Edges are perfect for dividing your garden into sections, highlighting your property line while ensuring your space looks nice and pretty. It’s also a great practice to control weeds and plant overgrowth.

Here’s how you can use shovels to create edges in your garden:

  1. Mark where you want the edge to be using spray paint, sticks, or even rope.
  2. Use a shovel to dig 3 to 5 inches (7.62 to 12.7 cm) along the marked edges.
  3. Create an angled trench by loosening the soil with your shovel.
  4. Add some mulch to the trench.

You can also install a barrier along the edges to define your garden or protect your plants from pests.  

5. Digging Holes and Trenches for Plants and Plant Beds

You can also use shovels to dig holes and trenches for plants and plant beds in your garden. These holes can also serve as aqueducts or foundations for fountains and other decorative fixtures.

Shovels are primarily digging tools, so they’re the best tools to create different types of holes in your garden.

They’re great for making small holes for seeds and work for digging trenches for plant beds. However, you might need some skills when using shovels this way. Most people confuse digging for tilling, and you might end up defacing your garden or hurting your plants if you’re not careful.

Your best bet is to use a round-point spade to ensure you dig as efficiently as possible. I recommend using a smaller shovel or trowel if you plan on digging smaller holes for seeds or seedlings.

You can experiment with different shovels when digging holes in your garden if you’re unsure which tool works best.

6. Planting and Transplanting

Shovels are multifunctional and fantastic digging, cutting, and levering tools. So it’s no surprise they’re a staple in most gardens–whether a small backyard garden or a large orchard.

They’re instrumental to gardening, and you can use them to plant seeds as well as transplant young seedlings.

Of course, you’ll need a smaller shovel when transplanting seedlings, preferably a trowel, but standard-sized shovels can help to loosen up the soil around the young plant.

Transplanting isn’t as straightforward as it seems–even if you’re not using a shovel. You need to be as careful as possible when transplanting.

Ensure you move the plants appropriately, but refrain from relocating them too early, as the process could seriously hurt them.

You can also use shovels to dig moats around larger plants before transplanting. Just ensure you stick to the best transplanting practices of whatever plant you’re working with for great results.

There are also specifically designed shovels for planting. These tools help prepare the soil for new seeds and shrubs and are similar to trench shovels which are perfect for breaking and tilling the soil.

Planting shovels have long, thin blades with sharp tips to break the soil easily. However, they come in slightly different variations for distinct soil types and specific needs.

For example, long-shaft planting shovels are perfect for flat landscapes, and their shorter variants work best on angled surfaces. 

A standard garden shovel can also be practical for planting and transplanting in your garden.

7. Making Holes for Fence Posts

Finally, shovels can also create holes for fence posts in the garden. The best kind of shovels for this task depends on the fence material, the depth of the hole, and the landscape you’re working on in your garden.

A shovel will help you do everything from breaking the soil to digging and moving materials and covering the installed post.

Final Thoughts

Shovels are handy tools in gardening, and you can use them for almost every task–from weeding to planting and, of course, digging. In this article, I highlighted seven of the most common uses for shovels in gardening, as well as the best types of shovels to get the job done.

However, even your regular garden shovel will work if you need to carry out any of the tasks in this article. Remember to be as careful as possible when working with garden tools and wear protective equipment when necessary.

Dr. Moritz Picot

Dr. Moritz Picot is a horticulture enthusiast and the founder of TheGrowingLeaf.com, where he serves as the lead content writer. He established the website in 2022 as a valuable resource for both gardening aficionados and beginners, compiling all the gardening tips he has accumulated over the past 25 years. Alex has a passion for nurturing plants, transforming backyards into inviting spaces, and sharing his knowledge with the world.

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