A hand cultivator is a small tool—sometimes called a gardening claw or hand rake—ideal for cleaning debris out of and weeding garden beds. But are hand cultivators worth it?
Whether a hand cultivator is worth it depends on your preferences. Some gardeners dislike working on their knees, whereas others prefer it. Their small size makes raking leaves from between fragile plants easier. However, there are no landslide pros or cons to using a hand cultivator.
In this article, I’ll explain what a hand cultivator is and the pros and cons of using one. I’ll explain what to look for in a hand cultivator, and finally, I’ll list popular brands that make great hand cultivator tools. Read on to learn more.
What Is a Hand Cultivator?
So, what is a hand cultivator? What is it used for? Are a hand cultivator and a tiller the same thing?
Hand cultivators are small, handheld rakes, often with wooden or plastic handles. People call them by many names. Some call them claw rakes, gardening claws, grubbers, hand rakes, or stubby rakes. Either way, it’s the same tool.
Hand cultivators are used to break and remove the crust from the soil, remove debris in the autumn and spring, and weed gardens. Their small size means they’re maneuverable in tight spaces.
While hand cultivators are often called digging tools, they’re used to break up clumps of soil and spread it more often than they’re used to dig.
While hand cultivators are sometimes mistaken for tillers—gasoline-powered machines used to break up deeper soil—they aren’t the same thing. You must choose the right tool for your job, so make sure you don’t purchase the wrong one.
The Pros of Using a Hand Cultivator
Some see hand cultivators as a luxury tool. They’re not needed to garden well and don’t excel in any one area, as some other tools do. In fact, some argue they’re not only unnecessary but detrimental to your garden. So, why would you use them?
There are plenty of reasons you may use a hand cultivator, and not all of them have to do with your plants’ health.
They’re Easier To Clean With
In the autumn and spring, a lot of effort goes to cleaning debris and dead leaves out of your garden. Unfortunately, regular lawn rakes have long handles and broad tines, and in a small space, this can make the job more difficult than it needs to be.
Hand cultivators are smaller and much more maneuverable. They can turn a cumbersome chore into a relaxing activity simply because they handle better in close quarters.
They’re Less Likely To Damage Your Plants
In that same vein, hand cultivators are less likely to damage your plants. Using a lawn rake means that you’re not only raking the soil, but you’re raking your plants, too. The rake’s tines can catch on your plants’ stems and leaves, tearing and injuring them.
A hand cultivator can be used to rake only the soil between your plants and thus to remove debris and soil without damaging them.
Using Them Helps You Monitor Your Plants
It’s difficult to address a problem when you don’t know it’s there. Using a hand cultivator regularly brings you eye-to-eye with your plants, making it much more likely you’ll notice signs of insect predation and disease.
Likewise, having your eyes closer to your work means you’re less likely to miss invasive weeds and other problems that can quickly become out of control. It also means you’re more likely to do a better job—even if your back aches afterward.
It Helps You Get Your Hands Dirty
Some gardeners don’t like to get dirty and use arm-length tools to care for their gardens. Others feel being up to your knuckles in the dirt is part of the charm. If you’re in the latter category, using a hand cultivator helps you garden the way you want.
In the end, a large part of gardening is enjoying yourself. It’s not so much about the correct way of doing things but about the best way of doing things for you.
The Cons of Using a Hand Cultivator
So, what about the vocal minority that insist hand cultivators aren’t necessary? What are their arguments? What might you dislike about using a hand cultivator?
They Cost Money but Aren’t Strictly Necessary
As I said before, hand cultivators are often seen as a luxury tool. This is because they don’t particularly excel at any one task and aren’t required to garden. However, a pack of hand rakes can cost around $25!
For a gardener who seeks to save money—or at the very least, make their money last—this can be a bitter pill to swallow in the name of comfort and convenience.
They Require You To Bend Down
For gardeners with physical disabilities, mobility issues, or even just sore backs or knees, using a hand rake may cause them more pain. Their short handles force the user to get down on their hands and knees, and this is far from being easy for everyone.
While everyone wants to indulge in their hobbies, it’s also important to remember your capabilities and how much you can handle. There’s no single “right” way to garden.
Weeds Slip Through the Tines
If you’ve bought a hand cultivator with rounded tines, it may be difficult to weed with it. The weeds might slip through the tines instead, forcing you to use it to loosen the soil and pull them out by hand anyway.
Not all tools are created equal, which is true of hand cultivators, too.
They Might Be Too Small
There’s a right tool for every task; sometimes, a hand cultivator may not be it. If you use a hand cultivator to clean a large area, it’ll take much longer. It truly is a small tool, and your money might be better spent on a lawn rake, for example.
It’s essential to consider which tools you’ll need more than others and put your money towards those first. That way, you don’t regret the money you’ve spent afterward.
What To Look For in a Hand Cultivator
If you’ve decided you wish to buy a hand cultivator anyway, there are some things you should know beforehand. Not all tools are created equal, and not every tool is good for every task. What kind of durability are you looking for? What should you look for in a hand cultivator?
It seems strange, but the shape of your future hand cultivator’s tines matters. If they’re rounded, weeds and other debris might slip around the tines instead of coming loose. This can make a job more difficult than it needs to be.
So, if you’re interested in getting more out of your time, make sure your hand cultivator has squared tines that will catch the edges of weeds and pull them out.
A Durable Handle
While the handle of your future hand cultivator may not be the first part of it to hit the pavement when dropped, it’s more likely to break than the steel tines. A handle made of slightly flexible plastic is less likely to break than hard plastic or wood.
In addition, wood swells and shrinks with humidity, which can cause cracks. If you drop it while it’s cracked, it’s much more likely to break. Plastic doesn’t change shape with the weather nearly as much, and gel inserts can be added to it to make the handle ergonomic.
Though metal is tough, it’s not invincible. Moisture from wet soil can rust it, and scraping against rocks and concrete can add wear and tear over time that weakens and wears away at the tool. Unfortunately, the metal tines of your future hand cultivator are no different.
Metal paint is often used to weatherproof tools, and it’s worth the effort. The longer your hand cultivator lasts, the less money you’ll have to spend.
Hand cultivators are small rakes and can be worth it. They’re maneuverable and unlikely to damage plants, but they require you to bend down and aren’t strictly necessary.
Some popular brands include Ames, Yard Butler, and HAOHIYO. Look for squared tines, a durable handle, and weatherproofed metal.