What are you supposed to do when your soil gets too tough to move with your shovel? Do you need a stronger shovel? A knife? Or do you need to give up?
The answer is none of these. Instead, you might need a spading fork. Spading forks are a type of garden fork that can loosen and aerate your soil. But the right one for you will vary depending on your needs.
We've taken a look at some of the top spading forks on the market. Here's everything you need to know about them.
Top 4: Spading Forks
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This is our top pick overall thanks to its solid construction, ease of use, and versatility. The tool uses a traditional wooden handle rather than a steel or fiberglass option. But since the company uses hardwood, it's unlikely to break down or splinter even with great force applied.
The forged spading fork head comes with four tines tipped with diamond points. Meanwhile, the 30-inch handle makes it easy for both tall and short gardeners to work with the soil. The end of the handle has a contoured D-grip that allows you to get better leverage when turning the tines.
The diamond points of the tines make it easy to break up clay and tough soil. You can also dig through softer, sandier soil.
In addition to using this design to aerate the soil, you can use it to harvest underground crops as well. If you have potatoes to pull up, the tines will easily dig through the soil and lift the crops right out.
No matter how tough your garden soil is, you can use this fork to get it ready for planting. It's an all-around solid tool that can work for a variety of different gardeners. Because it uses wood rather than steel for the handle, it's also lightweight, so it's good for those without a lot of upper body strength.
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This spading fork is a little pricier, but it also has broader and longer tines. If you need to dig deep into your soil to plant your garden, you might prefer this design. Like the previous option on the list, it has a 30-inch handle that's excellent for gardeners of many different heights.
The fork is built with a wooden handle. Though it isn't hardwood, it is made from ash, which is one of the most durable wood materials in the world. Ash wood doesn't tend to splinter or break when exposed to pressure, so you don't need to worry that the fork will break down over time.
The design comes with a D-grip that lets you dig more precisely and get better leverage. The handle isn't quite as comfortable and ergonomic as the previous option, but it is still very solid.
The fork has four tines made from gray steel. They've been coated with a clear finish to protect against rust, damage, and warping. When you're done with the fork, all you need to do to clean it is spray it with the hose. Add a coating of silicone spray for longevity and you're done.
You can use this fork to loosen soil in small, medium, and large garden beds. Because the tines are so long, they're perfect for people who are concerned that their soil is too deep for easy aeration.
This is one of the top spading forks on the market for a variety of reasons. It is built for professional gardeners and landscapers who need to till significant amounts of land. Backyard gardeners can also benefit from the sleek design and tough tines.
The digging fork has four thin tines that can penetrate through the soil, move debris and mulch, and aerate compost. During the harvest season, you can dig your potatoes up. You can even dig up perennial flowers and transplant them into new pots, since the fork is gentle with their roots.
The tines are crafted from stainless steel, a tough material that will last for years. Meanwhile, the handle is crafted from strong carbon steel encased with resin. The resin coating protects the carbon steel from rust and staining.
The radius fork is built with an elevated and extra wide forward step. You're a lot more likely to keep your balance when turning this fork than when turning a fork with a narrower step. Because of this, older people and people with balance issues may appreciate this model above the competition.
The large loop-shaped handle is specially designed to work with your natural strength. It decreases stress on the wrist joints, fingers, and arm muscles, which means that you can till your soil more efficiently.
For people purchasing in the continental US, the fork comes with a lifetime warranty. If it breaks down for any reason, you can get a replacement without any questions asked. The manufacturer firmly believes that this is the only spading fork you will ever need.
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You might be looking for a spading fork that's optimized to dig up perennial bulbs and potatoes. If that's the case, you'll appreciate this design. The short handle allows you to use the fork while kneeling in the grass, rather than having to stand. It's easy to dig up perennial bulbs without causing damage.
This fork is often used to divide certain plants, allowing you to double your harvest. You can also use it to separate the tangled roots of your plants from each other so that they have better access to air and nutrients.
Thanks to the T-handled design, you can simply lean on the fork to sink the tines into the soil. It's a lot easier to use gravity to do the work. You don't have to worry about fatiguing your wrists and arms the same way you do with a shovel.
This miniature design is strong and durable, but it's also lightweight. If you're intimidated by the full-sized forks and want something a little more maneuverable, this might be the perfect choice for you. Just keep in mind that it might be too small to aerate moderate or large plots of soil.
The three tines can easily dig through tough soil and aerate small plots of land, though. There's also a three-piece gift set available that combines this fork, a hand fork, and a forged trowel.
Spading forks are great because they give you an easy way to loosen and prepare your soil. If you're working with a garden that often has soils that become too compacted for your shovel, a fork is a necessity. In addition, spading forks can often be used to remove produce during harvest season.
Our top overall pick is the True Temper spading fork. It's a simple design that has everything you could want from a fork, including sharp tines and tough materials. The 30-inch handle has a D-grip that lets you get better leverage, so it's great for people who might not have as much upper body strength.
If you're concerned about efficiency, strength, and balance, we highly recommend the Radius spading fork. This tool is specifically designed to remove stress on your joints, allowing you to work for longer. The wide step makes it easy to stay balanced, and the positioning of the tines means that the model aerates more soil than the competition.
Frequently Asked Questions
You might see spading forks and digging forks referred to interchangeably.
Spading forks and digging forks have extremely similar designs, and they tend to be used for the same purpose. Some people will use the terms interchangeably. Others believe that spading forks are specific to tough soil, while digging forks are for less compacted endeavors.
Spading and digging forks are built with wide blades that have triangle tips. As the name implies, they're excellent for digging through tough soil. But the biggest purpose they serve is blending different soils and aerating tough ground.
Maybe you want to add some new fertilizer to your soil before planting. Or maybe you're bringing out the remains of your compost bin. You can use both spading and digging forks to efficiently turn the soil over, allowing the new material to permeate deep into your garden bed.
Another reason that people like spading and digging forks is because they're helpful for harvesting crops. If you have potatoes, carrots, or other produce that grows under the ground, you can use the tines to simply lift the veggies from their dirt bed.
Spading and digging forks can both be used in dense, clay soils. But if you're going to harvest with them, you'll have an easier time working with sandy and loamy soil. These tools are great for sifting through soil to find the important items underneath.
There's a traditional garden fork, which is designed differently from spading forks. Instead of being built to aerate the soil, it looks like a normal pitchfork. The fork has pointed and narrow spikes that can be used to drive through impacted soil.
Because of how narrow the tines are, you can spin the fork below the ground to break up the soil. It's not as easy to do that with thick tines in tough soil. The clay tends to press back against the spokes, which means you have to use extra strength to turn it.
A border fork is essentially the same in design as a garden fork. But it doesn't have the same broad tines. Because of this, people favor it for use in narrow spaces and raised garden beds. Both border and garden forks are particularly useful for those with dense clay soil.
Compost forks might look like garden forks at first glance. But in addition to being larger, they also have a "scoop" shape to their tines. When you dig the fork into the earth and turn it, the "scoop" tines aerate much more of the soil than a traditional pitchfork.
Since compost forks are so big, their loads sometimes get heavy. If you don't have a lot of upper body strength, you might prefer to use a smaller fork and spend a little extra time aerating your soil. But compost forks are the fastest means of aeration if you have the energy and power.
There's also a type of fork called a potato fork. This has a surprising amount of crossover with the spading fork, with some companies even using the two names interchangeably. Other companies say that potato forks have a scoop shape. The main point of a potato fork is to remove underground crops like potatoes.
Because the forks are built for lifting produce, they aren't very good at digging. Spading forks are built to lift produce and dig through the soil, so they're more versatile overall.
Broadforks don't look like your average garden fork. They have two handles instead of one, and wide-set sharp blades. Since broadforks can cut through large amounts of soil and pull up root vegetables with ease, they're often used by big farms and other large grow operations during the harvest season.
Though broadforks are most often used during the harvest season, they can be used for planting as well. If you're trying to till a large area without a motorized tiller, a broadfork will save you a lot of time and hassle.
When you're choosing a spading fork, you want to make sure that it's effective, compatible with your soil type, and made from durable materials.
One of the first things to take into consideration is what the fork is made of. Professional-grade forks tend to use high-carbon steel. This tough steel can dig through extremely dense soil without breaking or bending. Another popular choice is stainless steel.
You might see some forks built with aluminum. This can be fine for the handle, but it is a concern for the tines. Aluminum tines are more likely to bend when exposed to tough soils or compost. It's better to invest a little more in a steel model that will last for multiple seasons.
Next, consider the construction. The strongest fork in the world won't matter if the handle isn't attached properly.
One ideal attachment style uses a riveted socket. Instead of being glued onto the fork, the handle is sunk deep into a socket inside the fork itself. Strong metal rivets secure it in place. The handle is unlikely to pop out of place, and the extra strength reinforces the fork against bending.
You might also use a welded attachment. Rather than sinking the handle into the fork, this attachment uses welding to seal the pieces together. They essentially become one component instead of two.
Be cautious when you see models that have a strapped-on or glued-on fork. Over time, these attachments will loosen and start to peel apart. Welding and rivets, on the other hand, stand the test of time.
The next component to take into account is the handles. If you're working with a traditional fork, you'll have a wood handle. But all wood except hardwood is prone to splintering and breaking, especially when exposed to high pressure. Look for hardwood or ash wood if you intend to get a wooden handle.
Modern forks more often use steel handles. Some people prefer the traditional wood because steel is heavier. But if you can handle a little extra weight, steel handles will last significantly longer. They won't break down because you push the fork too hard. And the difference in weight is usually only a pound or two.