The garden fork is one of the most important tools one could have living in their shed. Apart from the pick it’s probably the first tool we grab when the job requires a little more grunt. It’s multiple pronged action can loosen soil with minimal damage to plant roots; aerate the compost heap; and, divide those clumping perennials without too much fuss.
Most of us gardeners would have at least one garden fork in our arsenal, and some would have a few more. But is it essential to even have one?
The answer can only be given based on the type of gardening you enjoy. If you live in an apartment and your garden consists of a small balcony then a digging fork is possibly not required. And, if your compost heap resides within a tumbler or composter then, again, it’s most likely not going to be needed.
But, if you dig in soil then one of these babies is a must-have gardening tool.
What jobs are garden forks used for?
Here’s a list of possible tasks that a garden fork would be useful for;
- Turning the compost heap
- Dividing clumping plants
- Aerating the soil
- Sifting the soil for small rocks
- Breaking up clay soils
- Aerating lawns
- Dispersing mulch and composts
- Digging up bulbs
- Leveraging small tree rootballs when transplanting
What to look for when buying a garden fork
There are just as many opinions as to what constitutes a good garden fork as there are garden forks available. The key things to keep in mind when buying a garden fork is for what purpose will your garden fork play in your garden.
If your soil is fairly loose and friable then most garden forks will probably suit your purposes. However, if your garden beds are filled with rocks or bound with clay then choosing a more heavy duty garden fork would be a better option.
Look for these things;
- Number of tines – a good garden fork should have 4 rather than 3 tines.
- Tine spacing – the closer the tines are together the stronger the garden fork will be.
- Tine rigidity – if the tines on the fork are flexible and show some movement then it indicates how weak the metal is that has been used. Fork tines should be rigid and won’t bend with the first rock they come in contact with.
- Shaft Material – the garden fork shaft can be made of many different materials and the strongest are in this order: fibreglass, stainless steel, steel, wood and poly-propylene. The beauty with fibreglass as opposed to other materials is its ability to resist shock making it easier on your body to use.
- D-Handle – the d-handle should be crafted from rigid materials as well. Often, poly-propylene is used in the manufacture of garden forks and this is due again to softening the shock when a hard object is struck but also because it is more durable.
- Multiple material construction – while a single stainless steel gardening fork may look incredible and last you a lifetime it really pales in usability against a garden fork with steel tines, fibreglass shaft and poly-prop d-handle.
Types of garden fork
Standard Garden Fork – This is just your standard run-of-the-mill garden fork. Nothing fancy it just does its job and doesn’t complain about it.
Border Fork – a border fork differs from the standard model by sporting a flattened tine head. Its purpose is to get into those difficult border plantings without ripping up all your plants.
Trowel Fork – a Chelsea Fork (aff.) is really a garden fork for container gardeners. Its purpose is similar but is used on a much smaller scale.
Digging Fork – A digging fork isn’t too dissimilar to your standard fork and possibly the only difference is semantical. However, when you see a fork advertised as a digging fork you should be able to identify with the strength of the product being more superior than the standard and therefore it being a little more expensive.
Pitchfork – while not technically a garden fork, the pitchfork is very rarely used these days. Its purpose was to throw hay or straw to cattle but is now relinquished to the yesteryear relic pile.
How much should you spend on a garden fork?
This question needs to be answered by two more questions: How long do you plan to keep it for? and what level of service is your garden fork likely to see?
If you only bring your garden fork out once or twice every season and use it for light jobs then buying a standard Ames True Spading Fork (aff.) would be completely suitable. Otherwise an Ampco Garden Fork with Fibreglass Shaft (aff.) that retails for more than $350 and carries a lifetime warranty may be a better suit.
The adage, “You get what you pay for” is certainly true with any garden tool.