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Garden Forks

What is garden fork used for?

A garden fork, spading fork, or digging fork is a gardening implement, with a handle and a square-shouldered head featuring several (usually four) short, sturdy tines. It is used for loosening, lifting and turning over soil in gardening and farming, and not to be confused with the pitchfork, a similar tined tool used for moving (or throwing) loose materials such as hay, straw, silage, and manure.

A garden fork is used similarly to a spade in loosening and turning over soil. Its tines allow it to be pushed more easily into the ground, and it can rake out stones and weeds and break up clods, it is not so easily stopped by stones, and it does not cut through weed roots or root-crops. Garden forks were originally made of wood, but the majority are now made of forged carbon steel or stainless steel.

Reflecting their differing uses, garden forks have shorter, flatter, thicker, and more closely spaced tines than pitchforks. They have comparatively a fairly short, stout, usually wooden handle, typically with a "D" or "T" shaped grab at the end.

A smaller version of such forks with shorter, closer-spaced, thinner tines (but a full-sized handle) is known as a border fork or ladies' fork, and is used for lighter work, such as weeding amongst other plants. Forks with broader, flatter tines are made for lifting potatoes and other root crops from the ground. A pair of forks back-to-back may used to lever apart dense clumps of roots.

Types of Garden Forks

There are 3 main Garden Forks. Each type is made for specific purposes.

Hand Fork

A Hand Fork small hand tool. You may have got one of these in a set with your trowel.

Border Fork

the Border Fork is full sized but a little smaller and lighter than the Digging Fork

Digging Fork

The Digging Fork is a full size, heavier and packs a punch

What's the difference between Garden Forks & which to get?

The Hand fork

This is good for digging over a bed where shallow rooted weeds have started to grow. Its small so you can get in between rows of veg or border plants.

The Border Fork

This fork previously had the very un-PC name of a Ladies Fork. You don’t have to be a lady to use one anymore though (phew!) The Border Fork is smaller and lighter than a Digging Fork.

Some say that this is the fork of choice if you are gardening on light, sandy or loamy soil where you don’t need the clout a Digging Fork packs. However, we believe the opposite is true.  A smaller fork is great for tougher jobs as smaller fork requires less force.  It breaks the soil and the job into smaller chunks and puts less strain on the tool and the gardener.

It is also good if you are gardening in raised beds or, as the name suggests, in borders where the space is tight. And lastly if you are on the shorter side then it might just be more comfy to use a Border Fork.

The Digging Fork

A Digging Fork, also known as a Garden Fork, is the work horse.  It is used, as the name suggests, for digging things big areas. This fork is ideal for use in areas of loose, sandy or loamy soil. Its strong tines will make quick work of turning over large areas.

This includes breaking up the soil and turning over new beds and moving plants with large root structures.  Most people also use their Digging Fork for turning their composts and spreading mulches too.


Durability is a key feature of garden forks, which often get little care and can be left out in all types of weather. Additionally, most have to withstand considerable leverage forces. If the fork shaft breaks, it is not only inconvenient but could also result in back strain or other injury.

The tines and the back of the fork are typically steel, though the type of steel can vary. Stainless steel is strong and resists corrosion. Boron steel is very hard. Hand forks might be pressed from a steel sheet as an entire piece. Larger forks frequently have either forged steel tines or welded tines for additional strength.

Traditionally, shafts and handles were made from hardwood, which costs less than other materials and feels good in the hand. Unfortunately, wood can split if you do not care for it properly. As a result, many modern garden forks have steel, fiberglass, or polypropylene shafts and handles, which are both stronger and less affected by damp or cold. A solid steel shaft usually has some kind of plastic or resin cover for added comfort.


A quick glance at many garden forks will reveal that handles come in different shapes. Additionally, a line drawn from the handle, down the shaft, and through the tines is often far from straight. Each of these elements affects ergonomics, which in turn influences both user comfort and the power generated.

T-shape and D-shape handles are common, though the former is more often found on garden spades and shovels. The D shape has long been the standard for a firm grip and easy turning. The handles often tilt forward slightly to reduce wrist strain. More recently, O-shape handles have appeared; their makers claim they reduce stress on the wrist and hands, though gardeners might need some time getting used to gripping them.

Shafts often have a slight bend near the bottom to aid leverage. Tines may also have a forward curve, which can help with lifting, though straight versions are often considered stronger.

Length and Weight

Length can be important for ergonomics and effectiveness; the best length depends on the type of fork and the work most often being done. A border fork is often a little shorter at around 36 to 38 inches and relatively light, so it is easier to maneuver in and around plantings. These garden forks aren’t designed for heavy digging.

Many of the standard garden forks we looked at are around 40 inches long. This doesn’t seem much larger than a border fork, but it’s an important difference if digging for longer periods. While 40 inches is considered a good average, taller gardeners or farmers might want a longer fork, and we have seen models up to 53 inches. It is very much a question of personal preference.

Whether the weight of a garden fork makes much difference will depend on how well it is designed and the physicality of the user. Border forks with wooden handles are usually among the lightest. A stainless steel garden fork is often seen as a sign of quality, though these tend to be heaviest. However, if the ergonomics are good and the tool is comfortable to use, the actual weight will have minimal impact.

What are the different types of garden forks?

There are several different types of garden forks that are designed for different tasks. Here are some of the most common types:

Digging fork: This type of fork has four sturdy, square tines and a long handle, and is designed for digging into hard or compacted soil. It is also useful for turning over compost piles.

Border fork: This is a smaller version of the digging fork, with a shorter handle and smaller tines. It is useful for working in smaller spaces, such as flower beds or raised garden beds.

Manure fork: This type of fork has four or more curved tines and is designed for moving and spreading manure, compost, or other organic materials.

Pitchfork: This type of fork has long, pointed tines and is used for moving loose materials such as hay, straw, or mulch.

Potato fork: This type of fork has four or five flat, blunt tines that are designed for gently lifting potatoes and other root vegetables out of the ground without damaging them.

Broadfork: Also known as a U-bar or grelinette, this type of fork has two long handles and several tines that are spaced apart to loosen and aerate soil without turning it over.

These are just a few examples of the different types of garden forks available, and the specific type of fork needed will depend on the type of garden and the tasks that need to be performed.

Why put forks in your garden?

One reason to put forks in your garden is as a deterrent for pests or animals that may be digging up or disturbing your plants. Some gardeners believe that placing plastic forks or other sharp objects in the soil around their plants can prevent animals like squirrels, cats, or raccoons from digging in the soil or using the garden bed as a litter box.

Another reason to use forks in the garden is to help support climbing plants like tomatoes, cucumbers, or beans. Gardeners can use long-handled forks to create a trellis or support system for these plants to climb up, which can help keep the plants upright and prevent them from getting damaged or tangled.

Finally, some gardeners use forks as a tool for loosening and aerating soil. A broadfork or U-bar fork, for example, can be used to gently lift and loosen soil without disturbing the soil structure or harming the beneficial organisms that live in the soil.

It's worth noting, however, that plastic forks can take a long time to break down in the soil and can eventually become an environmental hazard. For a more sustainable option, consider using biodegradable materials like bamboo or wooden forks instead.

What's the difference between a garden fork and a border fork?

The main difference between a garden fork and a border fork is their size and intended use. A garden fork typically has four sturdy, square tines and a long handle, and is designed for digging into hard or compacted soil. It is also useful for turning over compost piles, breaking up clumps of soil, and digging up roots or rocks.

A border fork, on the other hand, is a smaller version of the garden fork, with a shorter handle and smaller tines. It is designed for working in smaller spaces, such as flower beds or raised garden beds, and is ideal for tasks like loosening soil, planting bulbs, or lifting small plants. Its smaller size makes it easier to maneuver in tight spaces and around delicate plants, while still providing enough leverage to dig into the soil.

In summary, while both garden forks and border forks are useful for gardening tasks, garden forks are better suited for larger areas and heavier-duty work, while border forks are designed for smaller spaces and lighter work.

Can I use a pitchfork as a broadfork?

While pitchforks and broadforks may look similar, they are actually quite different in their design and intended use. A pitchfork typically has three or four tines that are more curved and pointed than those of a broadfork, and is intended for lifting and moving loose materials like hay, straw, or manure.

On the other hand, a broadfork has two long, straight tines that are typically longer and wider than those of a pitchfork, and is designed to penetrate deeply into the soil and loosen it without turning it over. This process can help improve soil structure, reduce compaction, and promote healthier root growth in plants.

While it may be possible to use a pitchfork in a similar manner to a broadfork, it is not recommended. The curved tines of a pitchfork are not as effective at loosening compacted soil without turning it over, and may cause more harm than good by damaging delicate root systems. Additionally, pitchforks are generally heavier than broadforks, which can make them more difficult to maneuver and control.

If you are interested in using a broadfork in your garden, it is best to invest in a tool specifically designed for this purpose.

How long should a garden fork be?

The length of a garden fork can vary depending on the type and the user's preference, but a typical garden fork handle ranges from 28 inches to 48 inches in length. The most common length for a garden fork handle is around 40 inches.

The handle length is important for providing leverage and control while using the tool. A longer handle can help you apply more force to the tines of the fork, making it easier to dig into hard or compacted soil. However, a longer handle can also be more difficult to maneuver in tight spaces or when working close to plants.

When choosing a garden fork, it's important to consider your own height and strength, as well as the size of your garden and the type of work you will be doing. A fork with a handle that is too short or too long can lead to discomfort or even injury, so it's important to find one that feels comfortable and balanced in your hands.
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