The Dutch hoe is a type of scuffle hoe originating from Holland that has gained popularity in the UK and the US thanks to its simplicity and ease of managing. In fact, the word “scuffle” itself is an English reinterpretation of the Dutch word “schoffel”, which means shovel, or hoe.
The Dutch hoe consists of a long wooden handle and a blade that’s often sharp in both directions so that it can cut weeds with a push-pull motion. This hoe is best used on small weeds, as it only goes about one inch beneath the soil level, scraping any root growth and loosening the soil’s surface.
The main difference between a Dutch hoe and a regular hoe is the shape. Its metal blade is slightly angled to accommodate a forward and backward motion parallel to the soil. Most Dutch hoes have a triangular blade with a hole in the middle. The hole is necessary for allowing the soil to pass through during the swift push-pull method. Other types of hoes come in many shapes and sizes, depending on their purpose and motion.
Traditionally, gardeners and farmers have been digging and hoeing their fields and plots, but now, hobby gardeners and modern-day organic farmers are moving away from these methods. I had never heard of the Dutch hoe before buying my first tool, but I’m glad I made the investment. Here’s how I love to use it in my no-dig small garden:
Using the Dutch hoe in your garden
Whether you’re gardening in-ground or in raised beds, the Dutch garden hoe is a great tool for eliminating weeds around your plants. Push the blade beneath the soil and any visible weeds in short strokes, and pull it back to displace the soil that you’ve worked. Any weeds that you’ve cut will lay on the surface and desiccate – no need to pick them later unless you want everything to look neat and tidy.
You can use the Dutch hoe:
- in raised beds – the topsoil is usually fluffy and well-mulched with compost, making the slicing motion easy and effortless;
- in mulched garden paths – before amending paths with a new batch of woodchips or sawdust, run the blade through any grass and weed growth to discourage it from growing through the new layer of mulch;
- to loosen the topsoil – break up any crust on your topsoil before amending your beds with compost for better water and nutrient absorption.
- as a hand tool – use a mini-Dutch hoe where the lack of space doesn’t allow for long sweeping motions, and delicately work your way around plants.
When not to use a Dutch hoe:
- on large, persistent weeds – it’s best to pull out deep-rooted weeds manually or to use special instruments to get most of their roots out; otherwise, they will just come back;
- on hardened, compacted soil – the hoe’s blade isn’t meant to penetrate hardened soil, and while it may do a good job at first, it will quickly lose its sharpness;
- on newly emerging seedlings – young plants can be easily confused with weeds at this stage, and you can accidentally displace them – it’s best to wait a little longer until you can safely tell young weeds and seedlings apart.
The Dutch hoe gets rid of weeds by cutting them at the root level and then spreading them on top of the surface. It’s a quick and efficient process, but you should keep in mind that using your Dutch hoe will be an ongoing process. The roots that are still left in the ground will regenerate and shoot up new growth, that’s why you should make weeding a habit. As you keep using the Dutch hoe and constantly destroy new weed growth, their roots will eventually lose vigor and die.
Practicing the no-dig method and planting vegetables close together is a great way to prevent and greatly suppress weed growth, but it does have the disadvantage of difficult access in between and under the plants’ canopy. I like to use this interchangeable blade extension from Wolf Garten as a regular Dutch hoe, as well as a gentle hand hoe when it’s paired with a short handle, for ease of access in between my plants.
How to care for your Dutch hoe
The Dutch hoe is supposed to be a sharp tool, but we ignore this fact and forget to sharpen it. However, if the blade isn’t sharp enough, it will displace small weeds instead of cutting them at the root level, making it possible for the small plants to uproot again. If you treat the Dutch hoe as the cutting tool that it is, you’ll pay more attention to it, as you do with your shears and other important instruments in your gardening arsenal.
Caring for your Dutch hoe is similar to what you would do for other tools:
- remove the dirt using warm water and a bristle brush and let air dry;
- keep in a sheltered location to protect from rust;
- remove any rust using 80-grit sandpaper or an electric sander;
- sharpen the blade once a year using a file and respecting the original angle;
- sand and oil the wooden handle;
- oil the blade and metalhead.
Taking care of your garden tools is a good practice to master, and many gardeners prefer to do this in spring. They sharpen their tools and oil the wooden handles with linseed oil for a refreshing experience as the gardening season kicks off.
Similar hoes for easy weeding
The Dutch hoe may be the sturdiest weeding tool out there. Still, many gardeners prefer a slightly different design – and with advancing technologies, we can produce blades and instruments that are sharper and more efficient.
Enter the stirrup hoe, also known as the hula hoe. The stirrup hoe looks very much like the stirrup on a horse saddle, and that’s most likely how it got its name. This effective blade, sharp on both sides, works much in the same way a Dutch hoe does, although loose, sandy soil is easier to manage. The heavy-duty blade is connected with the hoe’s handle in a way that allows for slight oscillation, which translates into a more seamless movement than the Dutch garden hoe.
The V-shaped push-pull hoe is similar to a Dutch hoe, swapping the traditional triangular shape for a sleeker V-shaped design. Some push-pull hoes have long, sharp blades, while others have serrated edges for a better grip on weeds and soil. The pointy end allows for more precise access between the plants and works well for finishing touches after doing the main weeding.
Lastly, if you or anyone in your family have been gardening for a long time, especially in the USA, you may be familiar with the wheel-supported oscillating hoe. This type of hoe works best in large farms where you have rows designed so that you can walk in between them and weed simultaneously. For the scope of this article, as most of you will be hobby gardeners, I won’t go much into detail here, but if you’re interested, it can be of great use in your garden.
Weed control begins with prevention and weed suppression. When first creating your garden, take the extra measures (even if it may take you an extra year) to kill and suppress most weed growth. You can do this through the use of tarps and weed-suppressing barriers, or if you’ve got chickens, you can let them prepare the ground and eat all the organic material in it before turning it into a garden patch.
When your garden is finally set up, it’s time to have a weeding routine in place. There’s no such thing as an absolutely weed-free garden, but you can get close to perfection by eliminating weeds as soon as you see them emerge, and for that, there’s no better hand tool than the Dutch hoe. Use it before weeds get out of hand, and garden maintenance will become a breeze.