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The Best Hand Weeder

After more than 50 hours comparing and testing weeders on dandelions, garlic bulbs, coneflower roots, Norway maple saplings, and more—for this guide’s original 2013 version and for updates in the past two summers—we’re sure the pint-size Nejiri Gama Hoe ($10) is the best tool to extract, uproot, disrupt, and behead the most common small weeds invading your garden. This tool was our pick in comparison against 18 tools in the past two years, and it performed better than almost a dozen new tools during our spring and summer 2015 testing.

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Last Updated: July 17, 2015

Our pick is still the Nejiri Gama Hoe, as it has been for the past two years. If the Nejiri is unavailable, choose the A.M. Leonard Handy Weeder, which is identical but costs $5 more. For larger weeds, we recommend the CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator, which grabs roots from below and drags them out as a single mass. If you need a weeder tough enough to take out small trees, the $155 Extractigator is expensive but effective.

Expand Most Recent Updates
March 23, 2015: Spring is here, but we're waiting for the weather to get a little warmer to complete testing on new models. We're going to update this review with several new hand weeders, and some larger, more powerful tools for uprooting shrubs and small trees. For small-scale weeding, we're looking at Lawn Jaws, the Ring Weeder, the Tierra Garden Cape Cod Weeder, and the Cobrahead Long Handle Weeder. Dandelions and other deep-rooted weeds will confront the Fiskars Uproot weeder, the Yard Butler Rocket Weeder, the 5-in-1 Planting Tool, and the Weed Spinner, while we expect the Extractigator, Uprooter, and Rogue Prohoe to tackle shrubs and small trees.
Nejiri Gama Hoe
This sharp, compact weeder grabbed and sliced a wider variety of plants than other tools we tested—and it was the only one that handled weeds growing in pavement cracks as well as in soil.

The light and sharp Nejiri Gama Hoe has good leverage for heaving plants out of the soil, and its blade shape allows it to yank up a wider variety of weeds than the other tools we tested. This tool can also grab unwanted plants in more locations than competing weeders can: The wide, sharp, flat-sided blade can cut, pull, and ease plants out of the earth, and the points on the blade can fit into narrow crevices in pavement to pull the plants growing in between.

Also Great
A.M. Leonard Handy Weeder
The exact same product as our top pick but $5 more. An option if our main pick is sold out.

The other tools we tested were not as versatile and not as easy to use—even though many of them cost more than our pick. If our pick is sold out at Amazon, you can find it under different names from a variety of retailers—try A.M. Leonard’s Handy Weeder, which is the same product but priced at $15.

Also Great
CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator
The CobraHead grabs roots from below and drags them out as a single mass. If you're inclined to dig with your hands to pull up thick, matted roots, this tool is for you.

If you’ve let your weeds get a little too big—or a lot too big—for the Nejiri Gama, it’s time to try the CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator ($25). The CobraHead is basically a grappling hook with a handle and a flattened, diamond-shaped head. This simple design lets gardeners insinuate the hook end underneath dense, matted roots and yank them up more efficiently than with any other tool we tested.

Also Great
Extractigator
Expensive but effective, this tool can pull up shallow-rooted saplings up to 2 inches in diameter, sparing you hours of digging.

The CobraHead is not as versatile or as sharp as the Nejiri Gama Hoe, and it doesn’t perform as well on small, shallow-rooted weeds or taproots. But if you’re dealing with sod, Rudbeckia laciniata (cutleaf coneflower), or any weed that spreads by putting out networks of underground runners, this tool will make your life much easier. It was our pick for larger weeds in this guide’s previous version, and it’s still better than several new tools we tested.

The Extractigator uses leverage to uproot small trees

The Extractigator uses leverage to uproot small trees.

For 2015, in addition to the tools that were not in our last tests, we also looked at weeders tough enough to take out small trees. The best tool we found for this heavy-duty job was Exclusive Mechanical Systems’s Extractigator ($155), an expensive but effective lever for dragging shallow-rooted saplings up to 2 inches in diameter out of the soil. Put the side clamps around the tree’s trunk, pull the lever arm down, and the tree comes out. If you need to pull out trees without disturbing the surrounding soil, this tool will save you hours of digging.

Why you should trust me

I’ve been gardening in the Boston area for 19 years, on sun-baked city lots, wet meadows, forested hillsides, and all points in between. As for weeds, I’ve removed my share of invasive plants, including glossy buckthorn, Asiatic bittersweet, European barberry, and garlic mustard at our local Audubon sanctuary, Habitat, in Belmont, Massachusetts. I earned a certificate in field botany—that is, identifying weeds—from the New England Wild Flower Society in 2007. Currently, I spend time in my yard battling mistakenly planted Rudbeckia laciniata, lemon balm, and a particularly vigorous strain of raspberries, as well as the previous resident’s pachysandra and Norway maple seedlings.

Currently, I spend time in my yard battling mistakenly planted Rudbeckia laciniata, lemon balm, and a particularly vigorous strain of raspberries, as well as the previous resident’s pachysandra and Norway maple seedlings.

I co-founded the Lexington Community Farm Coalition, which is devoted to preserving working agricultural land. We have edible weeds like purslane, lamb’s quarters, and galinsoga growing to astonishing heights. In 2010, I published Boston Gardens and Green Spaces, a Boston Globe Local Bestseller, and I am the co-creator of the GREEN SPACES: Boston app. I have appeared on NPR’s Radio Boston and WCVB’s Chronicle discussing Boston’s open space, and my work has been featured in the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, the Boston Phoenix, and Time Out Boston. I give frequent talks to historical societies, garden clubs, and book groups about New England landscape history and agriculture. My blog about Boston’s plants and landscaping appears at Green Space Boston. And I am one of the pillars of the Menotomy Gardeners e-group.

For my research into weeders, I consulted local gardeners and landscapers; members of the Ecological Landscape Alliance LinkedIn group; Larry Foglia, second-generation farmer and co-founder of the Long Island Community Agriculture Network; and his sister, landscape designer Gina Foglia.

How we picked what to test

The terrible secret of gardening is that gardeners spend more time destroying plants than growing them. Weeds are everywhere. You won’t find a good definition of a weed; it’s really just any plant growing somewhere you don’t want it. Consequently, a lot of different types of weeds exist. Some weeds, such as dandelions, have long taproots that are hard to pull out of the soil. Others have thin, shallow roots that are easy to pluck out of the ground but regrow rapidly. And still others have dense, interlocking roots and require you to pry them out of the soil with force.

When you look at the tools for removing them, you’ll find that some people don’t care for weeders at all. As John Enfield, a former docent at Las Vegas’s Springs Preserve, put it, “My favorite hand weeder is, well, my hand. I’ve tried many tools and have not found one that I’m happy with. When I am given a tool to use on a job, I usually wind up just putting a form-fitting glove on and putting the tool in my back pocket or back in the toolbox.”

Point taken. But if you want to upgrade beyond your hand, you’ll find that weeders can extend your reach, and good ones can dig into the soil either shallowly or deeply (depending on the weed). A narrow blade can also move with more finesse than fingers—or those bulkier garden tools that often double as weeders, trowels and soil knives—allowing you to exterminate crabgrass while leaving the tarragon in peace.

I began my research by looking into the vast universe of weeders, the Lucky Charms of the garden-tool world. You can find weeders shaped like hearts, diamonds, disks, forks, squid, corkscrews, snakes, space invaders … all with slightly different purposes and capabilities. Very few weeders have been reviewed by anyone, anywhere.

I decided to focus first on multipurpose hand weeders. I eliminated weeders that people praised for doing just one thing, like pulling up dandelions—although I did include one economical model in my testing for comparison’s sake. I also ignored weeders that were designed just to remove weeds in narrow pavement cracks, or to hoe or cultivate the dirt between rows of vegetables. My perennial border is a crowded place that doesn’t have nice, neat rows with wide spaces between the plants; I didn’t want to select a tool that was useful only for farms. I wanted to find the one tool that would be useful to every gardener.

I wanted to find the one tool that would be useful to every gardener.

Quickly I realized that only a few weeder designs enjoyed attention from more than one reviewer or commenter. I also noticed that few reviewers and commenters ever did anything to rate their weeders other than look at the pretty pictures in the catalog. So I came up with my own criteria for the best weeders. I looked for signs of durability, such as secure connections between the blades and handles, as well as for blades made of stainless steel or aluminum, which won’t rust, or strong carbon steel, which will rust but is harder than stainless steel. I also looked for tools that could work for more than one type of weeding—to cultivate soil to discourage small weeds, for instance, and to yank up large weeds after a week or two of garden neglect. After starting with a field of 14 weeders recommended by garden writers and professional landscapers, I narrowed the list down to six finalists; this year, I researched an additional 31 weeders, and tested 10.

I eliminated some weeders because they suffered from production problems (the circlehoe is worth watching). I also excluded some tools because they seemed to have too narrow a range of use for an all-purpose weeder (such as the Garden Bandit and most dandelion forks). Others were redundant; a dandelion fork is a dandelion fork, and none of them work perfectly against actual dandelions. I tested the few models that remained to compare their strengths and weaknesses.

How we tested

I tested the weeders that made the cut (so to speak) by using them on a variety of Massachusetts foliage in typical garden settings. I pulled up sod to make a new garden bed to test the weeders’ leverage on matted, thick roots. I dug up garlic bulbs that had accidentally overwintered in my yard to test the tools’ ability to uproot tender, long roots. I uprooted garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), a shallow-rooted weed with delicate roots that resprout furiously when broken, to test the weeders’ finesse. I used the weeders to yank out the thick, tangled underground runners of Rudbeckia laciniata, a “clump-forming” sunflower that spreads like mad. I attempted to extract dandelion roots intact. And I put the bigger shrub/tree weeders to work on Norway maple saplings ranging from ¼ inch to 1½ inches in diameter. Finally, I scraped at the nascent weeds between rows of chamomile, basil, and marigolds in my herb garden.

These weeds did not endure their sacrifice in vain: My composter is now full, and ready to digest them into nutritious plant food.

Our pick

Nejiri Gama Hoe
This sharp, compact weeder grabbed and sliced a wider variety of plants than other tools we tested—and it was the only one that handled weeds growing in pavement cracks as well as in soil.

The Nejiri Gama Hoe can do just about anything. The tool has a wooden handle that holds a metal rod connected to an offset triangular blade. The sharp edge cuts through sod, and the angle of the blade lets you easily tuck the blade under grass and pull it right up out of the ground, roots and all. A few other tools we tested can do the same, but here’s where the Nejiri Gama Hoe is special: This model is slimmer and less awkward than the other capable weeders out there, so it can cultivate between tighter rows of plants. Plus, performing the task with this tool simply feels easier, because its blade edge is really, really sharp.

The Nejiri Gama Hoe was the only tool we tested that worked effectively in both pavement cracks and soil.
The slim, sharp edge offers another unique advantage: It can slice out weeds in pavement gaps or cut just under the soil to slaughter tiny weed seedlings. The Nejiri Gama Hoe was the only tool we tested that worked effectively in both pavement cracks and soil. The handle is indented about a half-inch below the end, a small detail that makes this weeder slightly easier to grip than others—and thus more effective for pulling up long, tough Rudbeckia laciniata runners. And the tip of our pick’s handle is bright red, making it easier to spot before you drop it into the compost with the remains of your weeds.

You can find this same basic tool sold under many names: the Nejiri Gama Hoe, the Nejiri Gama Hand Hoe, the A.M. Leonard Handy Weeder, the Ken Ho Garden Weeder, the Sickle Hoe, the Weeding Sickle, the Weeding Hoe, the Onion Hoe. Many hand hoes sold under different names are actually the same model manufactured by the Japan-based Kinboshi Corporation (known for Golden Star tools). They all have a 125-mm (5-inch) blade connected to a square metal rod fitted into a wooden handle with a bright red, plastic tip with a hanging loop; the tool is 280 mm (11 inches) long in total. The name “Nejiri Gama” roughly translates to “torsional sickle” on the Kinboshi website.

The tool also serves well for planting, since the narrow end easily pushes deep into soil, as well as for assisting in other basic garden tasks. As one Amazon reviewer says, “I use it to plant seedlings, aerate, to make a seed trench, to break up clods and knock the soil off the roots of large weeds, and of course to weed. It takes out deep tap roots with its narrow end, and with the broad edge slices small weeds just under the surface. Very easy to maneuver around plant bases. Just the perfect hand tool.” However, the same reviewer also notes that the handle comes off the head, and that this has happened with the past three (!) weeders purchased. Other Amazon user reviews mention similar problems, but not frequently, and the complaints seem to be randomly distributed across the years. The head may pop off due to rough handling, poor storage (clean your tools!), or an occasional dud in manufacturing, but that doesn’t seem to happen for most users.

Fine Gardening writer Joe Quirolo likes it as well. He says, “I can get close to plants with the short side of the blade, clear large areas with the entire blade, use the corner of the blade to get into cracks, and, with one hand on the blade and one on the handle, get under most weeds to shave them off like a razor.” The Garden Tool Review comments: “The triangular blade is perfectly shaped to fit into sidewalk cracks to remove weeds or moss. In established garden beds, getting weeds out from under shrubs or perennials can be a challenge. The angled head on this scraping weeder makes it easy to reach under existing plants to remove stubborn weeds.”

Flaws but not dealbreakers: Nejiri Gama Hoe

The Nejiri Gama Hoe’s biggest flaw is that it’s made of “hardened steel,” which (unlike stainless steel or aluminum) will rust if you don’t wipe it dry, and perhaps oil it, before you put it away. If you’re not crazy about spending time maintaining the Nejiri Gama Hoe’s blade, you can buy the Garden Works Ken Ho Garden Weeder, which is the same basic design in rust-proof stainless steel. However, you’ll trade the Nejiri Gama Hoe’s fascinatingly sharp edge for a blade that’s considerably duller and less effective at slicing through seedling weeds.

It’s also small. The entire tool is only 11 inches long, and the blade is 5 inches long. If you have a 20-by-20-foot vegetable plot, you’re going to get frustrated using such a precise tool—but if you’re raising that many veggies, you should be looking at the Prohoe Rogue Garden Hoe 70G, not a small hand weeder. For most home gardeners, the Nejiri Gama Hoe is the right-size tool for weeding between plants.

Lastly, it’s true: The Nejiri Gama Hoe does a terrible job on dandelion roots. Instead of pulling up their long taproots, the Nejiri Gama Hoe slices right through them. In our tests it simply could not penetrate deeply enough into the soil without digging up a large area around the plant. No weeder in our sample did particularly well on dandelions, but the Nejiri Gama Hoe was worse than most on this task.

Runner-up: same weeder, different name

Also Great
A.M. Leonard Handy Weeder
The exact same product as our top pick but $5 more. An option if our main pick is sold out.

The other tools we tested were not as versatile and not as easy to use—even though many of them cost more than our pick. If our pick is sold out at Amazon, you can find it under different names from a variety of retailers—try A.M. Leonard’s Handy Weeder, which is the same product but priced at $15.

Best for larger weeds

Also Great
CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator
The CobraHead grabs roots from below and drags them out as a single mass. If you're inclined to dig with your hands to pull up thick, matted roots, this tool is for you.

The CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator was the best weeder in my sample for pulling up larger weeds with big, tangled root masses, and it made short work of sod, too. Plus, it’s just plain fun to use. The CobraHead is a weed-killing grappling hook—a thick plastic handle with a fishhook-shaped rod ending in a sharp, flattened snake head of a blade. You stab the blade into a patch of sod or Rudbeckia laciniata roots, curl it under the roots, and pull it toward you, and it magically upends the whole root ball. It offers excellent leverage for unearthing roots and dislodging buried bulbs, and in our tests its performance on sod was astonishing.

The CobraHead is a weed-killing grappling hook—a thick plastic handle with a fishhook-shaped rod ending in a sharp, flattened snake head of a blade.
Usually you have to drag out a garden fork for getting under those kinds of roots—and in the process you end up unearthing half your garden with the fork’s wide head. This tool is a welcome alternative. The CobraHead’s narrow head gives you the precision to target just the roots you want to pull, and you can yank on those roots as hard as you like thanks to this tool’s sturdy construction.

The CobraHead Weeder yanks out tough roots.

The CobraHead Weeder yanks out tough roots.

The CobraHead’s tempered-steel blade is inserted firmly in a recycled composite handle. Positive comments about its durability from Amazon reviewers include “Used mine in California clay-type soils going on three years now. The blade is quite worn, but the tool is still solid.” Another reviewer says, “I purchased the CobraHead weeder 4 or 5 years ago … After all these years, my Cobra looks brand new. Just wipe off the dirt from the head after each use and this puppy should last you many years.” Still another satisfied owner says, “Our first Cobra, we found at a garden trade show about 7 years ago and it’s still going strong.”

The Garden Rant blogger writes, “They advertise it as a ‘steel fingernail’ and an ‘extension of your hand.’ and that’s actually pretty accurate for imagining what it’s best for and what it doesn’t shine at. If you’re the kind of gardener who tosses down your trowel in disgust and starts digging with your fingers, the CobraHead might be for you.”

Flaws but not dealbreakers: CobraHead Weeder

Like the Nejiri Gama Hoe, the CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator isn’t quite long enough to get down to the bottom of dandelion roots, and its small head makes it impractical for cultivating between rows of plants. You can’t really cut roots with this tool, either; it’s just not sharp enough, and it isn’t designed for cutting. If you’re taking out individual crabgrass stalks, the CobraHead will be frustrating to use because positioning the narrow head under small plants is difficult.

For large, dense, shallow root masses (or any situation where you can slide the CobraHead blade under the root), however, the CobraHead simply works better than anything else we tested.

Best for small trees

Also Great
Extractigator
Expensive but effective, this tool can pull up shallow-rooted saplings up to 2 inches in diameter, sparing you hours of digging.

Sometimes, weeds get too big to pull by sheer force of will. If you need leverage to pull small trees and shrubs, consider the two main alternatives that we tested new in 2015: the Extractigator ($155 plus shipping; Big Foot base, $20) and the Uprooter ($150 plus shipping). The price is a serious investment, but these are serious tools.

Both tools are variations of the beloved, much-missed Weed Wrench, a tool whose producer decided to “opt out” of business. They both have a lever, a foot, and a sliding clamp. You place the clamp around the stem, pull back on the lever until the clamp shuts on the stem, and then keep pulling back until you extract the tree from the ground. This approach works best on plants with shallow roots, like European buckthorn.

Of the two, we liked the Extractigator better. The Extractigator was easier to position around slim Norway maple stems (¼ inch to ½ inch in diameter) than the Uprooter, as the Extractigator’s jaws are closer to the lever handle than the Uprooter’s (more on that below), but both tools performed well on saplings up to 1½ inches in diameter. Overall, we believe that most home users would be happier with the Extractigator, which was easier to assemble, use, and carry than the Uprooter in our tests, although the Uprooter could potentially allow greater leverage for pulling out stubborn roots.

For starters, the Extractigator comes assembled. The Uprooter comes with a small bag of red grease and instructions for greasing most of the head of the tool, attaching the base to the lever with two clevis pins, sliding in the cotter pins, and then bending the ends of the cotter pins back with needle-nose pliers to keep the pins in. That last part was a problem. I’m a gardener, not a mechanic. I needed many, many tries to simply grasp the narrow, slippery ends of the cotter pins with the needle-nose tips, much less direct them back far enough to hold the pin in a stable position. Eventually I bent the ends back through sheer force of will. Why does a tool designed to make it easier to move trees depend on brute strength for assembly?

The Extractigator’s manufacturer shipped the tool to us with the optional Big Foot accessory ($20). The Big Foot makes the Extractigator’s lever base larger, helping to keep the tool from sinking into the ground if you’re pulling trees out of soft, crumbly, or wet soil. It’s actually necessary if you’re not working on hard-packed soil, as the Extractigator’s narrow base runs in a straight line with the lever. The Uprooter’s base is perpendicular to the lever; in my testing, it did not sink into dry, loamy soils covered with up to 1 inch of leaf litter.

Overall, the Extractigator is easier for a home landscaper to use than the Uprooter. It’s lighter at 12 pounds (13.4 pounds with the Big Foot) versus the Uprooter’s 15¾ pounds, and shorter (48¼ inches versus 53 inches). When you lift it, the Extractigator automatically opens and locks, making it easy to carry without a lot of banging and shifting, and ready to place around another tree. The bright orange jaws are obvious and easy to see through dense brush. Its only flaw is that the jaws are positioned 3 inches off the ground, 4 inches from the lever handle. Having the jaws close to the lever handle makes accurately positioning the Extractigator around slimmer stems easier, but when you pull the lever all the way over, you can’t move the tree as far as you could if the jaws were lower.

The Uprooter’s jaw assembly doesn’t unlock automatically.

The Uprooter’s jaw assembly doesn’t unlock automatically.

The Uprooter takes slightly more work to use. It has “a mechanism that locks the jaws open to ease the process of placing them around a stem,” which you can adjust. However, unlike with the Extractigator, that mechanism doesn’t unlock automatically when you put the Uprooter down. You have to step on the connection to the jaws to make them unlock and close. It’s a minor thing, but it translates into extra time and motion for every plant. That said, the Uprooter’s jaws are located lower and farther from the lever than those of the Extractigator (2 inches off the ground, 6 inches from the lever handle). That location makes positioning the jaws around a tree harder, simply because the stem is farther from the lever, but it also means that you can get the lever closer to the ground than you can with the Extractigator, adding even more functional length to a lever that’s already 5 inches longer than the Extractigator’s 48¼ inches.

Flaws but not dealbreakers: Extractigator

Although the Extractigator is versatile, you might consider it overkill for some smaller trees. If you want a smaller tool for trees less than 1 inch in diameter, the Extractigator’s maker also sells a smaller version called the Extractigator Junior. This tool stands a foot shorter than the Extractigator (36 inches versus 48 inches) and weighs 9¾ pounds instead of 12 pounds. It also costs $20 less ($135). We did not test this model, but it’s the same design, just smaller.

Then again, for giant uprooting tasks, the Extractigator might be less capable than the Uprooter. If you’re out to pull acres of established Scotch broom or European buckthorn, you’re in need of extra leverage, and you’re willing to put up with some annoyance in exchange for more force, choose the Uprooter.

Despite these small shortcomings, we believe most homeowners would be happier with the lighter, easier-to-use Extractigator for taking out small trees.

The competition (2015)

Hand weeders for small plants

The Tierra Garden Cape Cod Weeder excavates weed roots.

The Tierra Garden Cape Cod Weeder excavates weed roots.

The Tierra Garden Cape Cod Weeder ($30; also available in a functionally equivalent left-hand version for $30) offers a classic design for cutting, pulling, and excavating weeds. It’s similar in construction to the Nejiri Gama Hoe: A blade sits perpendicular to a rod connected to a wooden handle. However, the Cape Cod Weeder has a longer handle and a narrower blade that’s better for digging down around long taproots, as well as a thicker, sturdier rod between the handle and the blade. The Cape Cod Weeder isn’t as sharp as the Nejiri Gama Hoe, but it does a fine job overall. It excels at yanking out grass roots and shallow-rooted garlic mustard. It doesn’t provide quite as much leverage as the CobraHead Weeder and Cultivator for pulling out Rudbeckia laciniata clumps, and it doesn’t do as well on between-row cultivation as the Nejiri Gama Hoe simply because it isn’t quite as fiendishly sharp (although you could sharpen it). And, as always, dandelion roots snapped off at the end of the blade, despite my best efforts. Still, with a comfortable ash-wood handle and solid construction, the Cape Cod Weeder is an excellent performer.

The Ring Weeder gives you a claw for grubbing out small weeds.

The Ring Weeder gives you a claw for grubbing out small weeds.

The Ring Weeder ($5 plus $3 shipping) looks like something you’d buy for a quarter out of a bubble-gum machine at the supermarket, but it’s surprisingly effective. The Ring Weeder is a bright orange plastic gizmo that consists of a midget dandelion fork attached to a ring. Slide the ring over your index finger with the fork behind your fingertip, and suddenly you’ve extended your best digging finger by an inch. It’s like growing a claw. You can slide the Ring Weeder’s tip down into the soil under and around roots and yank them up. Being able to take weeds out with your hands is intuitive, and strangely satisfying. Unfortunately, the Ring Weeder has the same problem that every other dandelion fork inevitably faces: Weeds with long taproots (that is, dandelions) will break off at the tip of the weeder. If you’re weeding dandelions, the Ring Weeder won’t help you much. The Ring Weeder is generously sized, and slim-fingered users will find that it tends to slip off if they don’t wear bulky gloves. You won’t want to use this weeder to clear all the weed seedlings out of your vegetable patch; it’s just too slow. But for precision weeding of individual plants, the Ring Weeder is an excellent choice.

 The Lawn Jaws can grip weeds, but doesn’t pull well.

The Lawn Jaws pullers can grip weeds, but don’t pull well.

The Lawn Jaws weed pullers ($13 plus $5 shipping) have a simple design. They consist of a pair of needle-nose pliers with tiny teeth that point back toward the handle, much as a shark’s teeth tilt back toward its fearsome gullet. When you grasp a stem with these weed pliers and pull up, the teeth dig in and give you a secure grip on the weed. In fact, that grip is so secure that the tip of the Lawn Jaws is exactly where the dandelion roots I pulled snapped off, leaving a healthy taproot under the lawn to regrow. If your weeds are slippery, the Lawn Jaws might help, but this weeder won’t give you any extra leverage, help you get to deep roots under the soil, or cut off the roots of tiny seedlings. Amazon reviews seem to like it for weeding small crevices in driveways and rock walls, where getting a grip on a tiny stem is difficult.

The Weed Spinner is more entertaining than useful.

The Weed Spinner is more entertaining than useful.

The Weed Spinner ($17 plus $5 shipping) is a 33-inch-long drill bit with two protruding arms. Stick it in the ground next to the doomed plant, turn on your drill, and voilà: You now have a 33-inch-long drill bit wrapped in salad. When I tested this tool, it snapped the leaves off dandelions, leaving their energetic roots to grow new leaves in a day or two. It’s entertaining, and users don’t have to bend or squat to work with it, but this tool is really useful only for pulling up weeds with shallow roots or making small holes in your yard.

Large weeders

The Prohoe Rogue Garden Hoe is one of the oldest garden tools, and the best for all-around large-plot weeding.

The Prohoe Rogue Garden Hoe is one of the oldest garden tools, and the best for all-around large-plot weeding.

The most versatile large weeder we tested was the simplest: the Prohoe Rogue Garden Hoe 70G ($45). No gimmicks here—the 70G is a variation of one of the oldest tools known to humanity. It’s simple, sharp, and sturdy, with a 60-inch wooden handle and a head made of recycled agricultural disk blades. The 70G does everything the Nejiri Gama Hoe does, but on a larger scale. It pulls up grass clumps like cotton candy, sweeps under garlic mustard, and extracts Rudbeckia laciniata roots with a bit of work and patience. The wide, flat blade of the 70G can’t reach as far, and will inevitably dig up a 7-inch-wide swath, which may be larger than you’d like. Still, the 70G can slice through tiny seedlings under the soil, or yank out young Norway maples from below their admittedly shallow roots. Once again, however, it failed to remove more than a few inches of dandelion root. A Mother Earth News reviewer writes: “The blades hold a sharp edge extremely well, and have a slight curve that helps the hoe cut into the soil … We thought the Rogue Hoes might be too heavy for routine garden weeding, but the extra weight means you don’t have to chop as hard.” Mountain-bike trail builders use them for rooting out interfering saplings.

The Fiskars Uproot (left) and Yard Butler (right) look different, but have similar mechanisms.

The Fiskars Uproot (left) and Yard Butler (right) look different, but have similar mechanisms.

In 2015, we also tested two specialist weeders, the Yard Butler Rocket Weeder ($30) and the Fiskars Uproot Weed and Root Remover ($40). These tools are the Country Mouse and City Mouse of upright, clawed weeders. The Country Mouse Rocket Weeder looks old-timey, with mottled paint and rounded edges, and its Amazon page declares that it’s a “19th Century Weed Puller—Updated for Today.” The sophisticated City Mouse Fiskars Uproot has sharp claws, straight edges, and the typical stark black-and-orange Fiskars color scheme. At heart, however, they’re two variations on the same weeder. You place the weeder over a weed and push it into the ground, step on the foot lever to close the claws around the root, and then pull the weeder back to pluck the plant out of the ground. But both models have limitations, too. You have to be able to put the weeder into the ground directly on top of the weed to grip the root effectively. Getting the claws to grip young tree seedlings and other taller plants with hard, springy stems is more of a challenge.

Both tools work well on some types of weeds that respond to steady pulling in one spot. In our tests, for instance, they both did a beautiful job of extracting garlic bulbs and got several inches of Rudbeckia laciniata root out of the ground. With Norway maples, though, the two parted ways. Using the Rocket Weeder, I successfully removed a long-rooted young Norway maple seedling, roots and all, but I had a difficult time getting the Fiskars Uproot around the trunk of the tall-stemmed seedling, and I could not pull it after several tries. And, like every other weeder I tested, the Rocket Weeder and the Uproot both broke off dandelion stems at the tips of their claws, leaving the rest of the taproot underground. Given these weeders’ limited use—how many garlic bulbs do you have in your lawn?—I can’t really recommend either of them. If you’re renovating a neglected lawn full of soft-leaved plants with shallow roots, such as crabgrass, these weeders could save you a fair amount of bending. But you could also uproot most of those plants with a sharp hoe.

Of the two, the Fiskars Uproot has a slightly wider spread when its claws are open (4 cm or 1½ inches versus 3 cm or 1¼ inches for the Rocket Weeder). The Rocket Weeder closes its claws asymmetrically, producing a rectangle shape rather than a square, while the Fiskars Uproot closes three claws symmetrically around a fixed claw. Getting the Rocket Weeder around young tree seedlings was easier thanks to its asymmetry, but my particular Rocket Weeder also looked as if it was manufactured slightly off-kilter. I found other complaints about its manufacturing quality. As one Amazon reviewer writes, “On about the 10th time I used it, when two of the bottom prongs snapped, I could see from the place of the break that the device is not metal, but made of a composite material. (either that, or it’s an awful brittle metal. It has a plastic-break sort of finish).” I also noticed complaints about the Fiskars Uproot’s plastic components breaking, but they appear in a much lower portion of reviews.

The ProPlugger will make small holes in your yard. That’s it.

The ProPlugger will make small holes in your yard. That’s it.

The ProPlugger 5-IN-1 Planting Tool ($45) makes a 2-inch-deep, 4-inch-deep, or 6-inch-deep cylindrical hole in the ground (2⅛ inches in diameter). It has no moving parts. You simply place what looks like a short green pogo stick wherever you want a hole, step down on the side flanges to drive it into the ground, step off, pick it up, and there you go: a hole, and a Planting Tool with a wad of dirt inside. If your soil is very wet or dry (I tested it during a “moderate” drought), you will need to poke the dirt plug out by pushing down from inside the top tube with a rake or broom handle. I can’t recommend this tool as a weeder, as most plants don’t have roots that are exactly 2⅛ inches in diameter. In addition, the dandelions I tested had roots longer than 6 inches. This tool also doesn’t work well on soil covered with vines or thick roots; when I attempted to take out Rudbeckia laciniata, it could not make its way through a mass of Virginia creeper vines. It won’t help you with most weeds, and for the weeds it will pull, you’ll have to spend time getting the weed out of the dirt wad, as well as putting the dirt back into the new hole. But still: It does exactly what its name says it does, and it does that very well. I respect this tool.

The CobraHead Long Handle Weeder.

The CobraHead Long Handle Weeder.

Fans of the original CobraHead may enjoy the CobraHead Long Handle Weeder ($55), a long-handled tool for weeding tight places. It’s the same tool—a large round hook with a slightly flared, flattened end—on a 60-inch handle. This version isn’t as useful for prying up tangled mats of Rudbeckia laciniata roots as the original CobraHead is; you just can’t get that kind of low-to-the-ground leverage with this tool. Really, it isn’t for digging at all. The CobraHead Long Handle Weeder excels at two things: It’s perfect for surface weeding and cultivating narrow spaces while standing, and with its hook end it’s great for catching running stems of rampant groundcovers like Virginia creeper and pachysandra. If you want to do more, you need a different tool.

The competition (2014)

The Winged Weeder Jr. ($13) has roughly the same capabilities as the CobraHead: great leverage for yanking out grass and sliding Rudbekcia laciniata roots out of the soil, enough delicacy to extract garlic mustard roots, and no luck whatsoever in pulling up dandelion roots intact. But while the CobraHead excels at pulling up sod and root masses, the Winged Weeder’s specialty is the quiet art of cultivation. The Winged Weeder, which consists of a handle with a “winged” wedge-shaped blade, is designed primarily for cultivating between rows and slicing weeds.  It does a fine job of dislodging tiny plants between rows. That said, it doesn’t do any better than the Nejiri Gama Hoe, which costs a few dollars less. Buy the Winged Weeder Jr. if you want a tool with a longer handle and a handy right angle for making square plots and edges.

I did feel a responsibility to include a dandelion weeder in this review, even though such tools are not particularly versatile, just because some gardeners passionately loathe dandelions. Some authors recommend digging dandelions with barbecue forks, table knives, or tent stakes. Organic Life suggests extracting dandelions with the Mintcraft 13” Cushion Grip Garden Taproot Weeder ($5 plus $7 shipping), a two-pronged stainless-steel fork with a curved fulcrum attached for better leverage.

Unfortunately, such weeders are not much better at uprooting dandelions than they are at removing other types of weeds, which they do poorly. The Mintcraft tool performed this task better than the other weeders, but I still could not extract a dandelion root intact. Trying to use the fulcrum to leverage dandelions out of the soil just broke off the end of the root, ensuring that the dandelion would return to despoil my garden once again. A soil knife with a long blade would be a better investment for precise digging around long, narrow roots. A dandelion weeder does a subpar job of cultivation because of its narrow, blade-free tips, and it isn’t particularly effective at uprooting sod or pulling up Rudbeckia laciniata root masses, either. This type of weeder is fine for removing old garlic bulbs and garlic mustard roots, but you can find plenty of other weeders capable of doing those tasks just as well. Skip the dandelion weeders.

The Magic Weeder ($25) has a certain charm but lacks leverage. It looks like something Aunt Hepzibah Fortitude might have used to cultivate the parsnips circa 1820. Hold the wooden handle, and your hand becomes a claw with three long, spiked metal fingers. The tool is designed to loosen the soil, and it works well for dislodging sod, old bulbs, and garlic mustard. However, it doesn’t give as much leverage for pulling out long, thick roots as other weeders do, and its cultivation capability is limited to scratching the surface around weeds. It simply isn’t as efficient at disrupting soil or pulling weeds out as a Nejiri Gama Hoe.

Care and maintenance

Clean your tools! Be sure to wipe all tools, especially those with rust-prone carbon-steel blades, dry of dirt and moisture before you store them—and it wouldn’t hurt to wipe them with an oily rag. See this article from HGTV for garden-tool maintenance tips.

Wrapping it up

The compact Nejiri Gama Hoe is versatile enough for almost all weeding needs from grass to garlic mustard—except for dandelion roots. But other weeders don’t work on those roots either, so get a soil knife if they offend you.

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Sources

  1. Joe Quirolo, Short Handled Weeding Tools, Fine Gardening
    "I've been using a Hand Weeder (mine is from Smith & Hawken) for more than 10 years, and I consider it my right hand. It's of moderate weight and well balanced, with a hard, forged-steel blade welded to a long shaft set into a comfortable wooden handle. I like its versatility. I can get close to plants with the short side of the blade, clear large areas with the entire blade, use the corner of the blade to get into cracks, and, with one hand on the blade and one on the handle, get under most weeds to shave them off like a razor. It's strong enough to hook and pull tough clumps of grass, and its long shaft allows you weed without kneeling and to reach into and under places your hand won't go."
  2. Genevieve, The Ken Ho Weeder, Garden Tool Review, March 16, 2013
    "My favorite thing about the Ken-Ho is that it offers a different motion when weeding. Most weeding tools require a bit of a wrist flick, which can aggravate wrist or hand injuries. The scraping motion of this weeder lets you keep your wrist straight, so you can garden longer without becoming tired or sore."
  3. Jessica Neufeld, Hand Weeders, OrganicLife (Organic Gardening), April 29, 2011
    "3. MintCraft Weeder This tool's forked teeth efficiently pop tap-rooted weeds out of the ground, while the fortified steel fulcrum provides the leverage so your hand and arm don't have to. Total length is 13 1/4 inches."
  4. Bob Denman, Weeding Made Easy, Fine Gardening
  5. Ecological Landscaping Association LinkedIn Group, Hand Weeders?, June 2013
  6. Deb Wiley, Eliminate Weed Plants From Your Garden, Better Homes and Gardens
    "Your hands are often the best all-purpose weeding tools, but when you need a little more power, try one of these. Cutting and scraping tools work best for sliding behind and beneath weeds to chop stems from roots. Use angled triangular blades to weed cracks and crevices. Fishtail or taproot weeders have a V-shape tip on the end of a long tool that you slip on either side of a weed stem (such as a dandelion) to pry the root from the soil."
  7. Genevieve, Cobrahead Weeding Tool: A Steel Claw for Veggie Gardening and Weeding Cracks, North Coast Gardening, May 24, 2010
    "If you’re the kind of gardener who tosses down your trowel in disgust and starts digging with your fingers, the Cobrahead might be for you. It’s best in beds with somewhat soft soil (like veggie beds) and smallish weeds, and in those circumstances, I actually prefer it to my long-beloved hori-hori! I simply annihilated the weeds in my veggie bed, and having finished in 5 minutes what should have taken 15, I was looking around for more places to use it!"
  8. mgodfrey, Best Tools for Weeding, Horticulture Magazine, June 22, 2009
    "Weeding tools are essential if you don’t want to spray herbicides in your yard and garden, and they’re just as effective—if not more so—and not to mention safer."
  9. Genevieve, What to Brandish at Your Weeds: Hori-Horis, Soil Knives, and Trowels (With a Video Review of my Top Two!), North Coast Gardening, April 29, 2009
    "I love the stainless steel Hori-Hori (which means diggy-diggy in Japanese!) for all-around work. The blade stays sharp, smooth, and rust-free, and it has a sharp side and a serrated side for cutting through landscape fabric or tough roots. The tip has a sharp point, so it goes into the soil smoothly and can get even weeds with long taproots out."
  10. Geefrank, The Right Weeders Make All the Difference, Vegetable Gardening Gnomes
    "Cobra-head weeder: Some gardeners swear by this. It really does look like a snake. It is a hand-held weeder with a plastic handle and a metal hook that comes to a sharpened, triangular shaped point at the top. It is kind of like having a long steel fingernail. It is best for small areas but you can do a lot more than just weed. It can also be handy for planting and harvesting when you need a precision digging tool."
  11. Sue Kittek, More about maintaining garden tools, The Morning Call, Feburary 3, 2011
    "Both the metal parts and the wooden handles of gardening tools need maintenance oiling. For the metal parts, a light coat of vegetable oil will protect them from rust. After each use or at least at the end of the season, clean all the dirt and debris from your tools; sharpen the cutting edges of tools such as shovels, hoes or hand trowels, and oil the metal parts. A simple solution is to have a large bucket of sand, moistened with vegetable oil on hand where you store your tools. Plunge the tool into the sand after each use for a light coat of oil. Before the days of ecological awareness, buckets of motor oil were used for the same purpose."

Let's make waffles.