The Best Shovels for Digging in the Yard and Garden
Get down in the dirt with the right shovel for your garden and landscaping needs. Ahead, read our guide to understanding the different types of shovels and choosing among the many available options.
The smell of freshly turned earth. A sturdy shovel in your hand. A flat of green and healthy bedding plants beside you, waiting to be tenderly placed into the ground. If you love gardening, you know the joy of all these things. And you also know that a good shovel makes gardening—and many other outdoor tasks—easier on your hands, back, and mood.
There are quite a few types of shovels and other digging tools to choose from. That makes it tricky to choose just one. Shopping considerations include the shape of the blade, the length of the handle, the comfort of the grip, and the weight of the tool. To simplify things, we’ve provided pointers on choosing a shovel and our top picks among the best shovel options out there.
- BEST ALL-PURPOSE SHOVEL: Bully Tools Round-Point Shovel
- BEST SHORT-HANDLE SHOVEL: Bond Mini D-Handle Shovel
- BEST GARDEN SPADE: Fiskars Garden Spade
- BEST GARDEN SCOOP: Ames Aluminum Scoop
- BEST TRENCHING SHOVEL: Corona General Purpose Trench Shovel
Spade or Shovel? What’s the Difference?
While many people use the terms “spade” and “shovel” interchangeably, technically they are not the same thing. There are many other digging tools, including trenching shovels and scoops. Most avid gardeners have a selection of digging tools to handle various garden tasks.
- Picture a digging tool, and you are likely thinking of a garden shovel, which has a blade that curves to a rounded point. Typically, the blade is somewhat concave, making it easier to hold and move soil. At the point where the blade meets the handle, there’s generally a small, flattened platform called a collar where the gardener can rest a foot for extra oomph when pushing the tool into the ground.
- Despite what the shape of the playing card symbol might lead you to believe, a garden spade has a flat-edged blade that’s perfect for cutting through roots or tough soil. Spades are also useful for moving small amounts of dirt, garden debris, or soil amendments, because like a shovel, the blade is normally somewhat concave. Spades also often have a collar for adding extra foot-power when needed.
- Garden scoops have large, flat blades with sidewalls to keep the contents in place. Scoops aren’t for digging, but they’re the tool of choice for moving large piles of dirt, soil amendments, leaves and other garden debris, gravel, and mulch.
- Trenching shovels have long narrow blades—4 inches is the most common size—that come to a slight point. These handy tools are perfect for digging trenches to install or repair irrigation systems, or for digging drains.
While digging tools are admittedly not complex or exciting, there are still a few important considerations when it comes to choosing the best shovel.
Almost all digging shovels and garden spades have steel blades, typically in the range of 8 to 10 inches across and 10 to 12 inches long. The most durable shovels have forged blades, meaning the blade started as a single piece of heated steel that was then hammered into shape. Less expensive shovels generally have stamped steel blades, meaning the blade and attachment to the handle was machine-stamped from a sheet of steel. You’ll generally pay twice as much for a garden tool with a forged blade, but you’ll also likely get many more years of use out of it: a good shovel, if cared for properly, can last for many years, even decades.
Garden scoops usually have aluminum blades, which makes them much lighter, but also more prone to denting or bending.
Garden shovels, spades, and scoops usually have a handle between 44 and 48 inches long, which is a comfortable length for most gardeners. There are also short-handled shovels and spades, with handles somewhere between 18 and 24 inches in length. As a general rule, long-handled garden tools provide better leverage, are easier on the gardener’s back, and are well suited to a wide range of digging tasks. But when working in a confined area, a short-handled shovel is the better choice. For many gardeners, the best solution is having both on hand.
There are three common materials used to make shovel and spade handles: wood, steel, and fiberglass. Wood—usually hickory or ash—is the traditional material for a digging tool handle, and many gardeners prefer the look and feel of wood. On the upside, wood is less expensive than fiberglass. You’ll generally pay one-third to one-half less for a shovel with a wooden handle than for a shovel with a fiberglass handle. On the downside, however, wood is heavier than fiberglass and more prone to splintering or snapping from heavy use or age. Steel-handled digging tools generally cost around the same as those with a fiberglass handle and are stronger, but heavier.
Many inexpensive wood-handled shovels and spades don’t actually have a grip: gardeners simply grasp the sturdy wooden handle. But higher-quality wooden-handled and fiberglass-handled digging tools normally have some sort of grip to provide better traction and some protection from blisters and hand pain. On long-handled tools, the grip is most often made of heavy plastic or rubbery foam, and is somewhat textured and formed for a secure grip and comfort during lengthy digging sessions. The grip usually covers around 10 to 12 inches of the handle.
The other common type of grip is a D-shaped grip, which allows the gardener to grasp the molded D at the top of the handle with one hand and the shaft with the other. These are most commonly used on short-handled shovels and spades, but they are also found on some longer-handled tools, especially garden scoops. While a D-shaped grip makes working with a shorter tool much easier, it’s mostly a matter of preference on longer tools. Some gardeners feel the D-shaped grip is more comfortable or gives them better leverage while digging or moving soil.
Most long-handled garden shovels and spades weigh between 5 and 8 pounds, with fiberglass tools towards the lower end of that range and wood-handled tools towards the upper end. While that might not seem like a very wide range, those few pounds can make a big difference after several hours of yard work. Although the perfect weight depends mostly on the gardener’s own strength and endurance, as a general rule, a heavier shovel is more durable.
Our Top Picks
1. BEST ALL-PURPOSE SHOVEL: Bully Tools Round-Point Shovel with Fiberglass D-Grip Handle
When it’s time to get digging, consider reaching for the Bully Tools Round-Point Shovel with its 14-gauge steel blade and polypropylene D-shaped handle. At less than 5 pounds, it’s light enough to wield comfortably, and it’s got the strength to break through tough soil, lift pebble-filled dirt, and chip away at soil, grass, or roots.
2. BEST SHORT-HANDLE SHOVEL: Bond Mini D-Handle Shovel
Short-handle shovels are handy when working in tight spots. With the Bond Mini D-Handle Shovel, gardeners can dig holes, move dirt, apply compost, or remove stubborn weeds with ease. The shovel measures a bit under 28 inches from top to bottom, has a strong steel handle, and is topped with a D-shaped, nonslip, comfortable grip.
3. BEST GARDEN SPADE: Fiskars Garden Spade
Whether you want to slice through thick roots, neaten up the edges of the lawn, move a pile of compost or soil, or remove a section of lawn, the Fiskars Garden Spade is a worthy option. With a steel blade and shaft, this spade is extremely sturdy but weighs a surprisingly light 5 pounds. A great feature is the extra-large D-shaped grip, which is big enough for both hands to grasp, providing extra control and strength while working. The grip is comfortable and non-slip.
4. BEST GARDEN SCOOP: Ames Aluminum Scoop
You won’t be digging holes with it, but when you need to scoop and move fertilizer, mulch, soil amendments, hay, leaves, lightweight gravel, or even a bit of snow, the Ames Aluminum Scoop is an effective and lightweight option. The rustproof aluminum alloy blade measures 15 by 19 inches, and curves up at the sides and back, so it can handle a large load without difficulty. The 26-inch hardwood handle, meanwhile, is topped with a soft, comfortable D-shaped grip that resists slipping.
5. BEST TRENCHING SHOVEL: Corona General Purpose Trench Shovel
A trenching shovel may not be as versatile as other digging tools, but it shines when installing or repairing an irrigation system or digging out drains. The Corona General Purpose Trench Shovel is affordably priced, but make no mistake—this a brawny tool that gets the job done. It has a 48-inch hardwood handle and a pointed steel blade with 1-inch sides to keep soil in place while you move it out of the way. Expertly designed for its purpose, the shape of this shovel—specifically the angle between the blade and the handle—provides excellent leverage.