There are three types of hoes, the Dutch or push hoe that cuts the weeds like a blade, the draw hoe with a blade at right angles to the handle, used for mounding soil or creating seed drills and the one handed onion or swan necked hoe that is light, easy to control and allows you to weed close to plants and among rows of closely planted vegetables. There are variations on the theme like the ‘swoe’ with an L – shaped blade which cuts on the forwards, backwards and sideways motion others have a serrated edges to improve the slicing action. If you are buying one, hold it vertically, if the top is level with your eyes, the handle will be long enough for you to stand comfortably when working.
To work effectively, the blade must be sharp and it’s useful to keep a file in your pocket, particularly if the soil is stony. When I worked on the local Parks department, Fred, who was responsible for maintaining the place equipment used to sharpen my hoe each day with an angle grinder and it cut like a knife! The blade should be sharp enough to sever the stem from the roots with a cutting action but even just disturbing the roots and bringing them to the surface on a hot sunny day ensures that they shrivel up; on wet soils, they re-root. Hoeing is much more effective on light or stone free soil, and particularly effective on annual weeds and perennial seedlings, though regular removal of the leaves from perennial weeds eventually kills the root. It disrupts germinating seedlings too, hence the saying ‘if you hoe when there are no weeds, you won‘t get any‘.
How do you hoe? Ensure the blade is flat of just below the surface of the soil, no deeper than 1/2″ the push it rhythmically back and forward to slice off the weeds. If it is too deep, the roots of shallow rooted plants like camellias, rhododendrons and blackcurrants can be damaged and damage to roses and lilacs can causing ‘suckering‘. When hoeing among vegetables, do so between the rows then hand weed in the rows, particularly among root crops which can be damaged.
Walk backwards as you work, to hoe over your footprints and if you can stay on the path or lawn, it’s even better as you avoid compacting the soil in the border.
Remember to remove the side shoots from cordon tomatoes as you train the stems up string or bamboo canes. They develop between the leaf and stem and use valuable energy and reduce the crop if they are allowed to develop. Break them off gently with the thumb and forefinger, if you need more plants, they root easily in water, just take care when transplanting, as the roots are fragile and break easily.