Unlike the hoe, or a layer of smothering mulch or black plastic, a weeder is a hand tool, a clever handheld weapon in the war on weeds. You can usually take out the invading marauders one at a time. As such, using a weeder is better than attacking the enemy with your bare hands. You can use the same vigor — or frothing rage, if it comes to that! — but a weeding tool makes your efforts more productive. A good weeder helps you extract the entire plant (as you know from dandelions and other weeds, leaving a bit of root behind usually means that the war isn't over yet).
An oscillatinghoe(a\so known as an action hoe, hula hoe, or stirrup hoe) looks different from the average hoe. Rather than a solid piece of sharp metal, it's a shallow open box (like a cookie cutter) of double-edged blades, and it moves about >2 inch back and forth as you push or pull it. Thus, it can cut in two directions and is also self-cleaning (debris slips off with each back-and-forth motion). It's especially effective for combating established weeds in heavy soil.
This sort of hoe is amazingly easy and fun, almost relaxing or hypnotic to use. The stirrups may be as big as 7 inches across or as small as 2 inches across.
Just take a look at the many options — try out something — or make an effort to match the weeder to the weed, because some tools are specialists. You need a forked end, for example, to get plants with taproots, and the "mini-hoe" action of a typical hand weeder works better on shallow-rooted and well-hidden weeds where your aim is merely to slice off the aboveground parts of the plants. Personally, I don't find weeders with rotary blades to be very useful.
Because weeders go into the difficult zones of tough soil and tenacious root systems and may contend with daunting obstructions, including rocks and other impediments, they need to be both very tough and somewhat flexible or resilient. Steel is best, of course, though not all steel is created equal. Sturdy gauge steel is fine, and stamped steel is adequate, but if you want a truly powerful and long-lasting weapon, spend your money on a higher-quality forged steel weeder.
Most weeders are meant to be used down on the ground, as close to their quarry as possible. This means you have to sit, kneel, or squat, which reduces strain on your back and allows you to bring maximum force to the job at hand. If the ground is damp or uncomfortable for you, do your weeding perched on a mat or kneeling on one of those nifty low gardening stools.
Take out weeds earlier rather than later, because smaller weeds are always easier to attack. Work when the ground is damp from a rain or recent watering, and you should find the job much easier.
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