Every household needs at least one trowel to dig small holes and to transplant plants from time to time. A trowel is a small hand held shovel that is usually only about ten or twelve inches long; though some trowels come with a long handle up to 24 inches. Like all tools, the more expensive is the trowel the higher its quality and the longer it will last if it is properly cared for. Unfortunately, the trowel is also the tool most often left outside at some point and lost.
Design – Trowels come with narrow 2 inch digging blades while others can be as much as 4 inches wide. We like to have one of each with a short handle. Then we like to have one trowel with a longer handle for certain jobs that make that the ideal tool.
Durability – If you know you will be losing your trowels, buy the cheapie plastic versions. Generally, any trowel that costs more than $5 is going to be durable and do its job for a long time. There are now plastic trowels (fiber and graphite composites) with the same strength as steel, so metal trowels now have some competition. Generally, trowels that are welded or made of cast alloy will be stronger and last longer than those with a handle riveted to the blade.
Comfort and Technique – The comfort of a trowel rests with the size of the handle related to the size of your hand and the angle of the handle to the blade. You can choose a trowel that “feels” good by simply handling it in the store. The new tools with “ergonomic” design features in the handle design generally will cause less strain on the muscles when doing more than a little digging with the tool.
When making ahole for planting, hold the handle with your thumb on top and the hollow of the blade towards you. Scoop out soil into a mound on the near side of the hole. With your other hand, set the plant; without removing the trowel from you hand, tamp the soil into place.
Maintenance – Most people do nothing to care for their trowels, and if they paid only $3 for the tool, that is probably logical. If however, you really do it right and spend $15 for a gorgeous welded English trowel with a sexy wooden handle, there are some things you might do to protect your investment. After each use (or at least once a week), wash all the dirt off your trowel and wipe it dry. To keep it from rusting, wipe the blade with an oily cloth (WD40 or motor oil work well). A trowel with a sharp edge works best, and to keep your trowel sharp use a tool such as those found in the file Garden Tool Sharpening Tools in Yardener's Tool Shed.
Finally, store your trowel indoors rather than letting it lie out in the rain.