Master Gardener tips: Two versatile Japanese garden tools

The following piece was written by Master Gardener Dick Christensen, who has received training through Colorado State University Extension’s Master Gardener program and is a Master Gardener volunteer for Larimer County.

Japanese-triangular-spade-by-Dick-ChristensenJapanese garden tools
Gardeners know that they need seeds, soil, sun, and water for plants to grow. And gardeners also need a few key tools. Japanese garden tools are objects worthy of admiration and are extremely useful in the garden. Fortunately for Colorado gardeners, beautifully made and durable tools from Japan are available in local garden centers and online.

History
In the era of samurai warriors, katana (Japanese swords) were commonly used in close-combat warfare. These weapons were hand forged by professional sword smiths. Combinations of carbon steel were hammered and heated numerous times to increase a sword’s strength and durability. An 1876 edict by the Meiji government outlawed, with a few exceptions, the making of katana. This created difficult times for samurai and for the smiths who supplied their swords. To continue the craft of forging and to maintain business, many smiths opted to create tools for woodworking, kitchen tasks, and gardening. The legacy of sword forging is evident in the quality of cutting edges and the durability of these implements.

Today’s market
Traditional Japanese forging techniques are complicated and require great skill and determination. In today’s market, the quality of tools can vary greatly. A wide range of Japanese tools is available, including hori hori knives, spades, triangle hoes, Nisaku sickle hoes, and Nejiri Gama hoes. Many gardeners also wield claw rakes and crevice-and-sidewalk weeders, and find many uses for chisels, mallets, hatchets, trowels, and pruners. Small armories of specialized tools also are fabricated in Japan for bonsai and ikebana enthusiasts. Below are two Japanese gardening tools that serious gardeners should consider owning.

Hori Hori Knife
The hori hori digging tool originated in Japan and originally was used for carefully extracting plants from the earth. The word hori means “to dig” in Japanese and hori hori refers to the digging sound in spoken Japanese.

A hori hori, sometimes referred to as a soil knife or weeding knife, has a heavy serrated steel blade. It serves any number of functions in the garden. As a knife or saw, the serrated edge cuts through roots, tubers, and tough soil. For planting new bulbs in established perennial beds, the hori hori helps to target digging cuts and with clearly spaced serrations can double as an ad hoc measuring device. Some hori hori actually are marked with rulers.

The hori hori is good for weeding, transplanting, sod cutting, and dividing perennials. Blades are made of carbon steel or stainless steel and are slightly concave. They are sharp on both sides, with a semi-sharp point at the ends—perfectly suited for digging and prying. Hori hori blades are held by smooth wooden handles for comfortable use with one hand. Blade sizes vary, but normally measure approximately 6 7/8” × 1 3⁄4”. The length of the knife varies from eleven to fifteen inches, depending on the size of the handle.

Triangle-Shaped Short and Long-Handled Hoes
Like the hori hori knife, triangle hoes are quite versatile. Their slim edges can clean weeds from pavement gaps, cut into crevices, or graze just beneath the surface of soil to slice off tiny weed seedlings. A blade’s angle can easily tuck under weeds or grasses and pull them out of the ground, roots and all. This tool serves well for planting, with a tapered end that easily pushes deep into soil. Triangle hoes can dig seed trenches, aerate soil, and break up clods. The edges of these tools are sharp enough to cut through sod.

Note: Photographs taken by author Dick Christensen.

CSU Extension in Larimer County
CSU Extension in Larimer County is a county-based outreach of Colorado State University Extension that provides information you can trust to deal with current issues in agriculture, horticulture, nutrition and food safety, 4-H, small acreage, money management and parenting. For more information about CSU Extension in Larimer County, call (970) 498-6000 or visit www.larimer.org/ext

CSU Extension Horticulture Agent blog
Looking for additional gardening information? Check out the CSU Extension Horticulture Agent blog at www.csuhort.blogspot.com for timely updates about gardening around the state.

PlantTalk Colorado
Visit PlantTalk Colorado for fast answers to your gardening questions. PlantTalk is a cooperation between Colorado State University Extension, GreenCo and Denver Botanic Gardens.

CSU University Communications Staff