Buy the Nejiri Gama hand hoe to extract, uproot, disrupt and behead the weeds in your garden. It’s light and sharp, and it has good leverage for heaving plants out of the soil.
With a wide, sharp blade with flat sides, the Nejiri Gama hand hoe can cut, pull and ease plants out of the earth, and the points on the blade can fit into narrow crevices in pavement. It’s versatile enough for almost all weeding needs, although some taproots require lengthier weeders than our compact pick.
Who should buy this?
Any gardener who deals with weeds should at least try the $20 Nejiri Gama hand hoe. If you already have several weeders, you will probably be able to replace several of them with a single Nejiri Gama, freeing up storage space. If you don’t have a weeder, this tool will make your weeding easier.
It’s true that some people don’t care for weeders at all. As John Enfield, a former docent at Las Vegas’s Springs Preserve, put it, “My favorite hand weeder is, well, my hand. I’ve tried many tools and have not found one that I’m happy with. When I am given a tool to use on a job, I usually wind up just putting a form-fitting glove on and putting the tool in my back pocket or back in the tool box.” But if you don’t weed like Speedy Gonzales, weeders can extend your reach, and good ones can dig into the soil either shallowly or deeply (depending on the weed). A narrow blade can also move with more finesse than fingers, allowing you to exterminate crab grass while leaving the tarragon in peace.
Why you should believe me
I’ve been gardening in the Boston area for 19 years, and I am one of the pillars of the Menotomy Gardeners e-group. I earned a certificate in Field Botany from the New England Wild Flower Society in 2007, and I co-founded the Lexington Community Farm Coalition, which is devoted to preserving working agricultural land. In 2010, I published Boston Gardens and Green Spaces, a Boston Globe Local Bestseller, and I am the co-creator of the GREEN SPACES: Boston app. I have appeared on NPR’s Radio Boston and WCVB’s Chronicle discussing Boston’s open space, and my work has been featured in the Boston Globe, the Boston Phoenix, Boston Magazine, and Time Out Boston. I give frequent talks to historical societies, garden clubs, and book groups about New England landscape history and agriculture. My blog about Boston’s plants and landscaping appears at Green Space Boston.
How we tested
I began my research by looking into the vast universe of weeders, the Lucky Charms of the garden tool world. There are weeders shaped like hearts, diamonds, disks, forks, squid, corkscrews, snakes, space invaders…all with slightly different purposes and capabilities. Very few of these weeders have been reviewed by anyone, anywhere.
For some gardeners, that tool is a soil knife. As Joe Quirolo wrote in Kitchen Gardener magazine about his hori-hori soil knife: “I use it for serious weeding jobs involving deep-rooted weeds, where I can dig, pry, and cut off deeply without changing tools. I also use it extensively for transplanting and dividing perennials.” For more information about soil knives, see the review on this site. However, it’s hard to use soil knives for removing the myriad tiny weeds that pop up between lettuce seedlings; the edge is too long and the point is too small. I looked for tools that are more versatile.
It quickly became clear that only a few weeder designs were mentioned by more than one reviewer or commenter. It also became clear that few reviewers and commenters ever did anything to rate their weeders other than look at the pretty pictures in the catalog. I was compelled to test the few models that remained to compare their strengths and weaknesses.
As with any other gardening tool, I looked at durability as well. I looked for secure connections to handles and blades that were made of stainless steel, aluminum that will not rust or strong carbon steel (which will rust, but is harder than stainless steel). Carbon-steel blades should be wiped dry of dirt and moisture before they’re stored, and it wouldn’t hurt to wipe them with an oily rag; see this article from HGTV for garden tool maintenance tips.
Overall, the Nejiri Gama hand hoe stood out for its excellent performance on all tests…except for dandelions. Only the dandelion-specific weeders by Mintcraft and Corona had any success at pulling up dandelions without breaking the taproot, and even those models left a broken-off chunk of root under the earth, ready to rise again. The Kusakichi Nejiri Scraper performed almost as well (unsurprising, given that it’s the identical design with a different handle) but the Winged Weeder and CobraHead Weeder also did well, losing out to the Nejiri Gama only on cultivation.
The same basic tool is sold under many names: the Nejiri Gama hand hoe; the AM Leonard Handy Weeder 5-inch blade; the Ken Ho Weeder; the Smith and Hawken Hand Weeder; onion hoe; and hand hoe. Many hand hoes sold under different names are actually the same model manufactured by Japan-based Kinboshi corporation (Golden Star tools). They all have a 125 mm (5″) blade connected to a square metal rod that is fitted into a wooden handle with a bright red, plastic tip with a hanging loop; the tool is 280 mm (11″) long in total. The name “Nejiri Gama” roughly translates to “torsional sickle” on the Kinboshi web site.
As an Amazon reviewer put it, “I use it to plant (the narrow end easily pushes deep into the soil) seedlings, aerate, to make a seed trench, to break up clods and knock the soil off the roots of large weeds, and of course to weed. It takes out deep tap roots with its narrow end, and with the broad edge slices small weeds just under the surface. Very easy to maneuver around plant bases. Just the perfect hand tool.” The tip of the handle is bright red, making it easier to spot before you accidentally drop it in the compost with the remains of your weeds.
Joe Quirolo liked it as well, writing in Fine Gardening that “I can get close to plants with the short side of the blade, clear large areas with the entire blade, use the corner of the blade to get into cracks, and, with one hand on the blade and one on the handle, get under most weeds to shave them off like a razor.” The Garden Tool Review commented, “The triangular blade is perfectly shaped to fit into sidewalk cracks to remove weeds or moss. In established garden beds, getting weeds out from under shrubs or perennials can be a challenge. The angled head on this scraping weeder makes it easy to reach under existing plants to remove stubborn weeds.”
Left-handed users will want to get the functionally-equivalent Tierra Derco Eurogarden Hand Hoe, Left. Gardeners who want assistance reaching farther to the back of deep planting beds will want to opt for the 2” longer handle of the Kusakichi Nejiri Scraper ($11), which performed identically to the Nejiri Gama hand hoe apart from the Heliopsis runner test. But the Kusakichi Nejiri Scraper’s handle is smooth, making it slightly harder to pull out resistant roots, and it doesn’t have a red tip to make it easier to find in the garden; watch where you put it!
The Garden Rant blogger wrote, “They advertise it as a ‘steel fingernail’ and an ‘extension of your hand.’ and that’s actually pretty accurate for imagining what it’s best for and what it doesn’t shine at. If you’re the kind of gardener who tosses down your trowel in disgust and starts digging with your fingers, the Cobrahead might be for you.”
Like the Nejiri Gama Hoe, it isn’t quite long enough to get down to the bottom of dandelion roots, and its small head makes it impractical for cultivating between rows of plants. But for large, dense root masses (or any situation where you can slide the CobraHead blade under the root) the CobraHead simply works better than anything else.
The Winged Weeder Jr. ($17) had roughly the same capabilities as the CobraHead—great leverage for yanking out grass and sliding Heliopsis roots out of the soil, enough delicacy to extract garlic mustard roots, and no luck whatsoever in pulling up dandelion roots intact. But while the CobraHead excels at pulling up sod and root masses, the Winged Weeder’s specialty is the quiet art of cultivation. The Winged Weeder, a handle with a “winged” wedge-shaped blade, is designed primarily for cultivating between rows and slicing weeds. It does a fine job of dislodging tiny plants between rows. That said, it doesn’t do any better than the Nejiri Gama hoe, which costs $4 less. Buy the Winged Weeder Jr if you want a tool with longer handle and a handy right angle for making square plots and edges.
I can only recommend getting the Kusakichi V-Shaped Scraper if you have hard clay soil that’s hard to penetrate with other tools or if you’re attacking garden varmints. It has a wooden handle and a sharp, v-shaped blade attached to a short rod at the center of the blade. It has excellent leverage for pulling up sod and tangled roots, but for most gardens it’s too sharp for its own good. It looks like the perfect garden murder weapon, the sort of thing you’d find with Colonel Mustard in the greenhouse in a Clue game. Its long, V-shaped blade looked promising and sturdy, and its narrow point looked perfect for fitting into narrow cracks and spaces between perennials. What I found is that the blade is so sharp on such a large portion of its surface that it was impossible to pull out most weeds without slicing off their roots. It did an excellent job of cultivating between rows, though.
I did feel a responsibility to include a dandelion weeder in this review, even though they’re not particularly versatile, just because some gardeners passionately loathe dandelions. Some authors suggest digging dandelions with barbecue forks, table knives or tent stakes. Organic Gardening suggests extracting dandelions with the $5 Mintcraft 13” Cushion Grip Garden Taproot Weeder, a two-pronged stainless steel fork with a curved fulcrum attached for better leverage. Fine Gardening suggests the Corona Clipper Stainless Steel Weeder with Fulcrum, an identical design with a longer metal shank (which is probably more durable) on the uncushioned handle for $11. The Mintcraft weeder’s shank is shorter than the Corona’s, with a much smaller area of contact between the one-piece metal fork and shank and the wooden handle, so it probably won’t stand up to the strain of pushing against rocks and stumps as well as the Corona.
Unfortunately, these weeders are not much better at uprooting dandelions than at removing other types of weeds, which they do poorly. They performed this task better than the other weeders, but I still could not extract a dandelion root intact. Trying to use the fulcrum to leverage dandelions out of the soil just broke off the end of the root—ensuring that the dandelion would return to despoil my garden once again. A soil knife with a long blade would be a better investment for precise digging around long, narrow roots. They do a poor job of cultivation, thanks to their narrow, blade-free tip, and they aren’t particularly effective at uprooting sod or pulling up Heliopsis root masses, either. They do fine at removing old garlic bulbs and garlic mustard roots, but there are plenty of other weeders that can do those tasks just as well. Skip these weeders.
The Magic Weeder has a certain charm but lacks leverage; it looks like something Aunt Hepzibah Fortitude would have used to cultivate the parsnips ca. 1820. Hold the wooden handle, and your hand becomes a claw with three long, spiked metal fingers. It’s designed to loosen the soil, and it works well for dislodging sod, old bulbs and garlic mustard. However, it doesn’t give as much leverage for pulling out long, thick roots as other weeders, and its cultivation is limited to scratching the surface around weeds. It simply isn’t as efficient at disrupting soil or pulling weeds out as a Nejiri Gama.
Wrapping it up
The compact Nejiri Gama hand hoe is versatile enough for almost all weeding needs, from grass to garlic mustard—except for dandelion roots. But other weeders don’t work on them either, so get a soil knife if they offend you.
Short Handled Weeding Tools, Fine Gardening,"I've been using a Hand Weeder (mine is from Smith & Hawken) for more than 10 years, and I consider it my right hand. It's of moderate weight and well balanced, with a hard, forged-steel blade welded to a long shaft set into a comfortable wooden handle. I like its versatility. I can get close to plants with the short side of the blade, clear large areas with the entire blade, use the corner of the blade to get into cracks, and, with one hand on the blade and one on the handle, get under most weeds to shave them off like a razor. It's strong enough to hook and pull tough clumps of grass, and its long shaft allows you weed without kneeling and to reach into and under places your hand won't go."
The Ken Ho Weeder, Garden Tool Review, March 16, 2013,"My favorite thing about the Ken-Ho is that it offers a different motion when weeding. Most weeding tools require a bit of a wrist flick, which can aggravate wrist or hand injuries. The scraping motion of this weeder lets you keep your wrist straight, so you can garden longer without becoming tired or sore."
Hand Weeders, Organic Gardening,"3. MintCraft Weeder This tool's forked teeth efficiently pop tap-rooted weeds out of the ground, while the fortified steel fulcrum provides the leverage so your hand and arm don't have to. Total length is 13 1/4 inches."
Weeding Made Easy, Fine Gardening,
Hand Weeders? , Ecological Landscaping Association LinkedIn Group, June 2013
Eliminate Weed Plants From Your Garden, Better Homes and Gardens,"Your hands are often the best all-purpose weeding tools, but when you need a little more power, try one of these. Cutting and scraping tools work best for sliding behind and beneath weeds to chop stems from roots. Use angled triangular blades to weed cracks and crevices. Fishtail or taproot weeders have a V-shape tip on the end of a long tool that you slip on either side of a weed stem (such as a dandelion) to pry the root from the soil."
Cobrahead Weeding Tool: A Steel Claw for Veggie Gardening and Weeding Cracks Read more: http://www.northcoastgardening.com/2010/05/cobrahead-weeding-tool/#ixzz2XvxGvbyJ, North Coast Gardening, May 24 2010,"If you’re the kind of gardener who tosses down your trowel in disgust and starts digging with your fingers, the Cobrahead might be for you.It’s best in beds with somewhat soft soil (like veggie beds) and smallish weeds, and in those circumstances, I actually prefer it to my long-beloved hori-hori! I simply annihilated the weeds in my veggie bed, and having finished in 5 minutes what should have taken 15, I was looking around for more places to use it!"
Best Tools for Weeding, Horticulture Magazine, July 22 2009,"Weeding tools are essential if you don’t want to spray herbicides in your yard and garden, and they’re just as effective—if not more so—and not to mention safer."
What to Brandish at Your Weeds: Hori-Horis, Soil Knives, and Trowels (With a Video Review of my Top Two!) Read more: http://www.northcoastgardening.com/2009/04/hori-horis-soil-knives-trowels-review/#ixzz2Xvxka4xo, North Coast Gardening , April 29 2009,"I love the stainless steel Hori-Hori (which means diggy-diggy in Japanese!) for all-around work. The blade stays sharp, smooth, and rust-free, and it has a sharp side and a serrated side for cutting through landscape fabric or tough roots. The tip has a sharp point, so it goes into the soil smoothly and can get even weeds with long taproots out."
The Right Weeders Make All the Difference, Vegetable Gardening Gnomes,"Cobra-head weeder: Some gardeners swear by this. It really does look like a snake. It is a hand-held weeder with a plastic handle and a metal hook that comes to a sharpened, triangular shaped point at the top. It is kind of like having a long steel fingernail. It is best for small areas but you can do a lot more than just weed. It can also be handy for planting and harvesting when you need a precision digging tool."
More about maintaining garden tools, The Morning Call, Feburary 3 2011,"Both the metal parts and the wooden handles of gardening tools need maintenance oiling. For the metal parts, a light coat of vegetable oil will protect them from rust. After each use or at least at the end of the season, clean all the dirt and debris from your tools; sharpen the cutting edges of tools such as shovels, hoes or hand trowels, and oil the metal parts. A simple solution is to have a large bucket of sand, moistened with vegetable oil on hand where you store your tools. Plunge the tool into the sand after each use for a light coat of oil. Before the days of ecological awareness, buckets of motor oil were used for the same purpose."