Hori-Hori Knife: The Quintessential Planting Tool

One of my favorite tools is the Hori Hori knife. It is fantastic. I use it for so many things, digging out dandelion roots, opening up bags of potting soil, hacking through stubborn roots. But I use it mostly for planting.

 

History and Design

The Hori-Hori was developed in Japan, and for this reason alone I admire Japanese ingenuity even more. Some say it was designed to dig specimens to be used for the ancient practice of bonsai. Others say it was designed for foraging for wild vegetables. The word “Hori” means dig so the translation is literally, “dig-dig.”

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Other than using shovels for bigger jobs where you need the leverage of a long handle, a Hori-Hori may be the only digging tool you’ll need. I don’t use a trowel at all anymore. The heavy blade is concave, one edge is serrated and one edge is beveled. You’ll want to be aware that it is sharp but that makes it perfect for sliding along individual plants to harvest them one at a time. This morning in my garden, it was onions. A couple of tops of my Walla Wallas had flopped over indicating it was time to dig them up. I slid the Hori-Hori carefully between the onion plants, pulled the knife back towards me, and the deed was done. All this without disturbing the other onions that were still growing.

It is usually designed with a full tang, meaning that the metal handle and the blade is made in one piece. The metal tang is covered on both sides with wooden pieces bolted through it to form the handle. In the end, this is one strong digging tool. I’ve broken a lot of tools in my day but I’ve never broken one of my Hori-Hori knives. I’m not saying that I’ve actually tried, all I’m saying is that I’m tough on my tools and I’ve never been worried about the handle breaking or the blade chipping.

Planting

The main job of my Hori-Hori is planting. My seedlings are all in 4″ pots at planting time. This is the perfect size for the Hori-Hori. With inches and centimeters engraved right on the blade, it not only helps with planting depth, but also with spacing. A few stabs into your prepared bed and you’re ready for fertilizer (or worm compost), water, and the plant.

If your yard is like mine, you’ll find uses for transplanting all those volunteer plants that the birds have planted. This morning, I used it to transplant another asparagus plant that was growing under the crab apple tree. It makes sense that the Hori-Hori was designed to dig up plants for bonsai because it only took a couple of deep dives with the knife into the soil, and the tiny asparagus popped right out. The root ball was the perfect size to place in my new asparagus bed along with the rest of the seedlings I grew this year.

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Caring for Your Hori-Hori

Tool maintenance is yet another thing that I’m negligent about. Ideally, you should clean it off after each use and store it out of the weather. Do I do this? Not usually. But my five year old Hori-Hori is still going strong. If you practice no negligence with your gardening tools, you can expect it to last practically forever.

The maintenance that my husband doesn’t let me skimp on is sharpening. Depending on how much we are using our knives, he may sharpen them once or twice a week. Using a sharpening stone works fine, but the grinding wheel is much more efficient. Keeping your knife sharp is essential for it to be the incredible digging tool it was designed to be.

Conclusion

I recommend any gardener, especially one who is just starting out, to prioritize a purchase of a Hori-Hori. For some reason, I do not find them in my local gardening stores (which may not be the case in your area) so I ended up buying mine online. Mine was made in Japan but there are tons of different versions on the market now. Don’t be negligent in delaying any further!

Comment below with your favorite gardening tool or with any questions you may have. See you in the dirt!

5 Replies to “Hori-Hori Knife: The Quintessential Planting Tool”

  1. Thank you for such an in depth conversation about the Hori Hori Knife! I will admit, I didn’t know what it was when I clicked on your article. After reading through it though, I became more and more interested! Personally I love the design of the knife and the overall look. I can see why you replaced your trowel with it.

    A few questions I had after your reading your article came to mind. How many different types of Hori Hori knives have you seen or used? Where did you get yours from?

    Thank you for the great article! Also, I love your website design, it looks great!

    Jeff Lewis

    1. Jeff,

      I’m glad you enjoyed learning about one of my favorite hand tools for the garden. There are several different types but the one I currently use, as shown in the photos, is the only one I’ve tried for now. I’ll probably be comparing other designs in the future. I like the feel of the wood handle and many designs have a plastic one and a slightly different shape. 

      I placed a link in the article to the one that I purchased. It comes with a holster that you can thread through your belt but I’ve never needed it since I generally carry around a bucket to place weeds in whenever I’m in the garden and that’s where my hand tools reside.

      Thanks for your comment, Jeff. I appreciate your interest!

      Take care,

      Kerry (aka The Negligent Gardener)

  2. Great article! I just got into gardening this year, and have not heard of this tool. I’m definitely going to look further into it. Thanks again!

    1. Ryan,

      I’m so glad you’ve started gardening. I hope you find it therapeutic during these weird Covid times.

      Take care, Ryan!

      Kerry, aka The Negligent Gardener

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