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. If you are in the United Kingdom, this is the closest thing to a Hori Hori and has become very popular. 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.
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.
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.
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!