It was my horticulturist sister-in-law who first introduced me to this unusual Japanese digging tool several years ago. She had told me that the oddly named “Hori Hori” was not only a fabulous digging and weeding instrument, but was also a useful multipurpose tool for serious gardeners. I bought one the very next week and four years later, the Hori Hori continues to be my all time favorite gardening tool.
The Hori Hori is a long, multi purpose knife with a polished stainless steel blade that is serrated on one side and comes to a sharp point on the other. This thick blade has a slight curve on the edges which allows the blade to work as a shallow scoop. Hori Hori blade lengths seem to vary, however my Green Topeath.
The Hori Hori is the gardener’s equivalent to the multipurpose Leatherman, one of those wildly popular “guy” tools that have a million uses. While the Hori Hori isn’t equipped with a screwdriver and bottle opener, it does have multiple uses that a gardener can appreciate.
What uses have I found for the Hori Hori?
The sharp sides and scooped shape of the blade makes the Hori Hori an excellent digging tool, even when digging in compressed clay. The blade will pierce through hard soil, break up hard dirt clods with a turn of the hand and a few well-aimed stabs, and then can be used as a trowel for digging a hole for those pony pack sized transplants.
This dig and turn ability also make the Hori Hori a great weed digging tool as well. A twist of the wrist, and the knife cuts a circle around the weed which can then be lifted out of the ground, roots and all.
For stirring peat moss, fish fertilizer, Ironite, or systemic additives beneath shrubs and bushes, the Hori Hori does a terrific job of working the granules into the soil with far less effort than using a conventional trowel.
Digging weeds and planting pony packs isn’t the only use for this tool, I’ve discovered that the Hori Hori is also very handy when transplanting potted shrubs and trees. The knife is sharp enough to cut away the string and burlap, and then can be used to gently cut apart and unwind those tightly coiled roots. I’ve also used it to cut through hard plastic pots for those times that a shrub was so severely root bound that the pot couldn’t be pulled off by hand.
Most Japanese digging knives also have graduated markings on the side to indicate distance. This makes it invaluable for planting seeds and bulbs which have to be planted to a certain depth. To gauge planting depth, I press the blade into the ground to the desired depth, and then rock the blade forward and backwards a couple of time to create a planting hole.
The sharp serrated teeth of the Hori Hori can also cut woody plant stems and small shrub branches. I’ve even used it to saw away at the trunks of my ever multiplying yucca plants and to punch holes through my old-carpet-now-being-used-as-mulch. Of course, this digging knife will also slice through bags of steer manure, peat moss, and visquine as if they were made of butter.
While I still use a rose pruners from time to time in my garden, the Hori Hori has pretty much replaced all my smaller hand tools. For beginning gardeners, or even us old gardeners trying to make room in our garden sheds, there isn’t a more versatile tool for the money.
While there are a number of low end Hori Horis available on the market, the professional grade imports are well worth. These more expensive versions are heftier, have a thicker blade, are extremely durable, and make you feel a little like a Samurai Gardener who can tackle just about anything.