A hand cultivator is a garden implement which gardeners can use to work the soil and remove weeds by hand. Hand cultivators are useful for minor gardening tasks, small gardens, and working in planters. Many garden supply stores sell cultivators of this type, especially in the spring, and sometimes hardware stores and general stores will stock them as well. Springtime is an especially convenient season to pick up a hand cultivator, as many stores sell them cheaply during the spring for gardeners who want to start working the soil with the change of seasons.
Hand cultivators consist of a set of tines, usually three, attached to a sturdy handle. The tines are usually made from stainless steel, and they are typically curved and thick, so that they can grip the soil and hold their grip as the cultivator is used. A good hand cultivator is a solid cast item with no joins or seams to create weak points, and especially good products have ergonomic handles which make them easier to use.
In some cases, the tines are arranged like a fan. In others, the middle tine may be closer to the handle, creating a V shape. The tines can also vary in length. All of these variations on design are intended to make the hand cultivator more effective, and some gardeners have a preferred style they like to use based on their garden experience.
One common use of a hand cultivator is in working soil, as one might do before planting bulbs or transplanting plants. The cultivator is dragged through the soil at varying depths to break up clods in the soil, pull out weeds, and remove rocks. The smoothed soil will make for better growing conditions, resulting in a stronger, healthier plant.
Gardeners can also use hand cultivators for weeding. In these cases, the cultivator is gently dragged around plants to pull out weeds while leaving the desirable plant intact. Clearing the weeds around plants is important not just from an aesthetic standpoint, but also to reduce resource competition so that plants can stay strong and healthy. Weeds can suck up nutrients and water before they ever reach the plant, making it difficult for the plant to thrive.
Mechanical cultivators are also available. These designs are intended to be used in a larger area, such as a field on a farm or an entire flower bed. While mechanical cultivators can often work the soil more deeply, they are not suitable to close quarters as might be found when a gardener needs to work part of a flower bed to prepare it for bulbs.