Tuesday, 28 May 2013

How To Use A Daisy Grubber

Another in my occasional series of How To Do It articles, prompted by questions or enquiries.

What is a Daisy Grubber? It's a long, narrow, two-pronged hand tool, designed to lever out long-rooted weeds.

This is my current one: plastic-handled, as opposed to the traditional wooden-handled ones.

I've just had a quick check on the internet and there are several varieties of Daisy Grubber: some look more like asparagus forks, and some have a fancy lumpy bit on the back which - allegedly - helps you to lever the weeds out.

I would say don't bother, just buy a plain simple one like this: for many years I have used the cheapest B&Q or Homebase wooden-handled ones, but this is a trial of a plastic-handled one. For two reasons: firstly, it's brightly coloured, and it's made of plastic.

Why those reasons? Well, firstly, the colour: I hoped that the bright lime green (as opposed to "wood" ) of the handle will be more visible when working. I use two main tools when working - secateurs which live in the special side-pocket of my shorts (first adaptation all new pairs of shorts I buy is to have an extra pocket sewn on the right leg) and this tool. When I need to use the secateurs, I usually stick the daisy grubber into the ground, as it's easier to find it again, and I'm less likely to step back onto it. All well and good until I move away from the spot, chopping as I go. Or take the choppings over to the wheelbarrow, perhaps. Then I sometimes have trouble locating the daisy grubber, as the wood of the handle blends in too well.

Hence the brightly coloured one - but so far, this is not working as well as I'd hoped,  as a surprising number of plants have bright green foliage, and I am still finding that, after chopping something, I slip the secateurs back into their pocket, then have to stand up and look around vacantly, wondering where I left the daisy grubber. And no, before you ask, I can't use the same pocket for this tool - it's top heavy and they fall out. If I make the secateur pocket deep enough for the daisy grubber, then I can't easily pull the secateurs out. And they are in and out all day long!

So I'm still working on that.

The other issue is that the wooden handle, being made of wood, wears down, and after a month or two I find I have a tool that fits my hand perfectly, which is lovely. But - oh woe - after another couple of months, I find that I have worn out the prongs, which are now half the length of that shown above, and therefore much less efficient to use. But it's heartbreaking to have to get a new one, as the handle fits my hand so well... my kind friend Jim and his angle-grinder did extend the life of one or two daisy grubbers, by re-cutting the groove, but of course the whole tool is therefore an inch shorter, and therefore less effective.

So I'm hoping that this time, I won't get so attached to the tool and will just throw it out when the blade wears out.

Now, How To Use It.

It would be so much easier to do this in pictures!!

OK, Take the tool, hold it so that the long blade is above the weed of your choice, almost upright. Stab it down just to one side of the centre of the weed. When it is a good couple of inches in, lever the handle downwards and the blade will appear, with the root of the weed in/on it.

Points to note:

With a big basal rosette, ie a big flat spread of leaves at ground level, lift up the leaves so that you can get to the central root.

Don't use too much force or you will break the blade from the handle. (Ask me how I know this... yes, I've done it.)

If the soil is very hard, go at it from several different sides, one after the other, levering just a little bit each time. As the soil loosens, eventually you will be able to lever out the root.

With experience, you will learn how deep you need to go before levering. Too shallow and the root will snap. Too deep, and you are making it unnecessarily hard for yourself.

The technique and tool also work on fibrous rooted weeds: you don't go quite as deep, and I often find that you need two or three goes at it, from different points around the weed.  For some,  you can use the central groove as a cutting tool - by repeatedly stabbing across the pad of roots, you can cut off the top. Not recommended for perennial weeds such as ground elder etc, but very useful for those weeds which don't regenerate from scraps of roots. Again, experience will soon teach you.

I'm always interested to see how other gardeners work, and what tools they use: SmugAmanda always used what I call a "claw", a three-pronged hand tool (a quick google search reveals it's either a claw or a hand rake, your choice), which meant she could get round a bed very quickly, but only superficially. My daisy grubber and I take longer, but dig deeper. Relative benefits? I prefer my style, as it gets the weeds out by the roots, and also breaks up the surface pan as I go. She preferred hers, as it was quicker.

I would never buy an expensive one: whatever they are coated with, it soon wears off - see the picture at the top, you can see where the smart black coating has worn right away - and they all break eventually, especially with the sort of use that I get from them.  So far this plastic one is bearing up well - if only they made them in bright red!

*Update* Waaaah! I've lost it! It's now September, and last week I arrived at work one morning to find an empty slot in my workbag. This caused me no end of problems, as I had to find jobs other than weeding - and it's made me realise just what a large proportion of my working time is spent on that exact task. Instead, I had to do a whole morning of pruning, digging over, planting and cutting back, with not a single weed removed.

I phoned the client from the previous afternoon, and she very kindly had a look around her garden, but couldn't find it.. no doubt it's in a brown bin or compost heap by now. Luckily I have some spare wooden-handled ones, but I was getting fond on the bright green plastic one. If I could just remember where I bought it...


  1. Ha this made me chuckle as I had exactly the same grubber, been in my tool box for the last 5 years and I lost it in the last couple of months, no idea where!

    1. You lost your Daisy Grubber - oh woe!

      The good news is that I finally managed to replace it: Wilkinsons, the cheapy shop, started doing them with bright cheerful red plastic handles, for about £3.

      Perfect! Easy to find when you drop them. Although I have still managed to lose a couple of them on compost heaps, and I live in hope of eventually getting them back.

      Now I have a box of spare ones set aside: and when I am hired to give garden tuition, I give one to the Client as part of the training.

      I have to say, Bridget, I'm impressed that you had one for five years, and I tend to wear them out much quicker than that!


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