Some shovels are for scooping and others are for digging, and a gardener usually needs at least one that can perform both tasks efficiently. If you're going to dig, you want a shovel with a pointed tip -- or at least a sharp blade -- for breaking ground. If you're going to scoop material and transfer it from one place to another, you want a lightweight shovel with plenty of real estate on its blade. For every purpose, there is a shovel.
Not all digging shovels have points, but they are all sharp, and most feature a step on the top of the blade so you can push the tool into the ground with your foot.
Standard Digging Shovel
Every gardener needs one of these -- the rounded blade tapers to a point and is slightly hollowed out at the bottom, allowing the user to carry dirt as well as dig it. These shovels usually have wooden or fiberglass handles, and the blade, forged with heavy-duty steel, is nearly indestructible.
Utility Digging Shovel
This is a smaller version of the standard digging shovel -- the blade is about half the size, and the handle about 2 feet long with a D-grip on the end. This tool is good for most garden tasks, including digging, transferring dirt and clearing debris, and you can carry it on your tool belt.
Unlike that of a standard shovel, a the blade of a garden spade has a sharp, flat edge, which makes this the go-to tool for cutting through turf and manicuring lawn edges. Spades also dig more efficiently into hard-packed soil than standard shovels.
When you need to dig a deep hole in planting or setting posts, the drain spade is the tool you need. It isn't shaped like a garden spade -- it has slightly hollowed blade with a rounded tip, and the blade is much longer than it is wide.
Because they are for primarily for carrying -- and not for digging -- scooping shovels have a blade with a flat edge and raised sides, which maximizes the amount of material they can carry.
You'll find this shovel in a coal-burning facility, and gardeners might use one for transferring and spreading dirt, fertilizer or grain. The blade is made from a lightweight metal, such as aluminum, and the handle has a D-grip to give the user leverage.
A large, extra-lightweight version of a transfer shovel, a snow shovel is virtually useless for digging. The blade may be metal or plastic -- some are semicylindrical and designed to slide under snow and push it to one side rather than lift it.
Other Gardening Shovels
Some shovels combine features for specific purposes or simply defy classification.
One of the most common tools in a gardener's shed, the trowel is a type of shovel. Trowels come in a variety of shapes, but most are shaped like miniature drain spades with easy-to-grip 4- to 6-inch handles. Gardeners use trowels for planting and for weeding.
A cross between a drain spade and a transfer shovel, a trenching shovel has a long, narrow blade with raised edges and a pointed tip. The bottom of the blade is flat, which makes it easier for the tool to grade the bottom of the trench you're digging, and the raised edges keep dirt in the shovel while minimizing disruption to the sides of the trench.