As the name implies, a stirrup hoe has a head that resembles a stirrup. Ideally made out of spring steel the head has two working edges which pivot by several degrees upon a closed hinge. This hoe is a long handled tool which is primarily used to hoe along and in between established rows of vegetables. Heads of varying width are available.
Unlike other hoes which working edges are applied roughly perpendicular to the soil, the stirrup hoe’s working edges are more or less parallel to the soil. Wielding the tool, the user pulls and pushes the hoe so that the pivoting head’s edges scrape up the very top of the soil. In this manner emerging weed seedlings are disturbed exposing their roots to the air.
A good stirrup hoe can also be used in a conventional downward chopping motion to decapitate some types of weeds, such as those with softer taproots, but this is not the tool’s primary purpose. It is not very effective on established weeds with thick or matted shallow roots such as grasses and clovers.
The stirrup hoe is most effective when the top of the soil is dry and crumbly. It is even reasonably effective on hard, dry pan. Observing a good stirrup hoe slicing underneath the upper 1/8th inch of dry soil, clearing weed seedlings is most satisfying. In contrast, when the soil is saturated mud will stick to the head of the tool rendering it ineffective.