garden cart, or wheelbarrow? expert thoughts on which one’s the better fit (or gift)
CART, OR WHEELBARROW: Where do you stand in the debate? Both family members and readers keep seeking advice, but my answer alone would be just the view of one woman on a steep hillside. I sought expert input on which it should be—whether to purchase for yourself, or as a holiday gift.
As I told my six-friend panel, I have four such transport devices, each that has stood up to many years of rough use:
- one large and one medium Vermont Cart (wood, oversize spoked tires, removable end panel);
- one aluminum-frame Smart Cart with similar tires, aluminum frame, and removable high-density polyethylene tub that can be used as a soil-mixing vessel;
- one single-tire, 6-cubic-foot True Temper red wheelbarrow with a steel tray.
The person who for many years helped part-time in the garden loathed my wheelbarrow, but adored the Smart Cart. I beg to differ, and prefer the wheelbarrow’s narrow nose for unloading more precisely, and its slimmer profile for between raised beds. We both turned to the wooden carts for moving things like pots.
I asked others what people have been asking me: Do you use a wheelbarrow, cart, or both, and why? (Click their names to learn more about them on their websites.)
Andrew Beckman, Oregon;
editorial director, Timber Press
OUR GARDEN is steep, the paths are narrow, and there are steps between the levels of the garden in many places. I like a wheelbarrow more than anything because I can maneuver it in tight spaces. It is a bitch to push uphill, but still better than the big cart. I like one with a plastic tub; it lasts as long as the metal but it is so much lighter. Why strain pushing around the tool? The material in it is heavy enough. When moving stuff up and down the steps, I put a couple of wood blocks down to smooth the transition.
In our old garden, with a more open and level site, we used both carts and barrows depending on the task. You can move a hell of a lot of material in one of those big carts, and move it more easily over bumpy ground. We had a couple of wheelbarrows for mixing soil and for mulching (they make it easy to dump the right amount of mulch between plants).
Ken Druse, New Jersey;
garden author and photographer
IHAVE a knockoff cart and I love it. (By the way: the first thing I do is paint/stain the cart, which makes it last much longer.) I also have a wheelbarrow with a plastic bed, which is so much lighter than the steel one that I have. I do not think these tools—cart and wheelbarrow—are interchangeable. I need them both. You can’t remove brush with a wheelbarrow, or move dirt and rocks with a cart. I’m told you can convert most wheelbarrows into carts of a kind with a two-wheel kit. But the answer is, “I need ’em both.”
Ken Greene, New York State;
seed farmer, Hudson Valley Seed Company
WE SEEM to be wheelbarrow folks at the Seed Library farm! We have very narrow pathways between beds to maximize our growing space. For us, a single wheel is best to avoid soil compaction in the beds, and also for easy maneuvering. We use the metal kind because they hold up, and because we have lots of rocks to deal with.
There are certain times when I wish we had one flat-bottomed cart—especially for transporting flats of seedlings for transplanting. So I think in the long run we’ll have three wheelbarrows and one cart.
Joe Lamp’l, Georgia;
public-TV host,’Growing a Greener World’
I LOVE my Vermont Cart! It’s the best present I ever gave myself. I’ve had the same one for about 25 years and it continues to be a staple in the garden; well-made, easy to maneuver, and stable (once you get the hang of how to load and unload it). I prefer it over a wheelbarrow because it holds more, and it’s lower to the ground (hence the added stability). I especially love the big bicycle tires that make it a breeze to haul even heavy loads. I find that the cart can haul everything a wheelbarrow can, and more.
Given the choice, I’d almost always use the cart over the wheelbarrow, but I still use both. Each has its unique advantages at times.
Bob Hyland, Oregon;
garden designer and retailer
WE USE wheelbarrows of two sizes, with lightweight poly basins and wooden handles: a standard 6 cubic foot wheelbarrow to haul garden debris, compost, mulch and stone on the more level parts of our garden, and a smaller 3 cubic foot wheelbarrow on the steeper slopes. We have no garden carts, now that we garden on a hillside (but used them a lot at our former nursery in New York, on a flat site). They’re too big, too awkward for here. By the way, we use a handcart with adjustable vertical/horizontal handle for moving pots around on the deck and into/out of our greenhouse.
Tovah Martin, Connecticut;
garden author (and goat keeper!)
I’M A WHEELBARROW gal–because it’s so maneuverable and can fit easily around shrubs that have grown into the pathways. Plus, when emptying time comes at the compost heap, it’s a smooth dumping process—handles up, load off.
tips for shopping
- Carts often come with a choice of tire size and style (inner tube or solid, spoke wheel or not). Your conditions and the intended use are factors to consider when choosing tire type. Read the manufacturer site, or ask.
- Though there are lookalikes in wooden carts, it sounds as if I am not alone in recommending the ones from Carts Vermont (their website), which are sold in catalogs and at Amazon.
- The Smart Cart I favor is also much copied, but the original is from Muller’s Garden Carts in Maine. It, too, be had in garden catalogs, or cheaper at the ubiquitous Amazon.
- I don’t know if plastic-tub wheelbarrows were popular when I got my un-fancy red steel True Temper ages ago. If I ever need a new wheelbarrow, I’ll investigate those, thanks to the advice shared by my expert friends above.
So tell us: Which is your trusted tool for hauling things around?
(Disclosure: All Amazon links are affiliate ones and yield a small commission.)
(Photo of Vermont Cart in top-of-page collage from Carts Vermont website.)