The wheelbarrow or garden cart is an absolutely indispensable garden tool. There will always be things to haul. The more gardening you do, the more things there will be to haul. Think about it, bags of soil, compost, garden tools, plants, weeds, heavy cement garden ornaments—the list goes on. Without a wheelbarrow or garden cart, many gardening chores would not be possible. But which is best for your needs?
While wheelbarrows and garden carts perform basically the same functions, they each have their pros and cons. Ultimately, the choice of wheelbarrow or garden cart is up to the user. Many gardeners find they have need of both.
Wheelbarrows have sloping sides and one to two front wheels. You walk behind the wheelbarrow, making it easy to control and maneuver. They are especially handy for loose materials which can be dumped out, like compost, soil, weeds, or gravel.
If you are just getting started as a gardener and the size of your garden and property is not overwhelming, a sturdy plastic, 6-cubic-feet wheelbarrow would be a good choice as an all-purpose tool.
Garden carts have flat bottoms and straight sides. Garden carts are designed to be pulled, with two or more, often large, wheels. They are more stable than wheelbarrows and generally can handle larger loads, but can also be more difficult to maneuver on non-smooth surfaces.
Larger carts are well suited to heavy loads and bulky cargo, such as stones, firewood, and those heavy cement garden ornaments. There are also some very useful, smaller garden carts that come in handy for toting tools and flats of plants. The smaller garden carts often come with a cover, so they can do double duty as a place to sit down.
Once you gain some experience about the types of garden chores you need a wheelbarrow or garden cart for, you can run through the following considerations, check off the features that appeal to you and make a decision of what would work best for you in your garden.
Consider the size of the wheelbarrow or garden cart, larger is not necessarily better if you cannot move or lift it. But, if you can, then something with a larger capacity can mean fewer trips, and this means a lot if you have a lot of ground to cover.
If you have trouble walking, pulling a garden cart might be easier than pushing a wheelbarrow, and if you have trouble lifting, the lower bed of a garden cart will be easier to get things in and out of.
However, if you have trouble bending, a tilt and dump wheelbarrow may better suit your needs.
The center of gravity is lower in a garden cart, making it more stable. However, wheelbarrows are pushed from behind, giving you more control and maneuverability.
Single-wheel wheelbarrows turn easily and handle tight spots well, but can become off balance with a heavy load. Wheelbarrows with two front wheels offer better balance.
Garden carts must be pulled, limiting maneuverability, but multiple wheels offer stability and larger wheels can travel over rough terrain.
As for loading and unloading, it is a coin toss on which is best. Since the height for garden carts are lower to ground, it requires less lifting. However, wheelbarrows can be tipped and dumped. Meanwhile, many carts come with a removable panel for easier unloading.
Consider your topography that you have to travel over. Do you have hills or rocky, uneven terrain? Garden carts can handle better on bumpy terrain but can get ahead of you on an incline.
Construction Materials and Tires
Whatever you decide on getting, you should look at how it is made. The tray should feel solid and sturdy. The handle(s) should be smooth, with a comfortable grip.
If it is made of metal, then it's likely strong and durable, but can rust. It may even require yearly painting for protection.
If it is made of wood, it can take a beating, but it is not extremely durable and can warp.
If it is plastic, then it is weatherproof, but you have to make sure it is a thick, high density, polypropylene, preferably UV-resistant, otherwise, it can crack, chip, and hit the garbage heap early.
Usually, the tires are either pneumatic (air-filled) or solid (rubber or foam-filled). Things to think about are air-filled tires may be easier to push, but they can go flat. These are usually easy to replace. Solid tires can come in larger sizes, which makes rough terrain easier to tackle.
Capacity is usually listed as both weight and cubic footage. Keep in mind that you will likely exceed capacity at one time or another, so do not skimp. Carts can vary from a couple of cubic feet on up. For a point of reference, a wheelbarrow with a capacity of 6-cubic-feet is a good standard size. Larger sizes will require some strength to control.
If you have the extra money to spend and you are looking for a way to take the back-breaking physicality out of hauling, then a gas or electric power garden cart is what you really want. There really should be no excuse for not getting things done around the garden.
If your property is very hilly, you will want to get a wheelbarrow or garden cart that has brakes or a brake bar on it, it will offer more control.
Want to make loading a little easier? Both garden carts and wheelbarrows are now available with either collapsing or folding sides, for easier storage.
The best is saved for last since both the wheelbarrow or the garden cart are priced about the same. Worry about price last once you figure out what it is you really need. Compare prices of some top choices for wheelbarrows and garden carts.