We can all agree that the perfect gardener's helper has superior strength, never complains, accepts dirty grunt jobs and is consistently available from morning to night. But this useful assistant is not an overworked, put-upon spouse or child-it's the trusty wheelbarrow. The wheelbarrow is the lone gardener's substitute for the crew of burly workers that never magically appears at mountain-moving time. As with all tools of the gardening trade, getting a good fit-the right size with the right features-is crucial to getting the job done.
The traditional wheelbarrow is a simple thing of beauty: a steel bucket or tray with a front-end pouring lip, one tire, two rear peglegs and two steel or wood handles that extend forward to a snub nose. Each of these components is available in sizes and designs to suit your purpose, so first consider how you will use it. If you intend to move piles of bricks and firewood, or loads of manure and soil, a construction-grade barrow is for you. It has the strength to carry heavy material and the capacity for mixing soil or concrete, but you must have the commensurate arm strength to control it. A one-wheel, heavy-duty wheelbarrow with a 170-litre bucket can carry more than 225 kilograms in weight and turn on a dime. The single wheel makes it highly manoeuvrable, but requires the load to be carefully placed and balanced to avoid tipping. When a fully loaded construction barrow begins to tip over, only the strongest arms can pull it back.
Most wheelbarrows, including those we tested, have pneumatic tires that act as shock absorbers but can lose air pressure, especially under heavy loads. For that reason, some gardeners prefer the tubeless tires available on a few models.
Handle length is another consideration. You should be able to lift the wheelbarrow without bending forward and straining back muscles. Short handles place you closer to the load and give more control of heavy weight, but a tall person might lift them so high off the ground that the barrow is at a precarious, tippy angle. Longer handles are more comfortable for a tall person, but will place a shorter person farther away from the business end, putting stress on arms and hands.