Linda Benedict, Parish, Richard L.
Homeowners and gardeners often move materials around their property with wheelbarrows and garden carts. They’re handy for hauling bags of fertilizer or mulch, plants, tools, trash or bulk materials like soil, sand, gravel or compost.
Both are useful, but each offers certain advantages and limitations, says Dr. Richard Parish, an engineer with the LSU AgCenter’s Hammond Research Station.
Traditional wheelbarrows have a hopper, one tire and two handles. The hopper is located between the tire and the handles, so the operator must lift much of the weight of the cargo.
"The single wheel makes it possible to roll a wheelbarrow along a board over a muddy spot or up a narrow ramp," Parish says. "On the other hand, the single wheel makes a wheelbarrow somewhat unsteady. The operator must be careful to keep the load balanced to avoid tipping over."
Parish says wheelbarrows are generally available in 4- or 6-cubic-foot sizes. The smaller size often has a small, hard rubber, semi-pneumatic tire while the larger size usually has a wider pneumatic tire that rolls more easily. Some wheelbarrows now have two tires, which provides much better stability, but that still leaves much of the weight on the operator and prohibits traveling on a narrow board or ramp.
Parish says garden carts may be an acceptable alternative to a wheelbarrow.
Many styles of small garden carts offer metal or plastic hoppers. They typically have two small tires, and load capacity is fairly low. They are often capable of tipping forward so leaves can be raked directly into the hopper.
"These carts are useful for light loads in small yards," Parish says. "Some types will fold up for storage."
Larger garden carts with 20- or 26-inch bicycle tires have become popular in the last 20 years. These typically have a tubular steel frame with a plywood body that is open at the rear. They are often sold unassembled, and in some cases, you can buy a kit without the plywood.
Parish says the models with 20-inch tires hold about 6 to 7 cubic feet, and the models with 26-inch tires hold about 11 to 12 cubic feet.
"These carts thus hold twice the volume of a wheelbarrow," Parish says. "And because of the big tires, they roll much easier than a wheelbarrow. They are best at hauling light, bulky materials like leaves, pine straw and compost."
Parish cautions they should not be fully loaded when hauling soil, sand or gravel or the weight will be excessive.
"With these carts, the hopper is mounted over the axle instead of behind the wheel like a wheelbarrow, so more of the weight is carried by the tires and less by the operator," Parish says.
He points out that stability is excellent.
"When the carts are tipped forward, the front panel is flush on the ground, so it’s easy to rake materials directly into the hopper," Parish says. "On most models, the front panel can be removed or swung out for easy unloading."
Parish says a small garden cart or a small wheelbarrow will cost less than $50. A large wheelbarrow may cost from $40 to $100. Large garden carts will range from $60 to $250, depending on size and quality.
"Some special uses favor a particular design," Parish says. "Mixing concrete, for instance, can be done in the bin or tub of a wheelbarrow or small cart but not in a large, wooden cart. On the other hand, the large carts are handy for hauling small grandchildren around the yard."
Parish says a good wheelbarrow is a sound investment for home construction projects involving mixing concrete or moving sand, gravel and similar materials. A large garden cart is the best choice for serious gardeners. It is easier to use and will carry more of the type of things gardeners typically carry.
For information on related engineering, landscape and gardening topics, visit the LSU AgCenter Web site at www.lsuagcenter.lsu.edu.