Garden forks may all look similar but each type is suited to a particular job. Some are for heavy duty digging while others are made for lighter work. Using the right tool for the right job can save a lot of time and effort.
Types of Garden Forks
Compost / Mulch / Manure Fork
These tools are lightweight and have longer tines. They are manufactured for turning compost and moving mulch. You can pile your leaves, grass clippings, and kitchen waste up and ignore it but if you turn it on occasion your compost will finish much quicker. Mulch is easier to move with a mulch fork instead of a shovel. The long tines will get in and under compost and mulch without getting jammed as a shovel often will. This fork is also used for cleaning out animal stalls. Soiled straw can be a bit too heavy for a pitchfork so get in there with a manure fork and things clean up easier.
Digging / Spading Fork
These garden tools are the workhorse of the garden. They are used for digging and cultivating the soil as well as for transplanting plants in the garden. If you've ever dug in rocky soil you know just how hard it can be to dig with a shovel. Every little pebble seems to catch on a shovel blade but with a spading fork you're more likely to miss that rock. Just toss your soil amendments on top and you can use these forks to amend the soil with ease. Well as much ease as digging can be. This is also the recommended tool for digging and moving plants around the garden. Shovels will cut and damage the roots of your plants. You can loosen the soil with a spading fork and lift the root ball out with less trauma to the plant.
Handheld Cultivating Forks
These are used when the job is too small for a larger tool. Sometimes you just need to get into a tight crevice and add a little compost or plant one small transplant. There's no reason to pull out the might spading fork when you can use a handheld gardening tool. These cultivators have small handles and curved or angled tines. These are lightweight tools and shouldn't be used for serious digging. You can trust me on this one -- I've got a bunch of these with bent and mangled tines from being too lazy to go find the proper tool.
If you use your Gardening forks as they were intended and use proper cleaning and storage techniques you're garden tools will last for many years. Washing the dirt off your gardening forks after every use and occasion oiling is all that most require. Store them in an outbuilding or garage to keep them out of the weather. Don't leave them lying around the garden like I do. It makes them rust. Buying cheap gardening tools might seem like a good idea but when you have to replace them every few years they don't really cost any less than the better quality stuff.