Wheelbarrows and lawn carts – Equipment – Buyers Guide

Jeff Randolph

The Wheelbarrow Has Long been a staple tool for the home gardener. With only one wheel, this single piece of equipment makes it possible for even non-athletic folks to move heavy loads with relative ease.

Over the years, wheelbarrows have evolved to give gardeners even easier use. The traditional one-wheeled wheelbarrow has been joined by two-wheeled models that offer more stability when pushed into action. Newest on the scene is the lawn cart – with two and sometimes even four wheels – usually molded from hard plastic. As a lawn equipment category, wheelbarrows and lawn carts offer gardeners a variety of options and designs for a lifetime of service.

Before you purchase a wheelbarrow or lawn cart, think of the uses you may have for it in a year’s time. You may need to transport a large load of sphagnum peat moss to the back yard today; in the summer you may want to lay a path of landscaping stones; and in the fall you could have a pile of tree branches and limbs that need to be moved to the firewood pile. Choose a wheelbarrow or lawn cart that will be as effective for future chores as it is for the initial use that caused you to purchase it.

Think about where you will need to transport cargo in home landscape. If you have a large back yard and garden, you may need to make trips only within that area. However, if you will be making many trips from the front yard to a fenced-in back yard you will, of course, need to make sure the wheelbarrow or lawn cart will fit through your gate. A unit with a full load can’t lifted over the fence!

The type of cargo you are likely to transport in a wheelbarrow or lawn cart should also affect your purchase decision. If you will be moving expensive material like lawn ornaments or landscape stones, you’ll want something that is stable and not likely to tip.

Strength and experience handling a wheelbarrow is a definite plus when operating a single-wheel unit. As the load gets heavier and the terrain becomes more uneven, a traditional one-wheeled wheelbarrow becomes more difficult to maneuver and prone to accidental spills. Two-wheeled wheelbarrows offer greater stability and are easier for a more inexperienced operator to load and maneuver.

Another consideration when purchasing a wheelbarrow or lawn cart is assembling it. Many lawn carts can be purchased in one piece, although assembly may be required on wheelbarrows. It may only mean fastening a few nuts and bolts, but if you generally dislike this type of work, find out what is required before you buy.


The wheels on your wheelbarrow or lawn cart will determine its stability, traction and durability. Look at the wheel placement. If the wheels are located directly beneath the load, little or no lifting is required. A wheelbarrow has its wheel positioned in front of the load, so much of the weight must be borne by the user.

Check to determine if the wheels are placed in a position that will make the cart stable while you’re loading it. Check the tire tread, too. Imagine pushing a fun load around the yard or through the garden. Will the tread grip the terrain enough to move easily without slipping or sticking?

Wheel size is another factor to consider in your choice. Several models of lawn carts have large wheels, resembling those on a medium-size bicycle. These carts are among the easiest to use and transport the most load weight. Some even fold flat for more convenient storage.

Some wheels on wheelbarrows are made of heavy-duty plastic while others have an air-filled tire. Just like the tires on a bicycle or car, air-filled tires can go flat. Consider whether or not tire repair is a maintenance chore you are willing to do if the need arises.


Wheelbarrows are usually made from either plastic or metal. The smaller lawn carts are typically made from plastic. Depending on your cargo, one material may be better than the other for your particular needs. Plastic is lighter than metal, so it will be easier to move your load. However, plastic products often have seams resulting from the molding process, which may obstruct or hinder easy and complete dumping.

Generally, metal is considered stronger than plastic, but it really depends on the quality of the plastic used. Many manufacturers have developed plastics that can accommodate the same weight as metal wheelbarrows. Plastic also has the advantage of being rustproof. However, if your cart or wheelbarrow will be stored outside, both plastic and metal models will eventually show the effects of the elements. Although this equipment is usually treated and protected against weathering, outdoor storage will cause damage over time — metal rusts, paint chips, colors fade and wooden handles splinter or rot. Storage in a garage or shed is the best way to prevent weather damage to this type of equipment.


Choices of wheelbarrow and lawn cart handles are usually limited. Some carts offer metal handles wrapped in a foam grip, but usually lawn carts have plastic handles and wheelbarrows have wooden ones. Plastic handles should be smooth and free from molding seams, which can cause discomfort when operating the cart. Wooden handles should also have a smooth finish that is not likely to splinter. Remember that wooden handles may need to be sanded and have a new coat of finish applied once a season; be sure you are willing to do this extra bit of maintenance for the long life of the unit.


Wheelbarrows and lawn carts vary in capacity to fit many different needs. Some lawn carts can hold over 6 cubic feet of material, which is comparable to the deepest heavy-duty wheelbarrow. However, as load capacity increases, so may the width of the unit. Keep the size of your gate or other obstructions in mind and be sure the width of the unit will not exceed your space limitations for use as well as for storage.

Your wheelbarrow or lawn cart capacity also relates to weight limits. Some carts can hold several cubic feet of materials, but not all carts can handle several hundred pounds. Read the capacity weight limits on your unit and compare them to the loads you are likely to move. Remember, too, that a wheelbarrow or lawn cart may be able to hold 1,000 pounds of material, but you may not be able to move it.


Some lawn carts have extras designed with gardeners’ convenience in mind. Lawn carts are available with storage space for gloves, hand tools and plant stakes, along with side clips for larger tools like a rake or hoe. Depending on the make and model of cart, these trays can sometimes be purchased separately.


Once you get to the store, roll a few wheelbarrows or carts along the floor to give yourself a better idea of how they feel during use. Often retailers will use these units to display other products like large bags of grass seed or lawn fertilizer. Ask if you can roll one around for a test drive; this added weight will give you a better idea of how the unit will feel when you use it at home in your garden.

COPYRIGHT 1995 KC Publishers, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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