Gardening tools

No Need for a Wheelbarrow When You Have a Tarp

Using a tarp to collect fall leaves makes that garden task simpler. Photo:

Not that wheelbarrows aren’t handy for moving objects around in a garden setting, but sometimes a simple heavy-duty tarp (tarpaulin) works just as well. And it takes up a lot less space in the tool shade. Here are a few examples:

1.     Gathering Fall Leaves

Rather than raking leaves into a huge pile, then struggling to grab armfuls of them to put into a bag or container, which always means you need to rake up the leftovers and start again, you can rake (or blow) the leaves onto a tarp laid flat on the soil. Then grab the four corners and lift. Or, if the pile is very heavy, just pull on one end of the tarp and drag the leaves to where you want them. You can pick up all the leaves the first time!

Man hauling garden debris on tarp
You can haul any garden debris away on a tarp. Photo:

You can do the same with grass clippings and other garden debris.

2.     Keeping Surfaces Clean

If you’re digging in the garden and don’t want to leave dirt on the lawn, driveway or other nearby surface, lay down a tarp next to where you’re working. Any soil that is disturbed will end up on the tarp and, as you finish, you can either shovel or pour it back into place or move it to wherever you want, leaving the surface underneath pristine.

3.     Hauling Soil

Family moving soil on tarp
You can pull a tarpful of soil with surprising ease. Photo:

Soil is heavy, even very heavy. But if you have to move some, shovel it onto a nearby tarp, then pull on one end to move it where you want it. Make sure you don’t go overboard, or you may have to call in a neighbor to help you pull. This obviously requires a fairly smooth surface, such as a lawn or driveway, but if the surface is rough, again using another pair of hands, grab two corners of the tarp, have the other person also grab two corners, then lift and carry the soil away.

4.     Hauling Firewood

You can haul firewood or branch trimmings using a tarp just as easily as soil, on your own by pulling or with a friend to help lift and carry.

5.     Hauling Bags of Soil

You can use a tarp to haul anything from your car to the farthest corner of your lot, such as bags of soil, fertilizer and mulch. Just lay the tarp next to the trunk, then lift and drop them from the trunk to the tarp. And haul away!

6.     Moving Plants

Woman dragging shrub on tarp
You can move shrubs and perennials on a tarp. Photo:

If you’re digging up plants in order to move them (perennials, shrubs, etc.), you can often place several on a tarp, then pull them to where you want them.

7.     Moving Heavy Plants

Two step approach to getting the root ball on the tarp.
You can move the rootball of a small tree onto the tarp in two steps: 1. Rock the root ball to one side and slip the bunched-up tarp underneath. 2. Rock the root ball to the opposite side, grab the tarp and pull to straighten. Ill.: &, montage:

Small trees and larger shrubs may actually be too heavy to lift readily and getting them into a wheelbarrow would be very hard indeed, but you can still move them using a tarp. After you have dug the tree up and freed its root ball, rock it fully over to one side, then bunch up the tarp and insert it under its base. Now, rock the root ball right over on its side, in the opposite direction, onto the tarp. You can then grab the bunched-up tarp and pull. Presto! The root ball is now in the center of the tarp (or close enough) and ready for hauling. 

8.     Mechanize Your Hauling

Lawn tractor pulling tarp full of leaves.
You can use a lawn tractor or other vehicle to haul the tarp. Photo:

All the above methods imply a human or humans pulling or lifting, but if you have a lawn tractor, an all-terrain vehicle or other off-road vehicle, you can fix the tarp to it (most tarps have grommets [eyelets] you can run a rope through for that and similar purposes) and use the vehicle to do the hauling.

Isn’t it amazing all you can do with just a large sheet of canvas or plastic!

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

5 comments on “No Need for a Wheelbarrow When You Have a Tarp

  1. Chetwynd Sherwin

    Someone needs to make a “drag bag” for this purpose, 20ft long 6ft wide , removable heavy duty bag at one end and a very hard wearing plastic skid surface underneath to make movement easy including pulling handles or waist strap attachment for the ‘he’ men gardeners. Got to be to clean up after hedge trimming etc.

  2. They don’t last long if used to drag heavy items! Hauling leaves is no so bad, but firewood dragged over bare soil is very abrasive. Also, dragging wears on turf and ground cover if repeated too much.

  3. A tarp certainly works but I’ll have to stick with my lawn cart because it has wheels and I have a lot of years on this back. 🙂

  4. Yes. The tarp’s the thing when one is faced with many, many leaves.

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