Comparing Wheelbarrows and Garden Carts

Ellen Brown

When faced with lugging plants, soil, other materials around the yard, wheelbarrows and garden carts are indispensable tools. As a means of transport, each has their advantages and disadvantages. Here are some side by side comparisons of their basic features, as well as some shopping tips if you find yourself in the market to buy one.



Many variations of the garden wheelbarrow have appeared over the years, but most of the wheelbarrows you see displayed in big box garden centers these days are actually modeled after a contractor's wheelbarrow - sloped metal sides designed to haul cement.

Traditionally, garden wheelbarrows were made of wood. They had one metal wheel in front, a stabilizing leg on each side in the rear, and upright sides that could be removed for dumping. Today's wheelbarrows benefit from advances in design and feature things like double wheels for increased stability and square-shaped trays for added capacity.

Wheelbarrow Advantages

  • Maneuverability. With their narrow front, wheelbarrows can maneuver into tight spaces better than large garden carts.
  • Dumping. Wheelbarrows tip easily making them handy for dumping loose material like leaves, compost, soil, or gravel.
  • Design options. For gardeners who lack a shed or garage, collapsible or "ground flush" models fold flat for compact storage.

Wheelbarrow Disadvantages

  • Weight distribution. Since the load lies well behind the axle and wheel, the user bears is forced to bear a lot of the load with their arms, shoulders, and back.
  • Stability. Pushing most loaded wheelbarrows through soft earth is virtually impossible. The same is true for pushing a heavy load up a hill.

Garden Carts

Garden carts have either two or four wheels. Depending on the style, the wheels may be tall and thin with spokes, similar to bicycle tires, or be short and wide like those on a wheelbarrow. The body of a classic garden cart is made from wood panels reinforced by a metal frame, but many of today's models are made from metal or thick plastic. Some models have a fixed front panel, and removable panels on the sides. Others have flat beds with no sides at all.


Garden Cart Advantages

  • Weight distribution. The placement of the tires on garden carts means that the load lies directly above the axles and wheels. This allows the user to move heavier loads with less effort.
  • Stability. On a garden cart, the wheels are placed on either side of the load, which increases the load's stability and prevents it from tipping.
  • Capacity. Garden carts are great for hauling heavy loads and bulky cargo, like stones and firewood. The square shape of the bed also maximizes cargo room.

Garden Cart Disadvantages

  • Maneuverability. Flat beds can be difficult to maneuver on non-smooth surfaces and a garden cart is large, square shape doesn't fit easily into small spaces.
  • Dumping. Garden carts are designed not to tip, so dumping can be difficult unless you have a removable front panel.

Tips for Buying Either One

  • Workmanship. Make sure the frame and tray are held together with bolts or welded joints. If possible, select "professional" or "industrial" grade models. Cheap wheelbarrows and garden carts are widely available, but most of them wont stand up to heavy-duty yard work over time.
  • Payload size. The capacity of wheelbarrows and garden carts are measured in cubic feet. The size you choose will determine how well it can carry a load. Think about the largest amount of materials you're likely to be transporting and consider getting slightly more capacity than you think you will need.
  • Overall Size. If you have a gate, arbor, or you need to haul materials through a narrow space between buildings or trees, be sure to buy a wheelbarrow or garden cart that will fit in between the space. Take your physical limitations into consideration as well. For example, pulling a cart might be easier than pushing a wheelbarrow, if you have mobility issues.

    A cart with a low bed will be easier to get things in and out of than the deep tray of a wheelbarrow. Do you have trouble bending? A wheelbarrow may be easier to tip and dump. You should be able to easily pull or lift the weight of the cart/wheelbarrow when it's empty.

  • Wheels. Wheels with a smaller width and diameter may get bogged down when carrying heavy loads through wet or muddy terrain. Large diameter bicycle-type wheels will ride easily over rocks and ruts. Pneumatic (air-filled) tires are easy to push, but they can also go flat. Solid or foam filled tires come in wider sizes, which makes navigating rough terrain easier.
  • Materials. Keep in mind that the materials the wheelbarrow or garden cart is made from will contribute to its overall strength as well as its weight. Wood is sturdy, but over time it may warp or splinter, and eventually it will rot. Metal is durable, but it's heavier and may also rust. Plastic is the most weather proof, as long as it is thick, high density polypropylene and UV-resistant.
  • Towing. Look for carts that can perform double duty - those designed with convertible handles that can be hooked behind a garden tractor or bicycle.
  • Buying Online. One disadvantage to shopping online is not being able to feel and closely inspect the item before you buy it. Another is shipping costs. For large items like wheelbarrows and garden carts, shipping can end up being nearly as much as the price of the cart itself. Not only that, but some assembly may be required once it finally arrives. On the upside, shopping online does give the opportunity to gather information and read user reviews.

4 wheeled garden cart

About The Author: Ellen Brown is an environmental writer and photographer and the owner of Sustainable Media, an environmental media company that specializes in helping businesses and organizations promote eco-friendly products and services. Contact her on the web at

June 1, 20110 found this helpful

Does anyone have a way to make a garden cart from a jogging stroler or old bicycle tires?

ReplyWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes
June 19, 20110 found this helpful

I have the same idea. I'll let you know if I figure something out!

ReplyWas this helpful?Helpful? Yes

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