The key to many successful garden projects is digging a good hole, and there’s a lot more to it than you may imagine. The first step is to ask questions. What’s the hole for? What am I digging into and what tools do I need to do it? Armed with the right answers, you’ll be able to dig the perfect hole without damaging yourself or your tools.
Call a spade a spade
The simple mantra to remember is: spades are for digging, shovels are for shifting.
Generally a spade blade tends to be flat and a shovel blade dished, to hold a load.
A digging spade has a pointed blade whereas a border spade has a square end.
‘D’ type handles are ideal for general work, such as planting, and offer good grip, manoeuvrability and ergonomics.
Long-handled spades suit deep holes and long trenches as they have better leverage.
Know your soil
Loam or sandy: When digging a hole in loam or sandy soil you’ll need a quality spade. Then, simply dig away and enjoy! In loose soils you may need to dig a larger hole than required as the sides tend to fall in.
Clay: You’ll need a quality digging spade and crowbar or mattock when digging into clay. For big jobs, try an electric jackhammer with a clay blade. To dig hole, use crowbar to start hole and break up clay – use spade to remove waste. For larger holes and trenches use a mattock. Once your hole is underway, you can use a spade to shave slices from the sides.
Rocky: To dig a hole in rocky soil you’ll need a quality digging spade and crowbar, mattock or pick. For big jobs, try an electric jackhammer. Use crowbar to begin, and probe to find large rocks. Then, break up and lever out the rock. A mattock can also be used for digging, breaking and levering, and a pick for breaking and levering. Use your spade to clear out the waste.
How to dig it
Planting hole: Make sure you dig your hole at least twice the size of your plant’s root ball. Ensure the sides of the hole are not compacted or shaved smooth. If they are, break them up. Then, add compost or soil improver to suit the plant’s requirements
and blend through. But don’t dig a planting hole into dense clay soil – create a planting mound on top instead.
Post hole: To begin with, determine how deep your hole needs to be. The rough rule is that at least one-third of the post’s height should be in the ground. This will vary with soil type, post size and load. Once you know the required depth, dig a neat, straight hole slightly larger than your post and as plumb as possible. Put aggregate to a depth of about 40mm in base of hole, to keep post above soil and to make levelling easier.
Footing: Clearly mark out the area to be excavated, then dig your hole as straight-sided as possible, checking the measurements as you dig. Make sure the bottom of the hole is smooth and level. Before adding steel the hole must be cleaned of any loose material.