Digging is when you turn over the soil to a spade’s depth or more. Digging helps break up the soil, to aerate it (get air into the soil), and it can help to loosen weeds.
Top tips to make digging easier
When digging larger areas, some visually impaired gardeners find right-angle guides invaluable. These are home made guides that can be laid on the ground and pegged to give you a set area to dig, fork, or rake. Find out how to make your own right-angle guide and read more about how the guide can be used in the garden.
- To level the soil after digging you can either work close to the ground with a hand rake and feel as you go, or stand using a long-handled rake and work within a right angle guide mentioned above.
- Keep your beds narrow so you don’t have to step on the soil to reach. Also, consider opting for 1-metre square beds - these will give an edge to dig inside and also make planting easier.
- It will help if you can adapt your garden to avoid having to dig at ground level and to keep the amount of digging needed to a minimum.
- Make narrow ‘no-dig’ beds by covering beds with a thick mulch such as newspapers and with a thick top layer of manure or compost. Worms and micro-organisms will help break the soil down and the mulch will help stop weeds growing.
- Alternatively, lay down a weed-suppressing membrane in permanent beds and plant through slits cut in the material. Cover the membrane with a mulch such as bark or gravel.
- If your garden soil is heavy and clay based, any digging is best done in the autumn. This is because by the spring, the soil will have dried out and be very hard, which will make digging extremely difficult and physically demanding. Also, if you dig it over in the autumn and then leave the surface uneven over the winter, any frosty weather will help break up the soil even more. However, if you have lighter soil you should dig in the spring as the ground will be warmer and much easier to work.
Consider using raised beds and containers. These bring the soil off the ground, reduce the need for digging and make any digging that you have to do much easier. Find out more about raised beds
- Digging can put a strain on your back, shoulders and arms so always ‘warm up’ with a few gentle stretches before digging, keep your back straight and only work for short periods, to avoid strain.
- Choosing a spade of the right length and weight will help you avoid some of the stresses and strains when digging.
- When working close to the soil, wear gardening gloves to protect your hands. Knee pads with straps to go round your legs are a good way to protect your knees.
Equipment and tools
A lightweight border fork and planting spade are a good choice for breaking up the soil and digging. Check that the weight and length is right for you before you buy.
- A long-handled rake or a short hand rake will help you level the soil after digging. Choose from the multi-change ranges where you fit different to tool heads to handles of the right length. A telescopic handle will also be useful for working at different heights.
- There are tools designed to break up soil using actions such as pushing, pulling and twisting – these are called Cultivation tools – and may be easier for you to use than a spade.