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.
In this section, there is general information on how you can make digging easier, and details of some tools that you might find helpful.
There is additional information on digging: sitting down and from a wheelchair; with sight loss; with a weak grip; with one hand; if you can't bend easily
Top tips to make digging easier
Digging can be very hard work and you can avoid the need for regular digging by making narrow ‘no-dig’ beds. Simply cover the bed with a thick mulch such as newspapers and then 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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. Dig in spring if you have a lighter soil - the ground will be warmer and much easier to work with.
- Digging can put a strain on your back, shoulders and arms. 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.
- Make sure you protect your feet and lower legs to avoid injury from sharp tools like forks and spades.
Equipment and tools
In this section, there is general information on digging tools, and a few examples of tools that you might find helpful.
You can see the full range of digging tools, and search for equipment and tools which are easier for people with a specific disability to use, in Equipment and tools to help you
Hand tools such as trowels and forks are used regularly in the garden so it's important to choose the best ones for you. Try hand tools with large easy-to-hold grips, right angled fist grips, and tools from multi-change ranges with tool heads which you attach to handles of different lengths depending on the job you are doing.
Hand tools with longer handles, sometimes called long reach tools, are useful for light digging and cultivating the soil. They are easy-to-use and
lightweight so are particularly recommended if you garden sitting down or can't bend easily.
Larger forks and spades come in different sizes to meet your needs. Thrive recommends smaller border style tools to make digging easier and help reduce strain. A lightweight border fork and planting spade are good for breaking up the soil and digging. Check that the weight and length is
right for you before you buy.
There are large forks and spades with long-handles. These help you dig larger areas at ground level without too much bending.
- There are also 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.