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Gardening Patch

Digging the soil

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Benefits of digging the soil

Digging the soil is one of the most labour intensive jobs in the garden but also one of the most beneficial. Digging the soil will improve the structure of the soil as it reduces soil compaction and improves soil aeration. The effect of this is that there is more oxygen available to the plant roots and the water drainage is improved. It also makes it easier for plant roots to penetrate and ‘reach out’ further into the soil.

The other reason to dig the soil is to dig in and incorporate organic matter such as garden compost or rotted horse manure that help improve the soil quality.

Digging the soil also has other benefits such as burying weeds (don’t bury weeds that have produced seed or perennial weed roots though). When the weed is buried it will naturally breakdown just as it would on the compost heap.

Digging the soil also makes sowing / planting out easier as the soil is more open and seedlings will find it easier to break through the soils surface.

How to dig the soil

The most common method of digging the soil is to single dig. This will prepare the ground for most types of well established plants with a good root system including perennials, trees and shrubs. Smaller plants such as seedlings and small annuals will require the soil surface to be repeatedly raked to achieve much smaller soil ‘clods’.

To single dig you work in a systematic way, starting at one side of the bed or border and dig a trench one spades depth and one spades width. Pile the soil from this first trench into a wheelbarrow and take it to the opposite side of the area that is going to be dug and empty the wheelbarrow.

Go back to the trench you have just dug and using your spade add a 4 inch layer of organic matter such as garden compost or well rotted manure into the trench.

Now dig a new trench next to the first trench and upturn the soil from this second trench into the first trench (on top of the organic matter). Remove any stones and weeds from the upturned soil and break this soil down with the tines of a garden fork so that the soil clods are reduced to the size of a table tennis ball.

Repeat stage 2 but this time putting the organic matter in the second trench. Now repeat the process working along the plot trench by trench until you reach the far end. When you have reached the far end and added organic matter into the last trench use the soil that you transported in the wheelbarrow from your first trench to fill in the last trench.

The amount of organic matter you need to incorporate when digging the soil will vary depending on the quality of the soil to start with and the number of times you have previously dug organic matter into the soil.

Double digging

Double digging is a more thorough method of digging that is used by some gardeners when they are digging a plot for the first time. It is harder work than single digging as it involves forking over the soil in the base of the trench to the depth of the fork tines before adding the organic matter. Some gardeners believe that double digging is not necessary.

Digging tips

If the soil is too dry then the soil will be hard and digging will be more of an effort. Choose a time when the soil is not to wet as otherwise it will stick to your spade and footwear.

Dig at a steady pace as digging is very labour intensive, because of this dig small areas to begin with and when you are familiar with the effects and your body is accustomed to it build you can dig larger areas.