The Q&A Archives: Working With Very Hard Clay Soil

Question: What is the best equipment to use when digging holes for planting in very, very hard soil?

Answer: If you're digging fence post holes, a power auger will dig through clay with ease. If you're digging planting holes, you may want to rent a rototiller and incorporate some organic matter in preparation for planting trees, shrubs and perennials. Hardpan doesn't drain quickly enough for most plants, and is almost impenetrable for plant roots. Adding organic matter in the form of compost, leaf mould, rice hulls, etc. will improve the structure of your soil, and make it more hospitable for plant roots. If you're preparing soil for planting, be sure to work all the soil in the bed, not just the immediate area where you want to put the plant. Amending just the planting hole will encourage roots to stay in the hole rather than venturing out into the landscape, and result in girdling of the roots. Good luck with your project!

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