Ask a Question forum→Virginia Gardeners - How do you dig in this God-awful clay??

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Name: Christal
Shenandoah Valley, Virginia (Zone 6b)
chprout
Jul 8, 2021 7:17 PM CST
Have any of you discovered any secrets to make digging a hole easier in Virginia? I'm in the northern Shenandoah Valley, roughly an 1.5 hr. west of D.C. My yard is all hard clay. No matter where you dig, you'll hit rocks, and more rocks, and when you move those rocks, there are more rocks.

What specific tools or equipment do you use? Anyone use a power drill with an auger blade?

I'm looking for hope.
Georgia (Zone 8a)
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Hamwild
Jul 8, 2021 7:29 PM CST
Sounds like my yard!

I've found the trick is digging when it's not too wet or too dry.

But, what tool to use, I don't have any answers for that. I use a shovel and do things the hard way it seems. Sighing!
Name: Lynda Horn
Arkansas (Zone 7b)
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gardenfish
Jul 8, 2021 11:24 PM CST
I have clay and rocks. A pick ax is necessary. It removes the rocks and chops up the clay so you can remove it with a shovel.
Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.
Mother Teresa
canada 4b (Zone 8a)
Dirtmechanic
Jul 9, 2021 1:15 AM CST
Mostly it is a timing thing. a couple days after a rain, longer after a soaking rain. Power tools are a clay spade on a big hammer drill or a auger. Picks yes but also grub hoe or other shovel faced tools with a pick or axe face on the opposite aide. And lastly several shovels but at least one being a strong 12 or 14 gauge digger like a razorback brand.
Name: Lynda Horn
Arkansas (Zone 7b)
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gardenfish
Jul 9, 2021 1:31 AM CST
Yes, timing is important. And so is who is using the tools! I don't have power tools, and the arthritis in my hands limits my hand strength, so my son digs a majority of the holes in my yard.
Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.
Mother Teresa
Name: Big Bill
Livonia, Michigan (Zone 6a)
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BigBill
Jul 9, 2021 6:14 AM CST
I would suggest dynamite.
For a shrub, get a 1/2 stick and a blast blanket. Light and run like heck!! If you are planting a tree, the hole must be larger so a full stick. Oh, two blast blankets are needed. Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing

I really sympathize. It is a issue that I never had to deal with. However, at least you are in the Shenandoah Valley!! It is one of the more gorgeous spots on Earth!!!
When you grow orchids, it is all about the ROOTS!!!
Port d'Envaux, France (Zone 9a)
A Darwinian gardener
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JBarstool
Jul 9, 2021 6:18 AM CST
Here - where I have clay and huge limestone deposits - I use a digging bar which I drive through the soil and rock with an 18 pound fence hole driver. Once the bar has been driven through the clay, broken through the stone and rocked violently in all directions I can remove the bar and use a spade to remove what has been excavated. Bit by bit I can dig a hole. It may take an hour or an afternoon, there is just no telling. And yes, it is a pain in the posterior.

For examples (with n articular recommendation):

https://tchristy.com/product/6...

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01MSIO4GX/

I find myself most amusing.
Name: Christal
Shenandoah Valley, Virginia (Zone 6b)
chprout
Jul 9, 2021 6:23 AM CST
Thank you all. BigBill, you have no idea how many times I said that to my husband...."why can't we just use some dynamite to clear out the hole"????? He actually likes the idea, but we just haven't tried it yet.

IT'S SUCH A PAIN IN THE BUTT

LITERALLY.......
Name: Big Bill
Livonia, Michigan (Zone 6a)
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BigBill
Jul 9, 2021 6:31 AM CST
I really wish I had a solution.
But you bet, you put the blast blanket in the wrong spot, oh brother!!
When you grow orchids, it is all about the ROOTS!!!
Name: Christal
Shenandoah Valley, Virginia (Zone 6b)
chprout
Jul 9, 2021 6:45 AM CST
BigBill, have you actually done this????? LOL
Name: Big Bill
Livonia, Michigan (Zone 6a)
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BigBill
Jul 9, 2021 7:08 AM CST
No! I would have taken out three square blocks if I did!

I have encountered only a few tough spots planting and I resorted to a breaker bar, pick axe and long handled spade.
Nothing worse then planting a dozen bushes as a side yard privacy screen and in order to keep your spacing and visual effect, # 11 has part of an old street, concrete slab or some other nonsense in the middle of the hole. You probe the sides but it is more of the same. So I spend over an hour just to dig that darn hole and you finally get it done! Frustrating beyond belief!! But when you make it work, it is a great feeling!!
When you grow orchids, it is all about the ROOTS!!!
[Last edited by BigBill - Jul 9, 2021 7:09 AM (+)]
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Bryan, TX
WAMcCormick
Jul 9, 2021 1:16 PM CST
If I were gardening in that dirt, once I got some of it loosened, I would add some sawdust or compost. It is surprising how much easier the soil is to work after getting some plant material into it. That does not make the first digging any easier, but it can help for two or three years afterwards.
If it takes a long time to grow, remember that if nobody plants it, nobody has it.
Name: Lin Vosbury
Sebastian, Florida (Zone 10a)

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plantladylin
Jul 9, 2021 1:26 PM CST
LOL, here in Florida we have sand and years ago I'd moan and groan about how much of a pain it was to have to amend the soil to plant anything but then I visited my youngest sister in North Gerogia one year and during that visit she asked me to help her in the garden. She had to use a post hole digger to break through that awful hard clay! Blinking I gave up after 5 minutes! I decided I didn't mind my Florida sand so much. Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing Rolling on the floor laughing
~ I'm an old gal who still loves playing in the dirt!
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Port d'Envaux, France (Zone 9a)
A Darwinian gardener
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JBarstool
Jul 9, 2021 1:30 PM CST
WAM- Not sure to whom you were addressing your comment but if it was directed at me - oh yes, I do dig in lots of compost. I have to buy store bought in 50 liter bags as my garden isn't accessible for bulk - on average (yes I do keep track) I buy and use about 125 bags a year; 3/4 of it in the Spring-Summer growing season. I am seldom without 5+ bags in the back of my car and a few more in the barn. The best areas are those in which I fork in compost and then consistently mulch with the same compost and other OM...gradually they show improvement.
I find myself most amusing.
[Last edited by JBarstool - Jul 9, 2021 1:31 PM (+)]
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Name: Dillard Haley
Augusta Georgia (Zone 8a)
Garden Ideas: Master Level Avid Green Pages Reviewer Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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farmerdill
Jul 9, 2021 1:34 PM CST
chprout said:Have any of you discovered any secrets to make digging a hole easier in Virginia? I'm in the northern Shenandoah Valley, roughly an 1.5 hr. west of D.C. My yard is all hard clay. No matter where you dig, you'll hit rocks, and more rocks, and when you move those rocks, there are more rocks.

What specific tools or equipment do you use? Anyone use a power drill with an auger blade?

I'm looking for hope.


Native Virginia here but not familiar with northern Shenandoah. In the piedmont red clay, we used a long handled spoon (round pointed shovel and a pick axe. If roots were encountered a mattock. We even dug wells in that stuff. For small holes like post holes, we used a clamshell post hole digger and a digging bar for prying out rocks. Augers either hand or power were pretty useless. Hang a tractor powered auger under a big rock and you had to hand dig it out. At least at that time they did not reverse. Hand auger you could just screw it back out of the hole. As others have noted, it is a lot easier to dig when soil has the right amount of moisture.
The Beautiful Hudson Valley (Zone 6a)
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narnia
Jul 10, 2021 4:52 AM CST
I feel your pain!

For digging, nothing beats serrated-edged shovels. The shorter handle works best for me because I can push the shovel with my foot and lean down on it to add my weight. Check these out, they're pricey but last a lifetime, and well worth the investment:

https://www.predatortools.com/...

In the spring and fall I work a few inches of compost in to amend my soil. I also add compost whenever I plant something new. Some spots in my garden are wet, and I add Perlite for extra drainage.

I've had to pull up so many plants that couldn't thrive in my garden, but over the years I've been particularly successful with spirea, ninebark, nandina, Royal Purple smokebush, Japanese Maple, hosta, Japanese willow, inkberry, boxwood, barberry, sunshine ligustrum, cypress, roses and hydrangeas in some spots, juniper, pines and hollies (which I amend with Peat Moss to acidify the soil).

Gardening in clay is a real challenge, good luck!

ggribble
Jul 10, 2021 12:02 PM CST
i have hard clay, too. i mostly used a pickax until i bought this shovel at a garden show. love it! almost never use the pickax anymore. https://spearheadspade.com/
i use the long handled version.
Name: Frankie
NE Georgia (Zone 7b)
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frankielynn
Jul 10, 2021 12:06 PM CST
I live in NE Georgia and I second ggribble. I have a spear head shovel, bought at a garden show, that is my tool of choice. I also wait a few days after a rain.
Name: Sally
central Maryland
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sallyg
Jul 10, 2021 12:43 PM CST
Oh the rocks! If it's like where my kid is, hes into the East side ridge's of the. North of the same mountains. The rocka made it so bad. If I'd known I'd have taken a pick and a mattock. I'm spoiled on coastal sandy loam.
i'm pretty OK today, how are you? ;^)

browjo_new
Jul 11, 2021 2:29 AM CST
the secret you're looking for is Gypsum

scratch the topsoil
apply gypsum liberally
water in immediately
wait 24 hours
dig topsoil
repeat


gradually the clay gives up its grip and the rocks will come loose
I tip my hat to you.

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