Digging Holes: Be Good To Your Back!

In a previous post, I’d written about the benefits of container gardening, and how it allowed for me to garden while minimizing stress to my back. But what if you do regular old-fashioned gardening? Are there strategies to minimize stress to your back? The answer to that is a resounding yes! There are many gardening activities that may place stress to your back, but for this post, I’ll focus on one quite familiar to me: digging holes. It’s something that often cannot be avoided. I buy a new plant, and I wish for it to grow in the ground in my yard. Especially in the summer, when it’s very dry here, the ground is quite hard and all I can manage to dig out are a few very sad scrapings of dry soil, even when using a sharp shovel. Sound familiar?

How To: When digging holes, there are 2 strategies that I use that may help you to save your time, back, and joints. They both depend on water. First, if you have any existing holes, use them. Over the years, some plants have died and I, of course, try to find replacement plants soon thereafter. The regular watering I did for the now-dead plants have kept the soil very loose, allowing me to quickly remove the dead plant. If the replacement plant’s root ball is about the same size, I just plop it in the hole, fill it up with any soil I’d dug out, and water. If the root ball is a bit larger, it’s just a modest bit of effort of digging to expand the hole so that the new plant fits in comfortably into the hole. So, as long as the soil is kept moist, digging is made much easier. Think of regular watering of your plants as an investment that will minimize your need for hard digging in the future.

The second strategy is when you’re dealing with hard, dry soil. I have quite a bit of that in the backyard. From experience, I start off with digging as much dry soil out as I can muster, but I never over-do it. Even if the result appears as only a shallow scraping, that’s a good start. The next step is to fill up that shallow scraping or hole with water and let it soak into the soil. I set my water sprayer to “soak” mode (as opposed to “shower,” “angled,” “cone,” etc.).  Once the soil has soaked up the water, repeat the process and begin digging even more soil out of the ground, and refill the hole with more water, until the hole is of the desired size.

I’ve used the second strategy effectively and I used the second one first, and the first one second when I started my backyard garden. I’m using some of the rain water I’ve collected for just this purpose. Once the initial holes are established, it’s so much easier. I can tell you that before I figured out this strategy, the hard digging left me achy for days (and breathless!). Please, be good to your back and joints, they’ll thank you for it, and you’ll have an easier time in starting or adding to your garden! This strategy takes time, so you’ll need a little patience, but it does work. I’ve also employed this strategy when digging somewhat shallow trenches in my garden.

NOTE: this second strategy can be a bit messy because you’ll be creating mud, which I don’t mind, but for those of you wanting to spare your shoes (and maybe clothes!) of any muddy backsplash, please remember to wear clothes and shoes you do not mind getting dirty.

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