Scared of all the holes we have to dig -- are we crazy to take on 12 trees at once?


Hi folks,

We have bare root trees coming in the winter, and are worried we won’t be able to actually dig all the holes in time to get them into the ground (assuming they have about a week). How long does it take to dig a hole for a 2-year-old 4ft bare root tree?

We’ve been lovingly planning out our new garden, and have pre-ordered 12 fruit trees for the winter, plus about as many berry canes. We planned to hire a couple people to help us dig the holes, as it seemed like a lot of work for the two of us, both working. BUT, this past week, I learned my job will likely not continue, and we’re facing some seriously difficult financial times. Hiring to help with the digging is out. The trees are already mostly paid for, and it would be a shame to lose the money and the trees. Can we take this on ourselves, or do we need to cancel or reduce our tree order?

I’m pretty strong, but inexperienced. I haven’t dug holes before. My partner knows about digging, but only from the urban farm where she grew up, and it sounds like they had wonderful fluffy soil, unlike the CA clay we have here, which seems to be much harder. We have access to a tool-lending library, so could perhaps get some extra equipment–but mostly assuming we’ll be working with shovel, spade, and pick.

We’re in the hills of the SF Bay Area. We added a big load of wood chips a few years back, and had our chickens foraging in it all until recently. So the soil is in decent shape, not exactly hardpan, we find earthworms etc.–but still California soil. That said, when we put in a fence post in the summer, the person we hired used motorized equipment to be able to make it work, and it seemed like tough going. Granted, this was in the summer, when the soil was dry. Presumably the soil will be wet in the winter (though no guarantee).

SO–are we crazy to try to take on 12 bare root trees at once with just the two of us?

Appreciate your thoughts! Thank you


12 bare root trees?


Yes, 12 bare root trees! Will edit the original post, thanks


I haven’t dug any holes in CA, but I’ve dug a great many in WI and MN. 12 bare root trees for 2 people should be no problem.


Only for perspective and possibly much easier soil here… 2 weekends ago I planted 16 2gal potted trees. I removed them from the pots, put them in the holes, filled back in… My dad dug the holes… He’s 75.


I dug a 4ft wide hole 3ft deep in about an hour. Last year I used an auger to do it, and between renting, set up, moving it, and wrestling it while it tried to kill us, I prefer the shovel.

If you have good soil, you shouldn’t have to dig very deep. I went deeper to add some better-draining soil below the trees.


The clay around Berkeley is pretty intimidating, but it can be dug. I would suggest digging a hole right away. If you have time and strength you can dig another (hey - only 10 to go!) and maybe the next day try to do it again. By then you’ll know, and your holes will be at least partly dug by the time your trees arrive.

Good luck and have fun!


Clay soils can be tough! That being said, digging holes (usually) takes less time than I think it will, unless I find a lot of tree roots, rocks, etc, in the way. I like the approach @marknmt suggests. Your holes are unlikely to go bad! You might need to adjust slightly and roughen up the edges when you plant, but most of the work will be done.


I’ve never done it, but have seen other folks use an earth auger for planting bareroot trees. Both tractor mounted and hand operated (though motorized) augers. I had a guy use a power hand auger to dig a hole to mount my satellite internet dish. That auger went through rocky, clayey soil like a hot knife through butter.


Dig your holes while you wait for the trees to be delivered. Roughly 2 feet wide and 2 feet deep.


I once watched a couple of guys with one of those augers run it for a few minutes, only to put it back in the truck and bring out the shovels. Almost more slate/rock than dirt in this spot :slight_smile:


No you’ll be happy you did. Where you live will make the difference. Its almost tropical. You will get fruit sooner than most. Go for it!


I’d also recommend making sure your shovel is nice and sharp. It’s an often-ovelooked part of shovel maintenance that makes the work go so much more smoothly. All you need is a coarse metal file and some time.


I’m very encouraged! And relieved. I love the idea of being able to dig in advance. Thanks so much! :slight_smile:


Find someone with a tractor and 3 point tractor auger like this. You can use shower or spade to scratch up interior sides for the roots. You can make 12 holes in no time. The ass pain is cutting the hardware mesh, posts and zip tying everything together.


I’ll have to get you the name of the spade I have too. It’s serrated, great for digging up trees for transplant, but great for digging holes in general.


I agree with the above comments to just start digging them now if you are concerned.


Yep. Or wait until you’ve had some rain, to soften things up. You probably won’t be planting until January or February here in the Bay Area, so you’ve got plenty of time to prepare. If you don’t already have a good shovel, consider one of these. The teeth really help with tough soil.

You likely need to include protection against gophers. I use and recommend the 15-20 gallon size of these mesh baskets for fruit trees.

Signed, Planted Way Too Many Trees at Once in Nearby Point Reyes.


I don’t like planting more than 4 or so trees in a go myself, that maybe takes a couple hours, but includes removing sod/weeds and adding mulch and a cage.

I highly recommend this shovel for digging:

Its nearly indestructable, and is easy to stand and balance on to use my body weight to wiggle and pry. In our clay soil, without rocks, I can bury the head with little effort.

Its important to have the soil moist but not saturated. If you don’t get rain in the fall, I’d recommend wetting the area a day or two in advance, maybe a couple of times.


Those bare root trees can store for quite a while, too. If they are kept in the right conditions, you don’t need to plant them all at once.