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


I like a post hole digger for getting into clay, then shape the hole with shovel.

Mulch now and digging after a good rain will help


Best way for me. Dig your holes ahead of time as been advised above, that way it also gives you an idea of the layout. I’ve gone out there and after looking at it decided to change it. Best idea I ever had. Also once holes are dug I fill back in and dirt is soft that way easy peas to take shovel and dig down. Dig a few a day and/or when you can at your own timing.


Wow, lots of good advice. Basically I’ve dug holes for 12 bare root fruit trees…maybe 10 minutes per hole. But, if it takes an hour…you can still do it in a weekend with a shovel.

(If for some reason you can’t get a big enough hole…consider bringing in dirt and making a raised bed!)


There might still be time for daikon radishes to lend a hand breaking the soil.


I think there have been a number of great suggestions. If you do not want to dig with a shovel perhaps you can borrow a tiller. I have a 24 inch Sear’s craftsman that does a good job digging a hole even in hard clay. You do need to make sure you have a good grip on it in clay. I also think digging the holes ahead of time is the way to go.


I plant about a dozen new trees every year. It is not that hard to dig that many holes. If you are worried dog them in advance a little at a time


Ok so this is the forum to feel better about the amount of plants you ordered and to encourage you to plant more.

I plant in hard clay and what I do is soak the spot the night before or so with the hose and then that makes digging much much easier although more dirty.

I would start digging them now and you can just recover with dirt if your worried about holes. It will make pulling the soil out once the trees arrive super easy or even easier if you just pour it over. I would try to go atleast 18”-24” deep and 3’ wide.

Try to just step down and use the shovel as a ply bar for your back


sorry I did not read every post here

It ius called healing over

Call a soil company have them dump big mounds of soil it’s not that expensive _
rest the tree’s rootballs int he mean time in the mounds

Soil will be softer

As you dig like mentioned use a pick ax to soften the soil , first.
sorry quickly posted this

I think a hole digger for posts from the hardware store is cheap
It is like a big drill we used one for a (number of) hour(s) for the fence so it was cheaper
At my mom’s house , and I dug the rest.


Sorry should of read every post

I’d just do the healing over then, and take on a little at a time.

you seem to have good options if you can use farm equipment,
but I agree never be sure of anything.

Are voles very bad

is it a open area
I know if people are being paacked in the voles will be bad because rthey got no where to go.


Often I feel I have little to contribute on this forum, but in this case I have a lot of experience digging holes in very hard clay. Clay often mixed with rocks. Use a mattock (maybe the pick you referred to) to break the soil up. Use the shovel to get the broken up soil out of the hole. Then go back to the mattock, then back to the shovel. If you have two people this will go much faster as there is no switching tools and each person gets a short break while the other person works. I have learned this through much hard experience. Alternatively, if the soil is wet, or you can soak it, you can use a shovel as long as it is at that “just right” stage, which is almost never in my Georgia red clay.


Amen, Brother Haldog! The road to wisdom is paved with … blisters? I’ll let you know if I ever get there.

My favorite ever piece of advice (from a mechanic coaching me through a clutch swap): “Just keep at it. You’ll get it.” In my case he might have added “and take your time.”


Well I am glad your all hard working, and know how

I watched people that do this for a living landscaping
I went over , and offered my pick axe didn’t want to be rude, but wasn’t sure why 3 or 4 were trying to dig a lilac tree, hibiscus(rose of sharon) , and others with plain shovels or spades I mean.

Well at least I got a free dug up lilac bush nice enough to bring it to me, and it lived.


My backyard growing up had some rock-hard clay soil full of rocks and boulders. I found that a mattock and a skinny spade will do pretty well for most holes. I used a pick to bust through the really hard stuff, and a tanker bar to dislodge boulders.


I plan to plant 15 containerized shrubs (3 gallon size) on a steep slope later today…expect to hit shale, but maybe some clay too. Shovel, mattock and spade at the ready as needed…along with some bagged soil if need/as needed. Get it done before lunch if I don’t procrastinate.

And then plant 10 balled and burlapped hemlock trees some other day. Probably take most of a day next week for that chore.


I’ve found a sharpened spade and digging iron seem to work best for me. Seems to be a lot faster than using a regular shovel and mattock.


My favorite digging tool of choice is a garden fork these days. I soak the area and the fork slides in easily. I carefully yank clods of soil onto my wheelbarrow so as to not break the fork. Then I break up the clods by hand or a shovel. Sometimes, the hole is still dry. I water it and come back after an hour or so and resume. Takes me about 1/2 hour to plant one tree in my rock hard, dry clay soil.


I’ve also used this method but run into this same problem and usually don’t have the patience to work through it. I soak the ground, which works on the top layer and is diggable with a good fork, but then about 12-15 inches down it’s dry rock hard clay. I have to soak again and come back later-but not too much later.


To me 12 holes to dig seems manageable as others have stated. It seems like you are hesitant or unsure because this is a new type work/fun. In the dry part of the summer 12 holes would be tough but during the fall or winter when there is adequate moisture in the soil the task is much easier. Most all of my trees were planted with a mattock and shovel. Occasionally I will use a small garden tiller to help. Just remember that all the holes and planting don’t have to be done in one day. You will do great.


Watering dry soil when digging by hand has worked very well for me. I would usually dig what I could then fill the hole with water. Come back in an hour and it is much easier , sometimes repeat 2 or 3 times.


You are an amazing community, thank you for all these rich responses!

We are so excited to learn it’s not unrealistic to plant our trees! Woo! :sweat_smile:

We will get started as soon as we can. Thinking we might use a hose to start, and not even wait for the rain.

BUT, first step: We need some better tools! Appreciate all the recommendations