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


Plenty of good advice here, just wanted to say good luck and keep planting! I’ll be putting in 18 walnut seedlings this weekend. So much to plant this year.


A lot of good suggestions in this thread.

I ordered 23 trees one year and planted them myself. To the best of my recollection it only took part of a day. Of course I didn’t have clay soil, but still.

Dig at least one hole in advance, so you can see what you’re up against. Make sue your soil is damp, not wet and muddy. You want to water it a day or two before digging. Based on your “test” hole, if it seems like it is going to take you a couple of days to get the trees planted, get yourself a few bags of play sand and some kind of big bin or tote that all your tree roots will fit in. When you get your bareroot trees, stand the trees up in the bin and cover the roots with the sand. Dampen it SLIGHTLY; you don’t want the roots to be waterlogged. Your trees will be OK like this for a couple of weeks or until they break dormancy, whichever comes first. You can pull them out one at a time as you get your holes dug.

I second the recommendation for the gopher baskets. Gophers kill a lot of fruit trees here in CA. But if you want to save money, get yourself a roll of wire and make your own: It’s a lot less expensive. If you’re not sure what size basket to make, get yourself a 15 gallon nursery pot and make your baskets the same size as the pot.


I don’t know your age but if you’re over,say, 50 or so, you might want to invest in a good-sized bottle of ibuprofen before you get too far along in your job …



Fellow NorCal gardener here, with the same heavy clay soil. Sorry to hear about the job situation. I agree with the pick/mattock suggestions, but I might add to get a smaller, lighter one. Bigger and heavier picks can really wear you down fast, and they don’t make all that much more progress than a light one. The same for digging bars. They work great in some situations, but they are heavy and eat up energy. I also agree with dampening the soil. If the soil is dry, I would run a very gentle sprinkler over the area for a few hours or more, until the soil is wetted through, then wait a day to let the sogginess go away. Sounds like a fun project.


Flood every area where you’re planning on digging. Saturate that clay. It may sound counter intuitive, but once you do that and then leave it for a week or two before digging, you should not have much issues digging the holes. That is, if you get no heavy rains prior to delivery.


thats what i do . its a pita to dig a hole here with the fist sized or bigger rocks and hard clay. i killed a few apples slowly trying to grow them directly in my soil. i put down 2 layers of cardboard, set the tree on top and mound the soil while tamping down with my foot. i then immediately mulch with 3in of wood chips then stake. no digging and they grow great! it also gives them a good head start getting them going in some good bagged soil.


Not the same soil, for me , but
Moose I have been thinking of growing tree’s like this just sideways

I figure I had 500 tree’s started but had used bad peat moss (left in the bag to ferment I believe )
would of had thousands.

I agree to pre dig hahaha
always doing work, and realize I did it for nothing didn’t look it over first

When We had put up a fence the older posts used to go deeper
Well after renting a machine to help get the soil soft
I used a Post hole digger , but that last foot
On advice of friends needed that last foot dug
Well that pure clay took as long as each hole
a all day job just for those hole just for the last foot of each
turns out the fences are different lengths now so dug for nothing a foot to much hahah.

Good someone said japanese radish or daikon radish to loosen the soil to grow right now.


I just read the first question and don’t want to read every answer, so if my 2 bits has already been put in the slot, I apologize.

First thing, no hurry to plant the bare root trees after they arrive, If they are entirely rapped in plastic the only danger is if they start to rot but if you keep only the roots moist and store in a cool place the trees will wait for a month or more.

Second, if it’s too hard for you to dig the holes, I’m sure there are lots of people willing to lend some muscle that need work right now- restaurant workers come to mind.

Third, pic work is the hardest and I hope your soil is at least soft enough to use a shovel. A shovel properly used is not exhausting because you can use gravity and your bodies weight to help drive it. Usually you don’t have to overly exert you leg muscles in the process.

4th, you probably don’t need to dig any deeper than the extent of existing roots- plant close to the graft union on all but dwarfing rootstocks, which should be planted with soil at least a couple inches below that union. I only dig deeper in pure hardpan to give roots the possibility of anchorage, but stomp down the deepest soil to make sure trees don’t sink over time.

If you have to use a pick, you can similarly use gravity and not swing with full force to get the job done. It’s slower but usually enough in all but the most hard-packed rocky soils.

If it’s too hard to do with a pick, hire a back hoe.

a half century ago I often planted a now legal plant in your state by digging out very large planters in pure sand stone on steep, chaparral hills- up to 5’deep to support huge plants. Ah, but I was so much younger then.


You’ve got plenty of good advice/responses here…

I find that I don’t mind digging and planting and that generally isn’t the hard part for me. Remembering to keep up with the mulching, watering, weeding and generally babying those 12 trees all season is where I tend to fall behind. I’ve learned that anything more than 5-6 new trees for me (in addition to my potted plants, the vegetable garden, the existing trees/cane fruits/vines) is just too much follow up for me to manage at once.

Good luck with it all. Mulch and install dripline (I know more to do) and avoid my biggest pitfall…



I have found it is usually easiest to dig a small hole down to depth, and then widen it. It seems to take longer if you try to dig it evenly. I didn’t check all the responses to see if anyone mentioned that.


I’ve skimmed through the comments and didn’t see anyone mention a digging bar (also called a san angelo bar). It has greatly helped me plant in tough rocky soil (25-30 trees a year). I would break a lot of shovels (and I did when I first started) without it. It can also help make holes for support posts and is very useful for removing rocks.

I’ve been able to remove rocks much heavier than I could lift, by using it as a lever and pushing small rocks under the big rock. Keep repeating until it is at ground level, then roll it away.

This isn’t the exact model I have(mine is only 60"), but it looks close. Pointed on one end (good for support posts) and a wedge on the other end (good for a lever and even cracking rocks sometimes). I don’t use cement for my support posts, but instead use the wedge to drive small rocks on all sides of the metal pole, keeping it snug in the ground. I haven’t ever had a support post come out on it’s own, but I’ve had the metal bend (generally the 1.375" galvanized rail).


Bars are relatively inexpensive compared to a King of Spades solid metal spade, so it would seem to be a good choice for a homeowner, but a spade does a better job of dislodging rocks for me because it doesn’t tend to slide off of them and those who work with me agree. There is also the issue of severing roots. There are occasions when a bar is useful but the spade is an essential tool we use wherever there are rocks to dislodge.

I have bent bars out of shape (thereby ruining their strength) and have done the same with spades. I have to admit, it hurts more when I spring a $100 + spade, but I purchase another. If HD’s guarantee is based on satisfaction and not manufacturers defects (which is pure BS and used by amleo), that might be a positive consideration. Spring it and exchange it for another.

We plant hundreds of trees in every imaginable soil after digging them up bare root from my rocky soil and only rarely do I rely on a back-hoe, generally only when we are planting more than a score of trees in soil that requires pic work. The bar is most useful when there are so many rocks it’s the only thing you can easily push through to get a tool beneath the individual rocks you are trying to free.

This is the spade I’m talking about- it has a longer blade than their other designs. There are others on the market for much less money but I can’t seem to use the same amount of force without springing the other two versions from other companies I’ve tried. I found this from a quick search, and there may be less expensive sources, but make sure they have the same length blade and the long handle for leverage. They claim the tool is light, but it felt plenty heavy to me, even decades before my 68th BD.


The bar I got has been pretty tough. After 7-8 years of relatively heavy use, there is a slight curve to it, but not bad, considering the times I’ve been practically jumping on it as a lever. I’m just not strong enough to bend it :slight_smile: The bar is about twice the weight as the spade (8lbs vs 16lbs per the links), so it can give your upper body a workout at any age.

I dig enough that I should look into getting one of those spades, even though it looks to be 3-4X the cost of the bar. I would still use the bar to put in support posts though, as it is the perfect width. Especially when the post is being added years after the tree, as sometimes you discover it is needed later. Also, at rentals, it doesn’t look good to have huge posts and tiny tree, so I wait for the tree to size up enough to need it before putting in the post.


I didn’t believe the difference in weight could be that much but I weighed my heaviest bar that is flattened into a narrow blade on the digging end and it was 18 pounds to the KoS 8. We almost never use that heavy bar, it would exhaust me after a day of prying rocks, and no, I haven’t managed to bend it.

There are many different types of bars and yours is likely one of the heaviest and strongest. Not for weekend warriors, IMO, unless you are just naturally big and strong. I’m more squirrel than bear, myself. 5’11" and 155 pounds.


It is a bit heavy- I’m always very careful when carrying it, as I can picture turning around with it and accidentally shattering a window on the car.

I wouldn’t want to use it all day, but it isn’t too bad for a brief time. In your analogy, I’m a skinny squirrel at a bit over 6’ and 145-150 (depending on how dehydrated I am from working outside :slight_smile: ).


If you all are squirrels, I guess I’m an old male groundhog…
A little shy of 6’2" and a wee bit under 290# the last time on scales.
But, I’ve bent my ‘spud bar’ many times…and have straightened it out the same way bent it, basically. Me and it can move…at a very slow pace…700# boulders.

Now, how the heck did my mattock get a crooked blade? I don’t even remember doing that!


Blueberry, I’m a little unshy of 6’2" and a wee bit over 290# on the scale a while ago. I don’t think groundhog was an option. We are being called bears! I tried to grab a shovel this week. Of the ones with the handle still intact it took 3 tries to find one with a straight(not curled) blade. They don’t make them like they used to.


most are cheap chinese junk sadly!


Bear is OK I guess as long as it’s not eating my apples.

My steel bar is made in India and is probably 7 feet, but maybe a little more.
I’ve bent it dozens of times…but keep straightening it and going on.

I have a steel handle shovel for the hard jobs, but the cheap fiberglass ones from Lowe’s I ruin a couple per year of those.

Used to be, MADE IN AMERICA was good stuff, but seems hard to find anymore.
Maybe AMES company still makes good stuff with wooden handles, but I’ve not seen them for sale. People buy based on price…and junk is the result.


A lot of shovels are still made here but things like potato forks seem to be increasingly from China. Such tools aren’t always junk or cheap, either- but obviously cheaper off the boat than U.S. versions.