What is the best size 1-2 person earth auger bit for planting bare root and potted trees?

I thought about buying an auger. I had one before, 8" bit. I found while it worked fine, it simply wasn’t wide enough for a tree. I ended up having to dig much wider anyway.

What size bit would be best for a one or two man bit for planting bare root trees or potted ones?

I do not want to rent one, borrow, and I don’t have a tractor to get a gigantic auger. Truth is I just want my own, if it is useful.

I looked at 14" bits, but that may not be good enough. 24" may not be practical for non-tractor or human-held earth augers. Thanks for advice.


I have seen people on YouTube digging holes for fruit trees with an auger tool for a tractor. The guys in that video are using a two man handheld tool and making g some pretty big holes… and a bunch of them.

Looks like pretty soft ground they are working with… if not don’t think they would be able to so easily make a hole that big.


I have tried hand held augers of all kind, small, large, even rented a two person auger. My experience between problems starting, not having enough torque to dig a hole, type of soil and dryness lead me to buying a tractor and an Auger a must have attachment. I rented a Dingo with a post hole digger and that works well also.

I know you said no Tractor or rentals but my experience with handheld augers was dismal leading to the other two choices as the best option. Wish you the best …


I would say that your success with a handheld auger and the max size you could use would very much depend on your soil.

If you have very nice deep loam no rocks go big… might work… if you have 4 inches of good dirt and then sticky red clay filled with boulders like me… you would not get much more than 4 inches deep… or something is going to break… or you might get injured trying the handheld thing.


I once watched a work crew try for a few minutes with a 2-person gas auger in very slate/rocky soil. All it did was scratch the surface and didn’t make any significant headway… They shut it off and put it back in the truck and came back with pick and shovel… :slight_smile:


We have a one person stihl drill with an auger bit (I think we have 4" and 6") at work. It does a decent job but it’s a lot of power for one person.

I no longer believe in digging big holes and amending the soil, so pick a bit that is the closest to the size of the pots your trees come in. I’m planning on using an 8-in auger, but 12 would work as well.

If you have any rocks in your soil bigger than a golf ball, I wouldn’t plan on a one or two man auger. If you have Clay soil, you may have to stop periodically and soak the hole to soften the clay, but if your soil is entirely hard clay that will get tedious after a while.

Also, the two man auger with a 12-in bit is a very aggressive experience if you have anything other than soft, uniform soil. My wife and I used it when we first started planting trees, but she is uncommonly tough and we were uncommonly exhausted after digging about 15 holes.

I now own a skid steer, so I’ll be renting a post hole attachment this year and doing everything that way, but if I wasn’t I would just use a shovel and dig holes exactly the width of the root ball and approximately 3/4 the depth of the pot/root ball, which ends up not being a very difficult hole to dig.

And as with any medium to heavy equipment you don’t plan on using about monthly or more, renting is generally better than buying.

Funny enough I just read about hole size in “The Informed Gardener”. It’s suggested that your hole be twice as wide but only as deep as your roots, and to remove the potting soil from the plant so it doesn’t get too dry from well drained mixes.

Obviously everything depends on your soil type. In our case we have a clay rich soil, lots of good nutrients, but also terrible drainage.

So to prevent forming bathtubs to drown our trees in, I dig a shallow hole about half the depth of the root ball and the exact width. The tree goes in, and I mound up soil above ground level to cover the rest of the root ball and out two to three feet, so each tree has a little elevation. Excess water drains away from the trees, and the roots are free to start burrowing into our tough soil at their own pace.

This also makes it a lot easier to keep the graft above ground, as there is no sinking of the tree as the soil under it recompresses. But now I also look for trees with higher grafts in the first place.

Of course, this would be a terrible strategy in Sandy soils.

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If you had less than ideal soil like me but wanted to try a hand held auger tool… probably best to go with something like an 8 inch auger… and just dig multiple smaller holes that join together…to make one large one. You may have to shovel out some of the dirt but could do that.

If I did manage to get 8 ot 10 inch deep with a smaller auger… I would no doubt have to stop from time to time to pull out some serious rocks.

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I’ve put a lot of post holes in my clay soil. You can work a one-person 12” auger easily if it is the tow behind type. I rented one from a lumber yard for $50, it was worth every penny. I have a PTO attachment for my tractor, but I snapped some metal parts when trying an 18” auger. A skid steer hydraulic unit is the only way to go for heavy soils and larger holes. Lumber yards sometimes have cheap rentals because they assume you’ll be buying a bunch of lumber, too. I recommend trying one of these if you can find a cheap rental:


Used to plant 7 acres, field grow operations. Sometime the liners were in plastic pots, sometimes bare-root. There is one field that had compacting soil, I agree with the suggestions it is all to do with your soils. I always worked the fields with deep plowing, then finely bogging, sometimes re-plowing, etc.

I have a middle buster pulled on a 3 point tractor hitch now. It’s a very wide 18" subsoil layoff plow and will take a picture as I work in the fiber pots I’m using this year. But it has to be used in prepared soil! Maybe get that done today?

I have used the hand augers, one man and two. They are truly a man killer and will hurt you in a couple ways. If those are wide holes, you better rent one and give it a try first. BUT…don’t turn up the RPM’s, let it almost idle into the hole.

My choice of all is my old skid steer, better than any tractor! And I have rented a new design that is a skid steer stand on, if I stay healthy, but quickly aging I find, I may add this model. I know a friend and his wife that do all their commercial nursery work with this diesel powered track machine, lifting, digging, etc. You are looking at some big dollars, don’t think that is right from your post.

I also use post hole diggers and a long handled narrow blade digging spade and used to have plenty of help on the farm…those days are long gone!


Now THAT is an idea I hadn’t thought of. Thanks for sharing.

Very true.

I’ve a 3 pt. tractor driven twist auger with a 12" bit. I’ve used it to bore many holes. It will easily shear a 3/8" shear pin if it gets bound up. I switched to a grade 8 bolt for a shear pin, something you aren’t supposed to do. But it’s a pretty tough Bush Hog unit. The gear boxes they use will take a lot of abuse.

I can’t imagine trying to hold it, even with two men.

I wouldn’t get near a two man auger, unless very desperate. About the only piece of equipment I can think of more dangerous would be the old widow makers.


The guys in the video posted earlier were digging holes in a freshly plowed field, which of course would make a world of difference.

The one Sparty posted looks a bit safer. At least if it grabs hard, it’s not likely to twist the operator around with it. As mentioned, you’d want to make sure you ran it at slow speed.

I’m afraid if you don’t want to rent or borrow, probably the cheapest practical option would be to buy a small used tractor and used PTO post hole digger. A tractor driven twist auger doesn’t take much horsepower to run. Pretty much any tractor will run one. An old Ford 8N shouldn’t have any problem running one.

I never thought you could put the auger for a tractor on a handheld. I looked yesterday, I guess it is just a bit with the bolt to hold it. I’d investigate the bit to be sure, but it looks the same. I wouldn’t just go use it first. Thanks for posting.

You can use a tractor that old? I was afraid of that old of one. I could use, say, a modern day bit like from TractorSupply (or wherever) on it?

The small auger 8" I used would get bound up, and I thought it would pull my arms off. I got used to it. I’d never used one (Ryobi electric 40v, pretty strong in clay actually). It’d hit a root and kickback, but not it had an “anti-kickback” feature. I guess it worked, idk. I got kicked pretty hard.

I should probably rent one and test it first.

If I bought a bit piece of equipment, I’d have to have it plow too. I didn’t think a skid steer would do that. I was looking at tractors with front loaders, but I’m not spending it right now.

I tried that. It worked somewhat, but I think it was easier to dig than connecting those holes. It was very difficult to do what you’re saying, but I did try it several times. It wants to pull into the main hole and you never can get sideways enough. Hard to explain.

I have the kind of soil you have. You don’t bury the tree pretty far, maybe a few inches from the union? Sometimes the taproot is longer.

Be aware, the old Ford/Fergusons and the Ford 8N’s do not have a slip clutch. I you use an old guy like that, buy what’s called a “ratchet clutch.”

This is a slip on splined clutch going onto the pto shaft on the rear pto. What it does for you will protect you and the attachment from over cycling when you stop and push in the clutch.

Otherwise, the engine keeps turning the pto and you can easily bury the auger, or worse, have the bush hog push you and the tractor down a bank or hole…take it from somebody who has been run over by a 5000lb machine…it hurts if you survive.

Honest, if you have good soils tilled right, digging with hand tools isn’t a bad option.