How Do I Start Digging My Garden?

Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:54 pm

Digging up the garden: For many, this is on the to-do list for spring. Here we explain what you should bear in mind.

For many amateur gardeners, this task is one of the first and last things they do each gardening season: Digging up the garden. But how useful is it anyway and when is the right time to do it – better in the spring or in the fall? And what tools should you have on hand besides a spade? We reveal what is important.

Digging garden: These are the right tools

How Do I Start Digging My Garden?

In order to spare your back and arms when working in the garden, the right tools are the be-all and end-all. Quality goes before quantity here: You don’t have to get a lot of tools for digging up or loosening the garden soil, but the right specimens.

When buying combi tools, you should make sure that the connectors are sturdy. Otherwise, the attachments will fall off and you will take even longer in gardening and also spend money unnecessarily.

Here are the main device for digging around:

To dig up beds or not?

In the past, digging up the beds was an obligatory part of the garden routine in spring and autumn. Meanwhile, the opinion of many experts in this regard has changed: Namely, when it comes to areas that have been planted before.

In fact, in one liter of soil there are billions of microorganisms that are responsible for metabolic processes in the garden. In the soil layers in which they live, they are bound to conditions such as a certain temperature and moisture. If the soil is now dug up, they can no longer work properly. Important metabolic processes can come to a temporary standstill as a result. So until soil life recovers, plants may not be able to absorb sufficient nutrients from the soil. Also to be noted: Digging up often causes unwelcome weed seeds to come to the surface and start to germinate.

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When is digging up useful?

So, digging up the garden is useful when you want to replant or sow a part that is currently unused. For the vegetable garden digging is an important preparation for sowing.

Another reason for digging is deep soil compaction. These are found, for example, on new building plots when the soil has been compacted by construction vehicles. In this case, simple digging is usually not enough – so it is best to turn the soil directly two spades deep to loosen the soil. This technique is also called Dutching.

Depending on what soil you are working, there are directly different versions of spades: For low-stone soils and for hard, stony soils. Sturdy shoes are also important: so you can stand on the spade every now and then to increase the pressure on the soil.

Digging up the garden: Instructions in five steps

The tools are ready – now what to do next? We explain in five steps how to dig up the bed.

  1. Determine the area for the bed: If you want to dig up your bed, you shouldn’t crisscross it with a spade. First, you need to determine the area to be dug up and then proceed according to plan. To do this, you can also mark or stake out the area to be dug over.
  2. Remove weeds: To prevent too many weeds from reaching deeper soil layers, it is best to remove them directly. For large plants, this works with a cultivator.
  3. Divide garden into rows and dig first trench: If you want to dig up with a system, it is best to divide the garden into rows that you work on gradually: To do this, start on one side of the bed and dig a trench lengthwise with a spade. To do this, pierce about a spade’s depth and lift the soil. Move the excavated soil from this first row to the other side of the bed. Tip: If you have a large amount, this works best with a wheelbarrow.
  4. Fill the excavated rows with soil: Now proceed to the second row of the bed and excavate it. With the excavation of the second now fill up the first row again. The clods of earth should break in the process; this is the only way to loosen the soil well. Continue in this way and finally fill the last row with the loose soil from the first.
  5. Loosen and smooth the soil: Once the entire bed has been dug over, use a soil claw or spading fork to loosen any remaining larger clods of soil. Then smooth the surface with a rake or rake.
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Caution: Do not injure roots of ground cover perennials.

If you have ground-covering perennials such as lady’s mantle, golden strawberry or cranesbill in your garden, be careful: Loosen the surface of the garden soil here with a cultivator so as not to disturb root development. Otherwise, the plants will grow worse and be more susceptible to pests.

Alternatives to digging up

If you decide that digging over isn’t right for the garden, there are some alternatives that are gentle on the microorganisms in the soil.


Instead of digging up the garden, you can take precautions for winter in late summer and cover the harvested vegetable bed with a mulch layer of leaves, semi-mature compost and crop residue. This will protect the soil from temperature fluctuations, silting and weeds.

Then in the spring, remove the mulch layer with a rake and till the soil with a cultivator. Just loosen the soil with the tool without turning it. At this point, you can work in some mature compost. Then, after about two weeks, the sowing can take place. This will allow the soil to settle again first. Before planting the seeds briefly loosen the soil again with a rake.

Beet mulchen

Green manure

As an alternative to digging up, you can also work a so-called green manure into the soil. Green manure is an intercrop that improves the soil and is especially suitable for harvested vegetable beds. Phacelia, for example, is ideal for the garden, as it is compatible with many vegetables. The seeds can be bought cheaply.

The plants are planted in the garden and then worked into the soil either fresh or wilted. Important: Mow down the plants before the seeds ripen. Then leave for a few days and then work the plant residue into the soil.

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Digging up the garden in the spring: then it makes sense.

If you have applied compost to the soil in the fall, digging it up next spring is ideal. Then the compost has a fine, crumbly consistency and the nutrients quickly reach the roots of the plants. Keep in mind, however, that the soil has compacted considerably over the winter, so digging it over in the spring will require more effort.

Digging up the garden in autumn: these are the advantages

Garten umgraben

If you have heavy, loamy soil, digging over in the fall makes sense because the weather will help break up the soil. If you applied compost in the spring, digging over in the fall is also a good idea. Over the winter, the dug-over soil will freeze through and inhibit the formation of weeds. Large chunks are blown up by the frost. This improves the soil structure. So loosening the frost blasted soil will be easier in the spring and you can put plants in it and sow.


  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

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