I have great soil which is very easy to dig, sadly many trees have taken advantage of this - in some places I want to plant bushes or trees in gaps but everywhere It ry to dig appears to be solid root/stone (hard to tell when you can't see).

I already have a Root Slayer shovel: enter image description here

It is wonderful for ground matted with tendrils, or for roots up to finger thickness, but not so great for stones, hard ground or bigger roots.

What tools do gardeners use, either manual or powered, when they have to dig a hole (say up to 2 feet across and the same depth) which isn't making life easy? As a novice gardener I'm aware there might be whole types of tools I never even heard of! I suppose similar issues occur when trying to dig holes for fence posts.

  • 3
    Are you wanting to keep the trees where you're trying to dig?Because destroying roots, especially larger ones, will seriously compromise their existence...
    – Bamboo
    Feb 23, 2018 at 18:52
  • 1
    Ideally. The trees are old very large sycamores so I'm figuring any roots I can cut will be relatively minor, the large ones will be trunks?
    – Mr. Boy
    Feb 23, 2018 at 18:54
  • 1
    In my experience, damage to an area of fibrous roots attached to a tree can, over time, cause death - and by larger roots, I mean those of over quarter inch thick, not just very large, woody roots. Certainly, planting where there are large trees is not usually done for two reasons - causing damage to the tree roots, and the fact that any new plantings will have trouble competing for survival with roots from large trees.
    – Bamboo
    Feb 23, 2018 at 21:22

4 Answers 4


I've never found anything better than a digging bar for stony soil.


If you need to hack through big roots you may want something sharper or loppers, but it can pulverize roots that are less than 2 inches pretty well.

I have a tough pair of ratcheting loppers that I use for big underground roots.

  • 1
    I use a spud bar reluctantly and sparingly as nearly every perennial I have, I planted myself. I do still deal with many dead roots from oaks and maples and not wishing to dull my loppers or saws I sharpen the tip of the spud bar and drop it like a guillotine. It has a tamper disk on the opposite end which is great for packing gravel, compacting soil and knocking in stakes.
    – herb guy
    Feb 24, 2018 at 16:06

I have sandy soil in a rainforest ( East TX ), so digging a hole is always a challenge. I always take a shears and often a "loper" ( 2 ft handles , lever action) with the spade. When encountering 2 in. + roots I have cut them with a saw but that is work so I try to shift the hole. You also want a fiberglass handle on your spade. I have also ground an edge on the spade but it dulls quickly. I dig soil out of the hole with a troll to see what I am hitting as cutting a sprinkler pipe makes more work. Do not pull out poison ivy or poison oak roots with your hands.

  • I have no stones. Feb 23, 2018 at 22:03
  • I find one of the biggest problems is just finding the roots... You clear all the soil but can never see exactly what's going on and have to cut blindly!
    – Mr. Boy
    Feb 24, 2018 at 14:29
  • 1
    That is where I hand dig with a troll , to find the roots. Feb 24, 2018 at 15:39

There are also manual and powered drills used for digging holes.

Manual drills are suitable for digging few holes in soft dirt without obstacles.

manual drills

Petrol drills has the advantage of drilling holes much faster compared to manual drills. I'd suggest you find someone to help you because it is quite heavy to lift it from ground together with drilled dirt.

petrol drill

Third option is tractor powered drill. Fastest and easiest way to dig holes.

tractor drill

Anyway, if you have some really big obstacles like roots and bigger stones, you'll also need to use other tools (loppers, saws, digging bars, crowbars...)


I would use a pick axe on stony soil. Just make sure no one else is close by as you need space to use one safely. Watering the soil first makes it much easier. I have tried using augers but even the gas powered two person ones whip around and can be quite dangerous if they hit a rock.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.