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Garden bed full of gravel

My front garden is dominated by a 3m x 5m bed. The previous owners covered it in gravel and left it like that for about ten years. I’ve had the gravel scooped off the top so that I can plant in the bed, but it turns out the soil is still full of stones. A sample hole looks like this:

I spent a long time last summer manually sieving the soil in half of the bed and adding garden centre compost to it before planting. It now looks happy and healthy like this (the planting is still a work in progress!): 

My question is: was all of that manual sieving necessary, or can I just add compost to the remaining half of the bed and plant it up? It was arduous work and I’d rather not repeat it if I can avoid it. 

An additional factor is that the remaining half of the bed is under a mature lime tree, so any planting will be competing for water with the tree’s roots (and the roots will make it even more difficult for me to dig out soil to sieve the gravel). 

Any thoughts welcome! 



  • BobTheGardenerBobTheGardener Leicestershire, UKPosts: 11,336
    edited May 2019
    With ground like that, all you can sensibly do in my opinion is take out the larger stones and keep adding as much organic matter as you can.  I find multi-purpose compost soon turns to dust, so would highly recommend you dig in and mulch with well-rotted farmyard manure or mushroom compost.  Both of those will give your soil much more 'body' and remove the need for extra feeding, so saving money in the longer run.
    A trowel in the hand is worth a thousand lost under a bush.
  • JennyJJennyJ DoncasterPosts: 6,141
    What Bob said.  Take out larger stones as you come across them when planting etc, don't worry about little ones (and in my book less than about 2 inches/5cm across is little).  The stones in the soil will make it more well-drained than it would be without them, so plenty of good organic matter will help to retain moisture.  You'll get used to your spade going "clonk" whenever you try to dig a planting hole (my soil is naturally sandy with pebbles, so the effect is similar).
  • BijdezeeBijdezee BPosts: 1,484
    Lots of Mediterranean plants and herbs would love it.

  • I’ve dug over a section and can get to a spade’s depth before it feels really compacted. The top layer isn’t horrifically rocky. If I add manure as a conditioner, will it the lower layer of soil eventually loosen up, or do I need to think about double digging? I read on another thread that current research doesn’t necessarily support double digging any more. 

  • BobTheGardenerBobTheGardener Leicestershire, UKPosts: 11,336
    I'd try and roughly break-up the stuff below with a pick-axe or similar, just so you're sure it will drain ok.  No need for double-digging IMO.  The manure will be taken down by worms, so the depth of fertile soil will gradually increase over time, as long as you surface mulch with more each autumn.
    A trowel in the hand is worth a thousand lost under a bush.
  • AnniDAnniD Posts: 9,655
    edited May 2019
    I agree with Bob, no need to double dig, a loosening of the lower stuff with a pick axe is sufficient. 
  • Okay thanks all. I went out and bought a pick axe and some manure and made a start.

    Broke up a section of the top soil with a fork:

    Dug it out:

    Pick axe to break up the subsoil:

    100l of manure in:

    Mixed in the topsoil:

    Looks a bit better now:

    Just need to repeat another six or seven times to complete the bed!

    Should I leave it for any amount of time before planting? 
  • BobTheGardenerBobTheGardener Leicestershire, UKPosts: 11,336
    Excellent job - don't 'do your back in' though! :)
    As long as the manure was well rotted (bagged stuff from garden centres etc is usually fine), and mixed into the soil well, you can plant more or less straight away, although I usually water the area well first and leave it for a day or so to settle.
    A trowel in the hand is worth a thousand lost under a bush.
  • JennyJJennyJ DoncasterPosts: 6,141
    Looking good!  It'll probably settle a bit when it gets rained on but you can plant as soon as you like as long as the manure is well rotted (it looks fine in the pic and will be good if it was a bag from the GC - you just have to be careful if it's fresh from stables etc).
  • BobTheGardenerBobTheGardener Leicestershire, UKPosts: 11,336
    Snap @JennyJ , we posted at the same time! :)
    A trowel in the hand is worth a thousand lost under a bush.
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