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Rock hard soil

Hi - can anyone help me find a tool or technique for dealing with rock hard soil?

I want to help a friend who has just moved into a new house.  Her garden is small and consists mainly of patio, but has about 4 raised borders (each about 1m wide x 2m long).  In addition, there's a separate area which is a combination of really bad lawn and borders (entire space about 3m wide by 5m long).  Wherever there is soil it's completely compacted (?) and too hard for me to break through with a fork (plus my full body weight).  I think the garden hasn't been touched for a number of years.

I want to help my friend get the garden into a state where the soil is fit for planting but we don't have the budget or the space to hire expensive machinery to break up the soil and turn it into something useable.  Not afraid of hard work or a long term project - just don't have a clue where to start (except for resorting to a hammer and chisel) - very grateful for any suggestions or advice.  Many thanks. 




  • Steve 309Steve 309 Posts: 2,753

    Or a pickaxe/mattock.

    Break up the surface, then cover it with as much well-rotted manure or garden compost as you can lay your hands on.

  • JenTJenT Posts: 5

    So was I - sadly they advise rotavators, hiring skips, weeks of work and a small remortgage - hoping there's a way I can do it with a bit of elbow grease and no time limit!  

  • B3B3 Posts: 12,481

    Roofers/slaters hammer might do it.(hands and knees job!)  or a pick axe if you want to do it standing up.

    In London. Keen but lazy.
  • FairygirlFairygirl west central ScotlandPosts: 29,989

    Invest in a pickaxe....I've often had to use one. image

    It's likely to be clay, which means adding loads of well rotted manure, but you'd have to get the soil broken up a bit first to mix it in, so Tetley's suggestion is a good one! Alternatively, wait till there's been a good spell of rain and add the manure to the top. It'll get worked in over winter by worms and you'll probably be able to mix it in more easily then. It'll be too claggy to work on once it gets really wet and you'll only make it worse by trying to do it then. If you can get access to fresh horse manure, you can put that on over winter, as it'll break down enough by spring to let you work on it.

    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

  • digging over i'm afraid is the best way. Have you tried using a spade rather than a fork?

    The trouble with rotovators as they never get deep enough, i only ever use one after digging over a 'spit' depth with a spade first. Rotovators give a nice fine soil finish but if you are not sowing a lawn you don't really need one.

    Dig a trench out, fill the bottom with organic matter turn the next trench on top of that and so on...also add grit/horticultural sharp sand and peat to the top layer to make weeding and hoeing easier in the future. It really is worth all the hard work...but it is hard work!

  • Hostafan1Hostafan1 Posts: 24,602

    Hiya Jen. 

    As others have said, it's just down to hard work but if you get it right, you'll only have to do it once. So worth getting it right.

    As Roy Cropper would say " if you fail to prepare: you should prepare to fail "

  • JenTJenT Posts: 5

    Thanks for all your suggestions - I wondered if there was some magic solution but instead I'm going to buy some 'man tools' at the weekend and tackle it little by little.  Thanks for the manure suggestion Fairygirl - really helpful.

  • Hostafan1Hostafan1 Posts: 24,602

    maybe bribe some big burly chaps with some beer at the end of the day. 

    Sorry to be sexist, but us chaps will do a lot for free beer, esp if food is included too.

  • We had a similar problem a couple of weeks ago. We fixed with with determination and a garden fork. The trick was timing it right, after rain but waiting for it to dry a little.

    Dug in lots of compost and manure into the raised bed.

    My husband had great fun digging out the base for the patio

  • B3B3 Posts: 12,481

    Agree about timing .It's amazing the difference a bit of rain can make to soften up clay

    In London. Keen but lazy.
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