Gardening Planting Shrubs Trees

Let Your Shovel Be Your Guide

If you’re digging a planting hole, you have no need for a tape measure. You already have the tool you need for measuring how deep to dig!

By Larry Hodgson

When you’re planting trees, shrubs and larger perennials, it’s important to know how deep to make the planting hole. And the basic rule is to dig a planting hole no deeper than the root ball is high,s but two or three times wider.

Sing along with Jiminy Cricket:

Always let your shovel be your guide! ?

Any deeper would end up covering the crown* with soil and that could cause rot. In fact, on larger trees and fruit trees, you should leave the top of the root ball just slightly above soil level: less than an inch (2 cm). As to the width of the hole, it needs to be wider than you’d think, as you need room to maneuver the root ball. And also to spread any circling or tangled roots out all around it, so the planting hole has to be wider than the root ball.

*The crown is also called the root flare.

A Tool You Already Have on Hand

To judge how deep to dig, here’s an age-old but still valuable tip. Use your shovel or spade as a guide!

Shovel blade held up against the root ball to measure. Shovel used to dig down to the proper depth.
Measure the shovel against the pot and use that measure to decide how deep to dig the planting hole.

Just place the shovel blade up against the pot. It is the same height? Half the height? Three quarters of the height? If pot is higher, how high above the handle is it? Etc. Take a mental note of the height. Then dig the hole to that depth.

Use the shovel’s handle to fo a final depth test before you fill in the hole.

And just to be sure, when you place the rootball in the hole, lay the shovel’s handle across the hole to make sure the rootball is that height.


Measuring trowel.
If you look a bit, you can find a gardening trowel that has common measurements imprinted onto it. Photo: Berry & Bird

On even smaller plants – annuals, seedlings, cuttings, etc. –, you can use your garden trowel in exactly the same way, that is, holding it upright against the rootball to get the right depth. In fact, some garden trowels are even graduated, making measurement all that much easier.

Measuring Width

As to width, it should be, as mentioned, two to three times as wide at the rootball to give you ample room to work.

Two pots placed in planting hole to check width.
If you can fit two pots into the planting hole, it’s wide enough.

That’s easy enough! If you can fit two pots of the same size as the one your plant came in into the planting hole, it’s at least twice the width of the root ball.

To complete the planting after you’ve dug the hole, just fill in with soil, tamp down a bit and water well. So simple!

Ill.: depositphotos, &, montage:

2 comments on “Let Your Shovel Be Your Guide

  1. Pingback: How to Remove Pavers and Replace With Grass | 10 Easy Steps (2023)

  2. Palms that are disfigured from confinement within pots can be planted a bit deeper than they originally grew, to bury their disfigured bases. They just extend roots from the buried portion of trunk. Large palms are commonly buried a bit deeper than they grew, since they typically have flared bases. Of course, their bases might eventually flare again as they grow.

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