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Digging when you can't bend easily

Digging is when you turn over the soil to a spade’s depth or more. Digging helps break up the soil, to aerate it (get air into the soil), and it can help to loosen weeds.

Top tips to make digging easier

  • Long reach tools
    You can dig beds at ground level with less bending by using a long handled trowel or cultivating tool to turn over the soil. Make sure that the tool is lightweight and that the handle is the right length to allow you to reach the soil. Digging at ground level will be easier if you sit next to the bed and if the soil is accessible from all sides.
  • If you have beds at ground level, keep them narrow so you don’t have to put your seat on the soil to reach. Also, consider opting for 1-metre square beds - these will give an edge to dig inside and also make planting easier.
  • When you garden sitting down, it will help if you can adapt your garden to avoid having to dig at ground level and to keep the amount of digging needed to a minimum. Here are some ideas to help:
    • Narrow 'no-dig' beds. Simply cover the bed with a thick mulch such as newspapers, and then with a thick top layer of manure or compost. Worms and micro-organisms will help break the soil down and the mulch will help stop weeds growing.
    • Lay down a weed-suppressing membrane in permanent beds and plant through slits cut in the material. Cover the membrane with a mulch such as bark or gravel.
  • If your garden soil is heavy and clay based, any digging is best done in the autumn. This is because by the spring, the soil will have dried out and be very hard, which will make digging extremely difficult and physically demanding. Also, if you dig it over in the autumn and then leave the surface uneven over the winter, any frosty weather will help break up the soil even more. However, if you have lighter soil you should dig in the spring as the ground will be warmer and much easier to work.
  • Consider using raised beds and containers. These bring the soil off the ground, reduce the need for digging and make any digging that you have to do much easier. Find out more about raised beds

Taking care

  • Digging can put a strain on your back, shoulders and arms. Always 'warm up' with a few gentle stretches before digging, keep your back straight and only work for short periods. Try alternating between sitting and standing to avoid strain.
  • When sitting down to dig, make sure your seat is completely stable before you start working, and be careful not to over-reach and lose your balance. Move your seat along regularly so you don’t have to stretch.
  • Consider fitting handrails on walls and surfaces around the garden to give you extra support.
  • Wear suitable shoes and clothing to protect your feet and lower legs when using tools at ground level.

Equipment and tools

  • There are tools designed to break up soil using actions such as pushing, pulling and twisting – these are called cultivation tools – and may be easier for you to use than a spade.
  • Cultivation tool
    To dig or cultivate a raised bed where you are close to the soil surface, use a hand trowel or fork, or a claw-headed cultivator that works with a twisting action. You could also use a tool with a longer handle to reach the back of the bed.
  • If you want to dig at ground level from a wheelchair or seat, try using a lightweight long-handled trowel, fork, or cultivator. Make sure that the tool is lightweight and that the handle is the right length to allow you to reach the soil.
  • A long handled round point shovel will help you dig whilst standing upright. Make sure the tool is lightweight and that the handle is the right length for you to reach the soil.

Peta long reach Easi-Grip hand tools  

Peta long reach Easi-Grip hand tools

These long but light steel tools have soft grip handles that are at right angles to the tool head. This allows the wrist and hand to be held in a neutral position which reduces strain.

Find out more about Peta long reach Easi-Grip hand tools


Long handle round point shovel

Excellent for digging holes and shoveling soil, this tool can be used with little bending as it has a long upright shaft.

Find out more about Long handle round point shovel

Lightweight border fork and spade  

Lightweight border fork and spade

Boron steel shafts minimise the weight of these tools whilst retaining strength. The plastic handles are angled forward to improve the working position.

Find out more about lightweight border fork and spade

Soil miller  

Soil miller

Larger than the star soil tiller, this tool has a cutting blade at the back which digs deeper into the soil.

Find out more about soil miller