How to Double Dig a Garden

If you have a patch of soil that you'd like to turn into a well-draining garden bed with deep, loose soil, then you'll need to put in some elbow grease and double-dig the bed.
What is double-digging? Double digging involves loosening the soil more than 12 inches down. This creates conditions under which plants' roots thrive.
Why should you double-dig? Double digging aerates the deeper layers of your garden's soil. This allows your plants to grow bigger and more vigorously because they have room for their roots! It also improves drainage greatly, which is very important for healthy plants. Double-digging is the first step in creating the most productive garden bed possible.


  1. Image titled Double Dig a Garden Step 1
    Call first. Your county may have a digging hotline that will tell you where it is okay to dig, and whether or not you require authorizations.
  2. Image titled Double Dig a Garden Step 2
    Remove sod (if any, or cut out and flip over into the bottom of the trenches you create.
  3. Image titled Double Dig a Garden Step 3
    Begin at one end of the bed and dig a spade-head depth (approx. 12" deep or 30cm) trench across the bed's width, placing the excavated dirt in a wheelbarrow.
  4. Image titled Double Dig a Garden Step 4
    Work a garden fork into the floor of the trench, and loosen the soil by tilling this layer too. Continue until the soil at the bottom of the trench is loosened.
  5. Image titled Double Dig a Garden Step 5
    Dig a second, similar-size trench directly next to the first. Place the excavated soil into the first trench you dug. Loosen the soil at the bottom of this second trench with the garden fork as well.
  6. Image titled Double Dig a Garden Step 6
    Dig a third trench next to the second trench. Backfill the second one, loosen the bottom of the third trench, and continue this process until you have tilled the whole bed.
  7. Image titled Double Dig a Garden Step 7
    Fill the LAST trench with the soil excavated from the first. (The soil in the wheelbarrow)


  • Double-digging is a useful way of cultivating soil in new gardens and where deep top-soil is required. On poor or heavy soils and in vegetable gardens, it may be needed every three to five years.
  • If you remove the sod from the bed completely you are depriving the soil of nutrients. It is better to dig deep and flip the cut sod into the bottom of the trench. So much soil will be piled on top of it (from the next trench) that the weeds will not have a chance to come up.
  • Mix a good-sized load of compost into the top 12" of dirt when you are done, or as you go. Organic matter is best put in this area, instead of the deeper layer, and is essential to healthy soil. Be a little more sparing if you decide to till compost in the lower 12" (at the bottom of the trench)


  • Do not till the dirt at all when it is either bone-dry or very soggy/muddy. This will ruin the garden plot by destroying the soil structure. The soil should be as moist as a wrung-out sponge. Clods of the dirt should crumble in your fist, but it should not ooze-out or crumble into dust.
  • Be careful if you till compost in the bottom of the trench. Just enough to give it some organic matter will be fine. Decay rate at those deeper levels is very slow, so if the compost is not well-decayed, you could cause problems for your plants. Use compost that is well-decayed though, and you should not have any problems.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovel
  • A strong back!
  • Garden Fork
  • Steel rake (optional)
  • Wheelbarrow (optional)
  • Compost (optional)
  • Sand (optional)

Article Info

Categories: Compost Mulch and Soil Preparation