One of the most tedious and least loved tasks in the garden is digging up the cleared beds every year. But what has to be done has to be tackled. After all, digging brings a lot of benefits for the coming season. But first we come to the reasons for compacted soil.

Reasons for soil compaction

Pressure is the main cause of compacted soil. Above all, the pressure intensity and the duration or regularity of the pressure exertion are decisive. Here are some examples:

  • the ground was often used
  • when building houses, including heavy vehicles
  • Beds are entered regularly
  • when planting, watering, harvesting, etc.
  • playing children put pressure on the lawn

Disadvantages of compacted soils

Compacted soil has many disadvantages that are particularly important when plants are to grow on it.

  • the soil is not well ventilated
  • there is a lack of oxygen
  • useful microorganisms suffer
  • Water permeability decreases
  • deep in the ground, plant roots suffer from a lack of water
  • Rainwater cannot seep away and waterlogging occurs
  • hard soil restricts the spread of roots
  • Above-ground plant growth also suffers

Recommended garden tools

Fortunately, the gardener can make his job easier. Some gardening tools help him to get a loose and well-ventilated soil.


The spade is ideal for large-area digging up and parting of bed edges. It is also indispensable when dividing perennials. Above all, it is important that it is always sharply ground and has a body-friendly, curved handle. Otherwise, physical tension is inevitable after working with him for a long time.

The spade completely turns over the layers of earth to a depth of about 30 cm. This ensures sufficient ventilation and loosening even with compacted soils. The radical upheaval of the earth, on the other hand, should not be good for the microorganisms living in it, which are important for nutrient enrichment. If they get into a layer that is unsuitable for them, they die.


Some types of soil present a particular challenge. A loamy or stony earth, for example, can be very hard. The sections can then only penetrate with difficulty or not at all deep enough into the compacted soil. A digging fork with its pointed prongs penetrates better and thus makes digging and loosening easier. It is ideal for:

  • Digging up flower beds
  • Loosening up the earth
  • Ventilation of compacted soils
  • Moving compost
Tip: In the trade you can often find the digging fork under the name spade fork or garden fork.

Pickaxes and wide hoes

There are different types of hoes in garden centers and hardware stores. Depending on which soil you want to loosen, you can choose the most suitable device from the wide range.

  • Pickaxes with a pointed pecking side
  • Wide hoe with a wide hoe side
  • Double hoes, with a pointed and broad side

With the wide and flat side you can work well and loosen up compacted soil. Thanks to the wide area, it goes quickly. This saves a lot of time with a large bed. It also quickly removes weeds.

Anyone who has to dig up a type of soil with a lot of stones is better off with the pickaxe or the pointed side of the double hoe. Even if the soil is riddled with stubborn remains of roots. This makes it easier to dig out the stones and roots.


The large cultivators are widely used in agriculture. For the home garden there are hand models that work on the same principle. A cultivator has several tines that dig deep into the earth. When pulling, they plow through the soil and loosen it up.

Various models are available in hardware stores. Small cultivators that are around 50 cm long with a handle take up hardly any space in the tool shed. They are good for loosening up flower beds. The cultivator is also available with longer handles, which make tedious bending over and sore knees superfluous.

Pig tooth

The sow tooth is a large cultivator with only one large, sickle-like curved tine. You can use it to loosen compacted soil as deep as a spade without turning it from bottom to top. This is important because many beneficial soil organisms cannot tolerate the circulation at all. This device is therefore the first choice among soil cultivation devices for environmentally conscious organic gardeners.

Tip:  Models made of copper alloys are said to have a beneficial effect on the fertility and health of the soil.


A cultivator for manual use is praised as being particularly easy on the back. A long handle means that bending over is no longer necessary. The heavy lifting of the earth, such as digging with a spade, is also completely eliminated. The cultivator is simply stuck deep into the ground with its tips and operated by a twisting movement at the top of the handle.

Motorized devices

There are also motorized cultivators or hoes on the market that require little physical effort from the gardener. They are of course correspondingly larger than handheld devices and require electrical power to operate. This usually comes from a battery that has to be charged regularly.

If you have to loosen up and ventilate a large area again and again, the purchase is definitely worthwhile. Motorized devices are also a real relief for gardeners who have to avoid heavy physical exertion for health reasons.

With their power, these devices are suitable for all types of soil. However, it cannot be used to loosen up planted beds without damaging or completely destroying the planting. To loosen up areas that have already been planted, a suitable “simple” hoe must therefore also be purchased.

Sometimes compacted soil simply cannot be avoided. The resulting lack of ventilation and the limited water permeability can, however, be problematic. If plants are to thrive well on the compacted soil, it must first be loosened. But that is feasible for everyone, because so many devices can make our work easier.

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