Rocks in your soil can be a huge hindrance. They prevent you from getting down into the roots of your soil and may take space away from your garden. Rock removal can be tedious, but like all things, there are some great tried and true methods to speed up the process.
Here are five ways how to separate stones from your soil:
- Use a rake.
- Strain your soil with a DIY sifter.
- Use a sifting shovel.
- Make a rock sieve.
- Pick them out.
In this article, I’ll detail the steps required to use each method listed above in your garden. I’ll also talk about the benefits of removing rocks and share strategies for moving bigger rocks and boulders. The best method for you will ultimately depend on the size of your garden and the resources you have available to you.
1. Use a Rake
One of the simplest ways to get rid of rocks in your garden is to use your rake. This method doesn’t require you to grab any new tools or do anything you don’t already know how to do, so it’s the first on our list.
It does take some physical labor, but it can also help you spread out mulch and compost. With a bit of extra elbow grease, your leaf rake can work, too.
Remember that you can always take some of the bigger rocks out if you’re worried they’ll damage your plastic rake.
Check out this video on the proper method for removing rocks with a rake:
Or, if you’re constantly dealing with pebble issues, you might consider getting a garden rake specifically made for getting rid of rocks. The main difference between leaf rakes and rock rakes is the prongs.
You’ll notice rock rakes (which can also be used for mulch, compost, and peat rock) have shorter and stronger teeth. This helps you work one area at a time.
2. Strain Your Soil With a Sifter
You can buy a garden filter for this specific purpose. However, if you’re in a real pinch, (and you’re okay with skipping out on pasta for the next week), you can use a sifter from the kitchen to separate rocks from soil.
- Grab your pasta strainer from the kitchen. (If you have one available, a flour sifter or sandbox filter also works with extremely fine soil.)
- Scoop shovels of soil into the strainer.
- Shake the dirt around and gather the rocks in the filter.
Very creative use of a filter, right? This method will also require a little bit of patience, but it’s undoubtedly quicker than picking rocks out one by one.
3. Use a Sifting Shovel
Did you know it’s possible to shovel and sift at the same time? A sifting shovel does just that. Sifting shovels are for more heavy-duty projects and require some labor. They’re typically used on chicken coops or farms, and sometimes, you may see groundskeepers using them on baseball fields.
Nonetheless, sifting shovels are still great to use in your lower-depth gardens.
Keep in mind, however, this method might not be the best if you have an active garden, as you risk hitting roots and you won’t be able to attack smaller sections like you would with a smaller shovel.
Getting on your hands and knees with a smaller shovel and using a filter from the above section might seem like doing a lot of work, but you can be more precise with your movements.
If you think a sifting shovel is a way to go, the process is pretty straightforward:
- Scoop up sections of soil with the shovel.
- Give it a little bit of a shake.
- Dispose of the lingering material in a wheelbarrow or bucket nearby.
4. Make a Rock Sieve
A rock sieve, or a gravel sifter, is a large-scale tool used in more extensive gardens or gravel projects. They look similar to a large garden box and are layered with mesh to allow only small soil particles through.
All rocks, gravel, and clumps will be stopped from getting back down into the soil. These can also be helpful if you like to garden things that need fine soil, like carrots. You can buy a rock sieve or make it yourself for relatively cheap.
This video gives a quick tutorial on how to make your rock sieve from Epic Gardening:
To make your soil sifter, you’ll need:
- Chicken wire
- Tin snippers
The size of your soil sifter is up to you. Simply measure out your plywood and calculate how much chicken wire you need based on the size you want your sifter to be.
If you want a small, handheld one, you’ll use more minor cuts of wood and wire than if you want a large, four-by-four version of this DIY sifter.
Once you have your soil sifter, it’s a similar process to the strainer process above. Take shovel-fulls, cup-fulls, or smaller portions of your soil and add it on top of the chicken wire. Instead of shaking the sieve around (which may be impossible if you built a very big one), run your hands along with the soil, pushing the desirable dirt through the holes and keeping the mulch, rocks, and pebbles at the top.
5. Pick Them Out
Okay…hear us out.
If you’ve looked up how to separate stones from the soil, you probably weren’t looking for the answer: “just pick them out .” Understandably, this can be a long process that requires lots of labor on your end and a game of rock-and-dirt I Spy.
However, I just wanted to throw this suggestion in there if you thought that any harm would be done to your garden if you pick rocks out manually. Yes, you can pick rocks out by hand if you want to. It’s an option if you don’t have the resources above available and don’t have time to get to the store.
How Do I Remove Large Boulders From the Garden?
The above methods work great for rocks and pebbles in your garden. But what about large rocks and boulders? We assume that if the rocks were small or few enough for you just to pick up, you would not have looked up a how-to. So how can you get large boulders out of the garden?
You can remove large boulders from the garden by rolling them, breaking them, or using specialized tools. Larger boulders are harder to remove than rocks and pebbles, and sometimes a professional needs to be involved. You should first assess how lodged in the boulder is before making any choices.
This video from This Old House shows the whole process of a large boulder removes from the perspective of a professional trying to help some homeowners out:
You will notice that if a rock is deep in your foundation, you’re going to need a few more tools than you would need for a smaller rollable or moveable rock.
Landscaping pro Roger Cook used:
- A pointed shovel
- Electric rotary hammer
- Bulb-type syringe
- Feathers and wedges
- 3-pound sledgehammer
- Long-handled pry-bar
- Diesel-powered air compressor
If you’re a DIY extraordinaire and have many of these tools on hand, you can attempt a large boulder removal yourself. Just make sure to use proper safety precautions (like gloves and calling to get gas lines flagged) before doing so.
Otherwise, you can call a landscaping professional to help you out. This method will take a little more money but a lot less physical labor.
If the rock is not dug deep into the foundation or dirt and is large enough to move if you try hard enough, are there more straightforward methods for removal? Yes!
Below, we name a few strategies for moving the hard-to-move boulders in your yard:
Rock & Roll
No need to reinvent the wheel, right? If possible, you can attempt to roll a rock out of your garden instead of straining your back to pick it up. Make sure to push with your arms and legs and not your back.
If you have lifting gear, you can put it on to keep your posture in the correct form. If the rock is too heavy to roll, you can dig around it a bit to loosen it up. Crowbars also work wonders in popping up large rocks and boulders from the ground.
Breaking Up A Large Boulder
You can break up an immense boulder into smaller pieces if you have the tools and energy to do so.
Some tools capable of breaking rocks are:
- Hammer (for smaller boulders)
- Drill with chisel and feathers
Don’t forget protective eyewear and gloves if you want to use this method. It’s not worth losing a window over a boulder in the yard! You should also consider where the rock pieces may go if you use a power tool.
Why Should I Remove Rocks From Soil?
After reading all of the above strategies, you might be wondering if you can skip the job altogether. Hopefully, one of the methods works for you, but if not, can you just skip the rock removal?
You should remove rocks from your garden if you’ve noticed your plants are having a hard time growing around them or the rocks are affecting your gardening rituals. Some people love to add decorative rocks and pebbles to their gardens, and they don’t hurt the plants or soil directly.
Again, unless your rocks deter the nutrients from getting to your plants or harming you, you can leave them in your garden. In fact, rocks can sometimes benefit gardens by supporting soil drainage (though there are better alternatives to rocks in a planter) and keeping erosion at bay.
You can paint them to make them more attractive or rearrange them to make a garden path if you’re not interested in complete rock removal.
There are many different DIY methods for removing rocks, and you can pick which one works for you based on your budget and time. Remember, however, large boulders require a little more work than any of the above methods can provide. You can also get creative by painting rocks or making a path.
Removing rocks from your garden is unnecessary but can make your garden more manageable. Expecting flowers to grow around rocks could put a lot of pressure on your plants. Besides, every rock takes up space that a helpful garden critter or plant root could be using.