LSU AgCenter Engineer Offers Choices for Trenching and Ditching Tools

Richard L. Parish  |  10/26/2006 12:34:47 AM

News You Can Use For November 2003

Digging ditches and trenches is a fairly common but nevertheless unpleasant do-it-yourself job. All of the do-it-yourself methods involve hard work, but some are not as hard as others, according to Dr. Dick Parish, an engineer at the LSU AgCenter’s Hammond Research Station.

You may need to dig a drainage ditch, a trench for a foundation or a trench to bury pipe or conduit. Depending on the type of ditch or trench you need and the size of the job, you have many choices of available tools.

For small jobs, a shovel will be sufficient, Parish says, pointing out that many types of shovels are available. He says a long-handled, round-point shovel is best general-purpose digging tool and will work well for many jobs. If you need a narrow ditch, a tile spade – sometimes called a "sharpshooter" – may be better. These tools will be easiest to use in soft, sandy soil.

Parish says a garden rotary tiller can be useful for digging ditches, especially in hard soil.

"One approach is to make a few passes with the tiller to loosen the top 4 to 6 inches of soil, and then remove the loose soil," he says. Keep doing this until you reach the desired depth.

With a rear-tine tiller, a tiller-furrower attachment will dig a shallow ditch as you till. This works well for shallow drainage ditches.

"If you have a garden tractor or a compact utility tractor, some common implements can be helpful in ditching and trenching," Parish says. Tractor-mounted tillage tools such as a rotary tiller, moldboard plow or disk harrow can loosen the soil as with a garden tiller, and then the loose soil can be moved with an angle blade, a scoop, a front-end loader or a box blade.

The engineer says several companies make a small, walk-behind trenching tool with a vertical toothed blade on a horizontal axle, driven by a small gasoline engine. These tools will dig a narrow, relatively shallow trench that can be used for such jobs as installing irrigation lines or wiring for landscape lighting.

"A chain trencher is probably the ultimate way to dig a major trench," Parish says. These tools can be walk-behind or ride-on and are generally self-propelled. They can be rented or hired. Only the smaller models are readily available to homeowners.

"They will do the job but require a great deal of physical effort to operate and control," Parish says.

While a backhoe on a tractor is an effective trenching tool, Parish says it’s generally necessary to hire an operator with the implement. Although backhoes can be rented, the engineer doesn’t recommend their use by an inexperienced operator.

"Operating a backhoe effectively requires a great deal of skill and experience," he says.

"Ultimately, the tool you need depends on the size of your job – and your willingness to do manual labor," the engineer explains.

Additional yard and garden information is available by contacting an extension agent in your parish LSU AgCenter office. Also, look for Gardening and Get It Growing links in the Feature section of the LSU AgCenter Web site:


On the Internet: LSU AgCenter:

On the Internet:

Source: Dick Parish at (985) 543-4125 or

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