Must-have Digging Tools for Rocky Soil

The rock-laden soils of south-central Texas present a unique challenge for gardening and gardeners alike, unless you have the right tools. We favor these four.

If you’re taking up a landscape project and shopping for shovels, don’t just settle for the usual big box hand spades and pointy shovels. The rock-laden soils of south-central Texas present a unique challenge for gardening (and gardeners!)

Digging a test hole will quickly provide a snapshot of what you’ll be dealing with. If yours revealed deep sandy loam — no problem! But if digging that test hole was a terrible chore, you may need to add a few of the following essential tools to your gardening arsenal.

Digging bar

Trees? Shrubs? Limestone? In San Antonio, if you’re digging anywhere north of, well, Hildebrand, you’ll need leverage. With a drop forged steel bar, the flat and chiseled tips at either end can break up stone and concrete — perfect for what lies beneath the typical Hill Country backyard. A digging bar is one step short of a jackhammer, but it’s much easier to use. Just don’t drop it on your feet.


A long-bladed shovel with a rounded tip. It can be easily mistaken for a trench shovel, but the foot rest allows extra leg power for piercing straight down into rock, clay and roots — i.e., anywhere in central Texas. There’s not much that beats it. The rubber handle absorbs recoil. Once you’ve tried it, you may be tempted to dispense with the pointed digging shovel and rely on sharpshooters for any planting.

Soil knife

In Japan the sansei was considered a knife for leisure, but the translation (“mountain vegetable knife”) gives you an idea why these can be indispensable in a San Antonio landscape: they’re great for cutting into the same tough, rocky soils as a sharpshooter. The stainless steel blade with serrated edges make it useful for weeding, dividing, planting, cutting and slicing. Get one with a good hand guard and get it with the sheath; it’ll be at your side all the time.


A typical mattock combines a pick with an axe, great for chopping into clay or rock. (There’s an axe-headed version for cutting roots.) A good talache is an impressive tool: it assumes the user has the upper body strength to swing a 7-pound head.

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