How to Remove the Rocks From Your Soil – Yard Prep


Whether you’re prepping your soil for grass or a garden, let’s learn how to remove rocks from your soil!

rocky soil

While some people are graced with rock free soil there are others, like me, who are dealing with rocky soil. Having a lot of unwanted rocks really affects your soil quality in your yard in a negative way. That being said, removing rocks from your soil is not an easy task and can require hard work.

In many instances the best methods are manual, but other times the process can be made much easier if you have the right tools. Proper tools and techniques can in some instances cut your time and effort in half. So let’s dive in to how to remove rocks from your soil!

When is the best time to remove rocks from my yard?

You may not think about this much but there are better times to remove rocks from your yard than others. For instance, rock freezes into the dirt when temperatures are freezing. Any large rocks or small rocks that are frozen in the dirt are nearly impossible to remove.

So plan your rock removal projects when the ground thaws and the soil is more workable. That being said, you will want to have the right soil consistency to work with as well. Wet or muddy soil is not good to work with either.

A lot of the rock removal tools I am going to mention later will not work with muddy soil. You will need to plan your project around the weather. If you have a few dry days ahead of you, then you are good to go! Dry, dusty soil is best, but dry, hard soil is not.

Sometimes you cannot prevent dry compact soil form forming. You will need to break up the soil to loosen it up. This can be done manually or by machine.

How to remove large rocks from your soil

large rock sitting next to a pond

Removing larger rocks from your yard is no easy task. Whether you have large boulders or just larger-sized rocks, your problem is large! Big rocks take up valuable space in your yard that could be otherwise used. There are a few methods.

Manual Method:

  1. Dig all around the rock to separate the rock from some of the soil at its base
  2. Drill holes into the rock. Make holes that are big enough for a wedge into the hole.
  3. Hammer the wedge into the hole in the rock until cracks form.
  4. Use a pry bar or digging bar to separate the rock and pry out the chunk of rock that broke off
  5. Repeat the process until the large rock is broken into more manageable pieces
  6. Dispose of the rock pieces in dumpster or with a junk collector company. Or simply move to a different place in your yard.

Machine Method:

  1. This one is can be more costly
  2. Rent or borrow a tractor or machine that has lifting capabilities
  3. Dig around the large rock to loosen it from the soil
  4. Use several people and/or a pry bar to help scoop the rock into the machine.
  5. Depending on the size of the rock, you may need to strap it in place while you travel over to put it where you plan on disposing it or relocating it.

How to remove gravel from your yard?

landscape rocks

Gravel can be smaller rocks and sometimes medium-sized rocks that are intentionally put in a yard for a driveway or used as landscape rock. Whatever the reason, it is a LOT OF ROCKS and it will take a bit of effort to get rid of them. Some of the best methods I have seen are these:

Manual method:

square shovel
  1. Use a shovel, square end prefered for this job.
  2. Scoop up rocks onto a sifting screen. You need dry soil for this job.
  3. Your sifting screen should be over a wheelbarrow
  4. Shake the sifting screen to let the dirt pass through and the rocks stay on top
  5. If you aren’t concerned about losing dirt you can just scoop the rocks into the dumpster.
  6. Once you have a few rocks left, you will need to use a landscape rake or a rake with metal or steel tines like a garden rake, to rake the rocks into a pile.
  7. Scoop the pile of rocks
  8. Repeat the raking and scooping until your rocks are gone.

This method works when you are just getting rocks off of the surface of the soil. It is also more suited for a small area of land. If you have larger areas, the best method would be:

Machine method

skid steer loader to scoop up rocks from soil
  1. Rent or borrow a skid steer loader
  2. Drag the front scoop along the ground just below the rock level.
  3. Slowly move forward, scooping up as much as possible
  4. Dump into a dumpster
  5. Repeat several times until most of the rocks are picked up.
  6. You may need to use a landscape rake to scoop the small rocks into a pile
  7. Use the skid loader to scoop up the pile.
  8. Dispose in dumpster, or junk removal companies can come pick it up.

How to remove rocks in the soil in your yard or garden

For those of you who are home gardeners looking to improve your soil or those of you who have moved into new homes and need rock-free top soil to plant grass, this is the section for you. Rocky soil is not the best for growing grass or plants.

This is especially the case for root vegetables as they need room to grow. If there is a rock next to root vegetables, they will not grow as big. For more ways on how to set up your vegetable garden visit HERE.

To remove rocks from your vegetable garden:

sifting screen to remove rocks from soil

Because you will be needing to get rocks that are deeper than the surface of the soil, you will want to turn up the soil a bit. Some people use a rototiller. You can till the area you plan on gardening in, and pick up large rocks as you go along.

You can toss them out of your garden or walk by with a bucket and fill with rocks. Some people choose to remove rocks as they go. As you prepare your garden, loosen your soil with a pitch fork or broad fork. If you hit a rock, remove it. As you go along planting seeds or seedlings and feel rocks, remove them.

Obviously this is a process and takes time to fully remove rocks from your garden beds. You can also use a garden rake to go through your garden to remove any troublesome rocks.

When adding compost or top soil to your garden, use a soil sifter over a wheelbarrow to remove any rocks from the soil or compost before adding it to your garden.

To remove rocks from your yard to prepare for grass:

You don’t need to get down into the soil as much when preparing for grass. You will want a smooth flat surface and may need to add top soil to make this happen. Start out by going around your yard and removing any medium to large rocks that you see.

You can use a rake if you need to as well. Then use a pallet with weights on top and ropes to pull, drag it around your yard. This will level out the soil. It will also pull up any rocks that are near the surface. As you hit a rock or pull one up, you can remove it.

You can also rent skid loaders for this process and save yourself from all the manual labor. If you are bringing in top soil, make sure that you have sifted the soil prior to dumping it in your yard. It would be awful to put more rocks in just after removing them.

How to use a soil sifter or sifting screen

wheelbarrow full of sifted soil

A soil sifter is usually made just big enough to fit over a wheel barrow. It has hardware cloth or some type of wire mesh that is strong enough to hold up heavy rocks, but also fine enough to not let small rocks pass through.

Some have asked if chicken wire can be used for making a sifting screen and the answer is no. Chicken wire bends too much and would not hold it’s shape. It would also allow small rocks to pass through and not be sifted through.

When using a soil sifter to remove excess rocks you will want to have dry soil. If your soil is wet, the rocks will not go through the sifter and the dirt will just stay as a clump on the top of the sifter. Place you sifter on the wheel barrow.

Using a shovel, scoop up the dirt that you are trying to remove rocks from and dump it on top of the sifter. Making sure the wheelbarrow is stable, grab each side of the sifter and shake it back and forth. This will force the loose soil to pass through the sifter while keeping the rocks on top of the sifter. Pour the rocks on the sifter into your dispose pile and work again.

When your wheel barrow is full you can dump it in the location where you want rock free soil to be. A sifter is one of the great hand tools to have when removing rocks or other debris you don’t want in your yard.

How to make a soil sifter

A soil sifter can easily be made with little effort and in not much time. Generally they are made using a wood frame. Purchase 2×4’s and cut them to make sides for a rectangle that will fit over your wheel barrow. The next step is to screw the boards together.

Using a nail gun, attach hardware cloth to the top of the sifter and cut off the excess. Now you have a highly effective soil sifter!

In the end, removing rocks from your soil in is no easy task. It requires time, effort and a few tools to make the process work. It’s a good option to consider doing yourself as you will likely save money.

That being said, time is money so if you are on a time crunch or not physically able to do this kind of work, you can always reach out to professionals to assist in all or part of the process.

If you want to learn how to be more self sustainable click HERE.

For how to create your own indoor herb garden click HERE.

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