How to dig a trench without a trencher

Digging a trench in the backyard for sprinklers can be a daunting task if the soil is rocky and if you do not own or rent a trencher. If you are in a place where the soil is a bit sandy, you will be able able to use this technique to trench, which does not involve a trencher. #gardening #sprinkler #diy

Digging a trench in the backyard for sprinklers can be a daunting task if the soil is rocky and if you do not own or rent a trencher. Now, why on earth will you dig a trench without a trencher. Well, since you asked, … here are a few reasons:

  • Your local hardware shops do not have a trencher that you can rent. I checked Home Depot in the Westside of El Paso. They do not have a trencher for rent.
  • You might not have a truck to carry a trencher to home and back to the store. That means extra cost to transport the trencher especially if you need a heavy-duty one for your backyard. Yes, you might need a heavy-duty trencher if you live close to the mountains, especially like the one we have — the Franklin Mountain of El Paso. Your backyard is full of sand, pebbles, and boulders.
  • You are like me (and I am like you). You do not want to hire people. Your budget is limited. You are willing to learn something that you never did before. Also, you are willing to do some heavy exercise. πŸ™‚ Welcome! This post will be helpful for you, especially if you watch the video provided with this post.

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Digging a trench needs some preparation that I learned over time. I am highlighting these items under the following headings.

Dress up for trenching

No. I am not kidding. Digging a trench has a dress code. 108Β° Fahrenheit temperature of El Paso in summer is not something that we can ignore. I am itemizing some preparations in the space below.

 Regular shirt

A long-sleeve shirt is better than a half shirt. You might be surprised by my suggestion. When the temperature is above a hundred degree Fahrenheit, it does not matter whether you wear a half or a full shirt. If you are going to work directly under the sun, it is better to wear a full shirt because it will cover your hands and save them from direct ultraviolet ray exposure.

 Under shirt

I put on an under shirt (tank) under the regular shirt. The tank soaks up the sweat and I feel lesser discomfort.

 Jeans trousers

It is summer. I will work in the backyard. Wearing shorts is tempting. Despite the temptation, please do not wear shorts while digging a trench during summer days. Use a pair of trousers. The target is to keep as much of the body covered as possible. I prefer jeans. Kneeling in jeans on the ground is less painful than kneeling in the bare knee or regular trousers.

 Hat

Wearing a hat is a must. You will be exposed to direct sun for a long time. Saving the head is crucial, at least I felt that way in ten minutes.

 Shoes

Wear comfortable shoes that bend a bit. I generally use light running shoes. I purchased a pair only to be used for gardening. This is because … well … you will understand after digging a trench.

 Gloves

You will need to use the shovel for an extended period of time, which may result in blisters on hands. A pair of gloves will protect hands from excessive friction with the shovel handle. A leather pair is preferable. Assuming that the soil has some boulders and you will need to move them, the gloves will save your nails and skin. I found some inexpensive leather gloves in Walmart’s gardening section. If I remember correctly, a pair was two dollars only.


Yes. I understand. You are the trenching man or woman. You are strong. I understand your steadfast refusal or forgetfulness to wear sunscreen. Trust me on this. You will feel the burning sensation if you are out there without sunscreen for more than fifteen minutes at a stretch. Sunburn may lead to fever, nausea, and fatigue. I request you to pick up the tube and generously apply sunscreen on your face, neck, and any uncovered part of the body. SPF-50 is preferred.

Drink plenty of water

I am cautious about this because I do not want to get dehydrated. I drink around a liter of water every hour when I am working in the backyard under the sun during summer. Sometimes I drink more than that. Drinking water round the clock every fifteen minutes or so keeps me fresh and energetic.

Apparatus we needed for trenching

I have taken this long to come to the point. Here is the list of apparatus you will need. These are all easily available and inexpensive tools that are handy in trenching in my experience when you do not have a trencher.

  • Garden hose: Any kind of garden hose is fine. I use an expandable-collapsible garden hose.
  • Hose Nozzle: A nozzle that can release the water forcefully is essential. A pattern-adjustable garden hose nozzle will work fine. Please watch the video to see what type I used.
  • Shovel: A regular shovel will be sufficient.
  • Trowel: A small gardening trowel will help remove pebbles sometimes.

How to dig a trench without a trencher

Plan and mark your trench-line. I am assuming that you have an outdoor garden faucet. Attach the nozzle to the hose and spray using the Jet-setting of the nozzle on the marked lines. VoilΓ ! You can dig around four to six inches using the hose alone if the soil is sandy and partly rocky. When you detect boulders, thoroughly water the surrounding to remove sand and pebbles. This will loosen the boulder. You will then be able to remove it. Watch the following video to find how I dug 6″ to 10″ deep and around 120 feet long trench for sprinklers in our backyard. I spent 15 hours to dig this 120 feet long trench. These 15 hours were spanning four days. Most of the 15 hours were spent on digging the rocks out of the wet trench.

I will place the poly pipes in the trench soon. The poly pipes will carry water to the sprinklers I will install. I am planning on documenting the entire backyard irrigation set up in several posts. We never worked on sprinklers and backyard irrigation before. Therefore, the process we will describe will not be an expert’s opinion. Instead, it will be a naive way of doing it. Stay tuned to learn more about our affordable process of backyard irrigation. In the meantime, please share your thoughts or suggestions.

Settle in El Paso team

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34 thoughts on “How to dig a trench without a trencher

  1. That’s a good work! I’ll share this procedures to my husband so that he could do it himself in our backyard as well. But I think there’s some kind of measurement that should be done before digging the soil. At this point, I’ll compute the budget for the week because we don’t have yet any materials and tools for doing this process.

  2. Actually, I am just like you, I don’t like to hire people to do something that I can do. In this way, I can save some money for my family. Digging in a rocky soil is very difficult and this may be needed to rent a trencher, in rest, I do not see a good reason why spend some money for something that you can do!

    1. Thank you for your comment. Definitely, doing it yourself is cost effective. Also, it is of great fun. Have a wonderful day.

  3. I don’t have a trencher and I also cannot rent a tencher in my locality. Therefore, whenever I need to dig a trench, I always do it manually. Since the soil in my garden is not very rocky, it is really easy to dig a trench. I use shovel and hoe to dig a trench. I am not a strong man, therefore, I can only work for a couple of hours, when I have to dig a long trench, I have to work for days.

  4. In as much as I think that this is going to be a good move to build a trench without a trencher, I do not think we need such in Nigeria for we always have more of rainy season than when the weather is quite dry. However, amazing tips you have given in the article for anyone thinking of how to dig a trench anytime soon.

  5. Such a funny and educating piece of information. I envy how you westerners put everything into consideration before undergoing a task. You are just too civilised for us…when I say us, I mean we Nigerians. We get it done without a trencher most of the time.

    Am not saying we don’t have trenchers here, we do. Our trenchers are called “Aboki”…meaning my friend, a single or group of persons who make a living out of digging with just a hoe…no sunglasses, sunscreen, gloves, shorts, hat, Jean and no undershirt. They get it done no matter how big in less than 24hrs for the cost of just $10.

    That’s how we dig a trench without a trencher in Nigeria.

  6. Some great tips here that I’m sure a lot of people will benefit from. I think the most important that you stated here is the water thing. Especially in a location like yours, the sun can make tasks like digging up a trench extremely difficult and hard work. But if you make sure that you are hydrated then you will be able to do it easily. It’s probably good for exercise as well so that’s 2 things done once lol.

  7. That is interesting way of digging trench. The video tutorial is so satisfying to watch using only a garden hose. You do your own gardening? Wow that is so practical and also saves money. Thanks for the idea.

    1. Yes, we do our own gardening. It saves money, definitely. It is also of great fun. Thank you for visiting and commenting.

      We are a bit behind in responding to all comments. Sorry about that. Have a great day.

  8. Great post!

    We always dig drench in our garden with the help of our gardener. I hope, this post will help to make trench when he is not around. The good part is, I don’t need a trencher to do this!

    As per you concern, I always wear sunscreen during my outdoor activities, but I end up sweating like hell, after just 10-15mins (lol). So, I thought of skipping it, I feel sunscreen is not a thing for me beacause I’m a over- sweating person.

  9. I live on a 5plots of land, and we use a part of it for a small farm where we planted some consumable crops like the tomatoes, orange, cassava, banana, etc. This small farm was established so as for the family to take some natural foods once in a while because most of the things we consume today are grown with chemicals. Every 2weeks or once in a month we set up a time to maintain & work as a family on the farm.I tell you it’s always fun every time with the family!
    Although I haven’t dig a large trench before, I think I can do it if the need arises.Thanks for the post, it’s really educative.

    1. Glad to know that you liked the post. I do agree with you — working with the soil and plants is so much fun! We do not have a big garden like yours but just a small backyard. We still enjoy the tremendous fun you are talking about.

      have a wonderful day.

  10. Ah, are you free to come do it at our house too? Haha. I wish my husband would attempt all of these DIY things like you are. It’s probably great and your wife must be pretty happy that you’re so skilled. My husband much prefers hiring others to do it. I keep trying to tell him that it isn’t always needed but he just doesn’t listen! Doing things by yourself can be more fun plus it saves you quite a lot of money I imagine? Hiring people here always costs a fortune… plus they are usually very unreliable – you say come at 8 AM and they show up at 2 PM.

    1. Haha … πŸ™‚ Thank you for your kind words.

      I actually do not have the skill but I try to learn these things. For example, this is the first time I made a trench. I have installed the pipes by myself, which you might have noticed in our other posts. I will be able to fix it if anything goes wrong later because I know how I installed it. Hiring people costs a fortune here in the US too. Landscaping is pretty expensive. We would like to do it ourselves as our weekend and evening project. πŸ™‚

      Have a wonderful day.

      1. Yeah, I have seen the pipes post as well that’s why I admire you for even trying. I know that it isn’t easy to say ”I will fix this myself” without any previous knowledge or experience. But like you have said, you learn to do it! And it does stay with you forever… so you can put your learned skills to use in the future too. Not to mention all the saved money that you can then spend on other things.

        I really want to get my husband to start reading your blog too, haha. He could learn a lot by the way you think πŸ™‚ Keep us updated about your landscaping adventures!

        1. Thank you! I will keep posting the landscaping items. One post will show up early next week. πŸ™‚ Have a wonderful weekend.

  11. I know its an equal opportunity world these days and all that, but this is certainly an activity I would gladly relinquish to a male :). I would be in charge of measuring and ordering the right equipments, making sure we have all we need for the job. I can even help move around a few items. But the actual digging, I think my partner is very much better suited for the job than me (just saying:) )

    1. Haha … ? Dear Wife and I worked on many of the tasks related to landscaping together. However, in the trenching part, Dear Wife had to leave the heavy lifting to me. This is especially because if both of us get sick (or too tired ?) Dear Son will be in trouble.

      Thank you for reading and commenting. Best regards.

  12. I was doing landscaped garden designing and executing for individuals and builders a few years ago. I have landscaped our own garden. We have a birdbath and a waterfall and ofcourse the usual fruit trees, and greenery.

    We use our wet garbage for producing compost. We do not buy any fertilizers.
    Gardening is the healthiest hobby ever.

    1. Wow! That is awesome and inspirational. Yes, gardening is a great healthy hobby. Have a wonderful week.

  13. I wish some Indians read this blog. The moment someone enters the portal of a school that is the end of doing jobs such as this. Hats off to you.
    We have a garden with a kind of a drip irrigation system. There are plumbers here who do those jobs for us.
    You too must be having a great garden with lots of fruit trees. We have a few too .

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words. I am glad to know that you are familiar with drip irrigation systems.

      We are doing it in our backyard. This part of Texas state of USA is a desert area. Our plan is to turn our desert backyard into a green garden. We have plans to put some fruit trees as well.

      Landscaping (with contract professionals) is expensive here. The price may vary from 8 thousand to 12 thousand or even 15 thousand dollars. If we do it ourselves, we can keep the budget under a few hundred dollars. Our plan is to save the money for Dear Son’s college fund. The complete project will take time because this is a weekend project and Dear Wife and I are busy during the weekdays. Another reason why landscaping our backyard ourselves will take time is — we never did it before. Everything regarding — trenching, pvc to poly connections, sprinkler systems, dripping — everything is new to us. πŸ™‚ If we can do it, I believe everyone can. We will document the complex parts in the blog so that people can easily find the resources.

      Thank you once again for visiting and commenting. Have a wonderful weekend.

  14. Nice! I know none of the people I know would be able to bear all this hard work. You are indeed naturally endowed for this job. I applaud people who do this as an occupation. It’s good that you mentioned sunscreen because skin cancer is not going away so we must be vigilant about our bodies, even if it means putting sunscreen on every 4 hours or so. The long sleeve shirts were very surprised because I always want to wear short sleeves and clothing on hot days, but if it means I won’t get dirty, then it makes sense. Wearing jeans doing work like this is a must. πŸ˜€

    1. Thank you very much for your kind words and an informative comment. I am happy that you have mentioned the importance of sunscreen in this comment.

      I prefer long sleeves when temperature is above 100 degree Fahrenheit, which is pretty common in El Paso during summer. Direct sunlight on those days, even with sunscreen, is sometimes painful. Since El Paso is dry the body does not sweat much even with long sleeve shirts. However, I prefer short sleeves when there is a mountain breeze on those hot days.

      Thank you once again for such an informative comment. Have a great day tomorrow.

    1. Haha ? It is a hard job indeed. I had a feeling of accomplishment after the trenches were there. By the way, the sprinklers are working by this time. Now, we are planning on plants ?. ? Thank you very much for visiting and commenting. Have a wonderful day.

  15. Finally, someone says it. When you work under the sun, it’s best to have a long-sleeved shirt. I once thought I’m going to be a badass and decided not to wear a shirt at all. I’ll just say I haven’t slept the night after that because of the burns. πŸ™‚ Great post, by the way.

    1. Agreed. Long-sleeves are important when working under the sun. I am sorry to hear that you went through the experience of a sunburn. Thank you for visiting and commenting. Have a wonderful week.

  16. Hubby is like you. I wish sometimes we can just pay the experts to do what they know what to do best. Haha! Peace!

    1. Haha πŸ™‚ I enjoy DiY-ing. I am sure your husband also enjoys those activities. Taking away the pleasure of DiY from someone will be a sad event. πŸ™ Thank you so much for visiting and commenting. Have a wonderful weekend ahead.

    1. I wish we had such rainfalls. It rains only around ten days in a year in this part of the United States. Thank you for visiting and commenting.

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