Can You Dig a Hole in Your Backyard for Landscaping?

Perhaps you’ve seen the PSAs or billboards warning people not to take a shovel to their backyard without taking some necessary precautions. When asking if you can dig a hole in your backyard, it’s wise to know what you should do.

Reasons That You’d Ask Can You Dig a Hole in Your Backyard

Planting trees or shrubbery are the obvious reasons you’d want to break out a shovel. You must dig a hole about double the size of the root ball to loosen the soil around the below-ground portion to give it a headstart. But it’s not the only reason you’d reach for this tool.

If you’re planning a path, you must dig a place for adding sand to stabilize the paver stones. With fences, you’ll have to get an auger to put in the posts. The same thing applies to decks where you must place them below the froze line to keep the structure stable. 

It can even apply to more mundane tasks such as planting vegetables in your garden, putting in a new driveway, installing a water feature, or replacing your mailbox.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your project is too small to make an impact. That’s how a lot of problems happen in the first place. Don’t think it’s an issue? Let’s talk about what can happen if you back the wrong horse.

Risks of Going too Deep Underground

The biggest problem you face is what you’ll inadvertently hit when striking a shovel to the ground. There are power, gas, and phone lines that all run underground. The latter is an inconvenience. The first two are dangerous sometimes and can extend their effects to your neighbors.

Not good.

Repairs can take time, which makes them a greater frustration. The other thing to remember is that the danger zones vary by climate and utility. Sometimes, their paths from the source may seem obvious, but other times, not so much. 

Generally, the utilities will take the path of least resistance and a shorter distance. It makes sense to save on the materials and labor. A lot of factors go into that equation that may not seem obvious at the surface. That’s another reason you need a professional opinion.

Complications of Digging a Hole in Your Backyard

Your lot probably has changed over the years, especially if you’ve been there any length of time. Landscaping changes. A previous owner may have put in a berm or new septic tank. All these things can affect the safety of digging in your backyard with the added risk that you may not see any evidence above ground.

The services used by other owners can also factor into the equation if you’ve changed the type of internet or phone service you get. There may be a pre-existing outdoor lighting or security system that could also throw a wrench in your plans to update your landscaping.

The fact remains that when you decide to dig you’re facing a lot of unknown unknowns that require professional assistance before you proceed. Anytime you take a shovel in hand, it’s a risk of varying degrees.

Depths to Consider When Digging

The concern with climate rests with the frost line and the resilience of the line. The latter, in turn, lies with the materials used in their construction. Remember that the utilities must balance flexibility with strength. Water, natural gas, and electricity are the primary concerns.

The first one is at least 36 inches deep but maybe deeper in areas where the ground freezes below this level. Natural gas and electricity don’t have set limits, but you’ll see at least 24 and 18 inches, respectively. 

Sewer is a wild card, depending on whether you’re on city water or a septic tank system. For the former, it is usually between 24 and 36 inches. The latter varies with your geographic location. Other factors can play a role including:

  • Soil profile
  • Elevation
  • Proximity to water

Cable and phone lines also add to the mix. They typically fall in line with the other utilities. The fact remains that the depth isn’t that much. Access is a primary concern that keeps them closer to the surface than you may think.

Then, there’s your septic tank system if your house uses this water treatment method. Anything you do above ground can affect the water quality of your well, and thus, your drinking water. 

Septic tanks rely on a closed system and the natural filtration of the soil and its composition to filter water before it makes it to your tap. Anything that compromises the integrity of your drainage field can also impact the safety and longevity of the system.

Problems on this score aren’t cheap to fix either.

Unintended Consequences of Digging in Your Backyard

Digging itself seems like the only thing that you need to consider. However, you must also think about what you’re planting. The roots of trees and even some native prairie grasses can extend 10 or more feet below the surface. They can, in turn, impact the wiring that your digging could affect directly.

Likewise, you must also think about the overhead growth of anything you plant. They can interfere with the powerlines running above ground. The effects can border on just as egregious results. That means that you need to consider both sides of the equation when thinking about can you dig a hole in my backyard.

Sharp Instruments

The other devil in the detail is the shovel itself. Undoubtedly, you’ve read that the optimal way to use this garden tool is when it is sharp. That means breaking out a rasp to keep it clean with a razor edge. It makes your job easier and saves your back, all of which we appreciate. 

However, it also makes it easier to damage utility lines and set you up for the ensuing problems. 

Talk about a double-edged sword!

Ways to Stay Safe

The single best thing you can do is to call 811 before you raise a shovel. Sure, you can guesstimate the path of the lines and make an educated guess about the depth. We strongly urge you not to play this game of Russian roulette.

The risks aren’t worth it—especially considering the service to know for sure is free.

When you call 811, a service rep will come out and flag the lines either with spray paint, flags, or both. We’d suggest taking a picture of the markings afterward. Things happen, and the lines above ground get shifted.

If you really want to play it safe, take bearings with the angle and distance from a permanent landmark like your house or a tree.

Once you have the info, stay within the delineated areas, giving them a wide berth. It’s better to play it safe than sorry, considering the consequences. Yes, it is being conservative, but it’s also a way to make sure that nothing gets damaged.

The Last Word on if You Can Dig a Hole in Your Backyard

We understand how anxious you are to get started on your landscaping projects. It’s an essential part of making your house, a home.

However, it’s equally as critical that you aren’t stepping on the toes of any utilities going to your abode. All it takes is a single phone call to determine can you dig a hole in my backyard. Don’t hesitate. Do it.