I am often asked, What is the best tool for tree planting? And, What do you think about using a power auger for planting? Yes, augers make quick work of digging planting holes. Yes, augers are darn fun to use. I mean, c’mon… it’s a huge power drill for dirt. I get all that.
So here’s my advice: Take your power auger and go drill a couple hundred holes in the back forty. Then fill those holes back in and go throw your auger in the trash (or sell it on Craig’s List). Then grab yourself a good old shovel and go dig holes worthy of your trees and plant your trees right.
Why don’t I like augers for tree planting?
1) As augers drill a cylindrical hole in the soil the sides of that hole get glazed and compacted, creating a wall – an impenetrable barrier – for tree roots
2) Augers throw soil from the planting hole out into the surrounding sod or weeds, making it very difficult to back fill the hole after planting. Show me an auger planted seedling and I’ll show you a seedling that 9 times out of 10 is sitting too deep because the planter couldn’t find enough loose soil to re-fill the hole, or the soil he used for fill settled after planting.
3) Augers also compact and “clodify” (technical term – made up just now by me – meaning to form into clods or chunks) the soil – especially clayey soils… so that when the hole is back filled with these clods it leaves air gaps that kill tree roots.
Can you be successful with auger planting? Yes. But at the end of the day it probably takes more worth and time than if you just used shovel to begin with. After you augered the hole you’d have to use a shovel to cave in the glazed/compacted sides of the hole and break up the soil. Then you’d have to shovel some back fill soil from somewhere near the planting hole, and use that to properly fill the hole during planting.
So my advice is to ditch the auger and grab a shovel. Leave the power augers for the jobs they were meant for: fence post and ice fishing!