How to: Remove a rock bed (the slightly less difficult way)

9:06 AM

If you've ever undertaken a landscaping project you probably already know that it is back breaking work. (Oh man I am learning that really quickly.) And today I'm going to share our process of removing 30 years worth or rock and mulch in order to prepare the ground to grow things other than weeds. Sounds fun right?

During the tour I mentioned the surprise rocks we had layered under the mulch that covered every bit of ground we owned. The bad news with that is rock is a lot heavier and harder to remove. The good news, well I guess there isn't any. Goody. So at first when we were going to put this off til next year we thought we would dump a couple of snow shovels worth in the trash every week and hopefully get rid of it all in a year. Now that we've moved this project up the list we needed to come up with a new plan. 

So far we know:

•we have terrible clay soil underneath all this stuff. 

•most of the mulch has decomposed into stuff that looks like dirt.

•we have a shit load of rocks hiding under the mulch just laughing at us. 

•the previous owners had the entire concrete patio covered in AstroTurf at one point. It's true!

So with the terrible soil and the fact that we would be losing about 6 verticle inches of stuff, we needed to save the dirt from the mulch and rocks. Guess how I did it? I made a sifting station. It works really well, but takes some time for sure. We could have just loaded up a truck and take everything to the dump or something but we don't want to do that. And no, it's not because we're "being green". We are being cheap. I have no clue how much it costs to take things to the dump, but even the bagster thing from home depot was more than I want to spend just to throw things away. 

First you need to make a screen. It doesn't need to be fancy. Just take some 2x4's and make a U shaped thing. I used my Kreg-Jig to put it together. Sadly enough it was the first thing I used it on. As for dimensions or size, I made mine so that the boards would sit on top of one of those big plastic storage containers that I had in the garage. So just make yours so it fits whatever you have. Once you have the U shape made attach some hardware cloth to it. I used 1/2" cloth and roofing nails. If you have really strong staples you could use that too, but roofing nails have a large flat head and will hold the hardware cloth on nicely. Just make sure to evenly secure the hardware cloth all the way around the boards. 

Now plop your shiny new sifter onto the storage bin to catch the stuff you may or may not want to save. I found it was faster to use a rake and snow shovel instead of just a regular shovel. Use the rake to load up the snow shovel, dump that on top of the sifter, and give it a few rigerous shakes. All the dirt and smaller mulch pieces will fall through, leaving you with cleanish rocks to collect somewhere else. We started putting them in buckets but soon realized that was just ridiculous, so we just started piling them up on the patio. 

Once you get close to the plastic lining (hopefully there is one) you'll want to turn your rake over to the smooth side to scoop the rocks into your shovel. That way you know you got all the rocks and didn't just mix a bunch into the dirt you've been working for hours just to get to. I also like to create a barrier of sorts so you're not knocking mulch and rocks into your newly de-rocked section of dirt. It doesn't need to be pretty, we just used some cinder blocks that we found buried under the ground. They made shoveling really fun.

After all that cut the lining along your little retaining wall and start turning over the dirt. You don't have to go crazy, but just enough to loosen things up a bit. 

Now back to the dirt in the storage bin. Get that and start mixing it into the terrible clay soil. It really helps to lighten it up. Once you have some spread over the clay just turn the soil again like before. Hopefully you'll notice that it is a lot easier this time around. Go ahead and mix everything that collected into the fresh dirt, making sure to evenly encorporate everything. You can also mix in some composte at this point to help boost the soils nutrient values and such.

Once that's done use your rake to smooth it all out, then step back and look at your fresh patch of dirt with pride and joy. (just avoid looking a the rest of your yard and all that work you still have to do.)

Hopefully some friendly lady bugs will notice your urban revitalization project and tell their friends that your yard is a new up and coming neighborhood and with interest rates being at historic lows that they should consider moving to your yard. That what I'm hoping this little lady has planned. 

Anyway, I hope this helps those of you who are removing rock. And hopefully there are some crazy people out there like me that come up with elaborate scenarios for what goes through the minds of bugs. Anyone? No? Ok, I guess that's just me. But seriously is there anything worse than shoveling rocks? Maybe that's why in old movies they always have chain gangs busting up rocks. Oh man, there I go again with the off topic thinking...

You Might Also Like


  1. Numero Uno: Uh, holy knight! Now that's a crap load of work
    Dos: You're totally my hero.....See above
    3: Did you find us any gold??

  2. I think you should astro-turf the whole area!

  3. We have a space in our yard that has TONS of rocks. It's literally a thanks for the idea of sifting out the rocks. I'm just dreading getting started, but I know in the end it'll look great.

  4. Good luck! I think it would have gone a lot faster for us if we were only dealing with rocks, but picking mulch out of rocks deffenatly slowed us down a lot. But it's so worth it!

  5. Gosh, you are funny! tks for the tip, im going to do the sifting thing ;0)

  6. You sound awesome! We are finishing up a 6ft x 22ft area off the front porch. Pulled out 6 evergreen bushes and were left with a circa 1975 4-6 inch deep rock bed, fully sunk into the soil. Your sifter design made me smile. We made ours from 1/4 metal screen (small rocks) with a double 2x4 frame in a full rectangle. With 2 saw horses and a tarp my wife and I cleared the rock bed one 5 gal bucket at a time. It was brutal, but somehow rewarding, like surviving 3 weeks of hard labor in a N Korean work camp. 100 sq ft of flowering plants next year will be the final reward. Congrats on building something that made it easier, and for doing it yourself.

    1. :-) I hope you enjoy your flowers. You are about 2 weeks ahead of me.

  7. Best solution I have seen so far ... removing rocks from our 1/8 acre back yard has been a real joy! We just tore our 1980s cedar deck to replace with flagstone and have run into more rock. I'm going to try your garden fork/shovel method.

  8. After reading all of this, I may just leave the rocks where they are and find another area to plant. Although we have a tiny yard. There's 22'x6' of them. :-/

  9. Good one. We are removing yards worth of rock. We took all this time to hoe and rake and pile rocks nicely, even sending a few dozen wheel barrels worth to the neighbor. To our surprise when our daughter was messing around with the kid shovel and digging, there was another entire layer of different small rock beneath that. And then there is a thick plastic liner below that. Rock over rock over liner. Beauty. We have to remove all of it to rejuvenate the soil because anything plastic is a problem. That old astroturf of yours has certainly degraded but has not necessarily decomposed, and it may never decompose properly, at least not in your lifetime. Anywhere they laid that stuff down, all soil should be removed and replaced. You should consider all of that dirt toxic and never plant anything you may consume yourself in that dirt. Lots of new information about astroturf dangers, both while in place new, and for aged degraded. So easy to put rock in, so difficult to take it out. Nobody accepts it. One ponders the logic of one company taking down a mountain to get the rock to sell, while another company takes the trash away and creates a literal new mountain worth of debris, some of which is likely rock. How much rock must be in the landfill. Nobody wants this stuff back, not even the rock suppliers themselves. There is this 'inert material' rule. They'll take the rock if it's clean and mean. If the guy sees one twig or one bit of dirt, they say no deal, don't want it. Flagstone, cobblestone, poured, larger rock, or just about anything is an obviously smarter choice than rolled or crushed stone. When you're rolling soil improvement projects, don't forget to make absolutely sure you're getting positive drainage in the end. It's likely the soil you prepped up now readily accepts water more than the soil further out which has debris and such. Got to move it all down for soil equality to assure drainage, or shortcut with something like a french drain or channel of gravel under the soil. Thanks or the good read. Cheers!

  10. I heard you can advertise "free rock, you haul" on Craigslist and interested parties will come and rake it for themselves. Considering this since our whole house is surrounded by the stuff.

  11. This easy summary of garden basics can assist you to start out on this enriching endeavor, specific your ability, catch up with to nature and luxuriate in a very flowering expertise.


Hi! I love comments, they're the best!

Like us on Facebook

Flickr Images

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner