How to Remove Rocks from Soil: Make It As Easy As A, B, C!

How to remove rocks from soil

Be wary about rocks in soil especially if you are growing plants. The rocks could impede the growth of plant roots.

But don’t just yank them out of the soil, you’ll never get most of them. There are better ways to do it. Read on to learn more about how to remove rocks from soil.

Why You Should Remove Rocks from Soil

Gardening seems like a fun and fulfilling thing to do. It’s like having pets–you take care of them, nourish them, and pamper them while they grow. 

The them being referred to, of course, are the plants.  


Unlike pets, where you start taking care of them when they arrive, you need ample preparation in order to make sure plants grow healthy. 

Before you even start planting seeds or seedlings, you need to prepare the lot for gardening. You want to make sure that the plot would be ideal for the growth of plants. 


The first thing you should do is to check the pH level of the soil, to ensure that it’s not too acidic for plants to thrive. 

Then, you should also put in some fertilizer. You will know what type of fertilizer to use after having the soil tested for the presence of nutrients and other components. 


You need to remove the rocks. 

Rocks are pretty common in areas that experience freezing temperatures. 

This is what happens:

When it’s winter, the water that seeps into the soil freezes. There are rocks at the lower levels of the soil. 

When the soil under these rocks freezes, the soil expands and pushes the rocks up. Now, the rocks are already around the surface level. 

There’s a purpose

Rocks are good conductors of heat. At least, they are better at it than soil. With the stones at the surface level, they conduct heat away from the warmer soil underneath. 

The colder soil under the rock freezes faster than those not under the rock. 

Rocks in soil


There are always rocks in the soil, but some are located way below the surface. It’s only winter or freezing temperatures that would push them up to a higher level. 

You need to remove rocks from the soil because they could impede the growth of your plant roots. 

Here’s the deal

The stones are like barriers. They will stop the roots from moving freely. 

Besides, the space they occupy should be space where plants could grow more. You want plants to have the freedom and space to grow. 


If you don’t remove the rock, it may result in overcrowding of the plants. Since there is an impediment, the plants, particularly the roots, would be fighting off space. 

This would result in plant death. 

You wouldn’t want that, do you?

You have to remove the rocks! It’s going to be hard and it’s going to test your patience. 

But look at it this way: it will make you sweat. That’s always great from a fitness perspective.  

How to Remove Rocks from Soil

There are three ways you can do this. One is very simple while the other needs a more sophisticated piece of equipment. 

Let’s look at them one by one:

Pick out the rocks by hand

This is the simplest way to do it. You just need your hands, by the way. Or you can also use a rake or a shovel so you can really dig into the surface of the soil. 

Man holding soil, close-up of hand

You may also need a container where you can put your rocks. 

This is going to test your patience. It’s not really easy to look for rocks. And it’s quite taxing as well. 


It’s really not the most effective way to do it. This is just to get rid of the rocks at the surface level.

How about those inches below the surface? You want to get rid of those, too, since they could impede the growth of the plants’ roots. 

This is not the best way to remove the rocks in the soil. However, if you don’t live in areas that experience winter, then this would probably suffice. 


If you’ve removed more than a handful of rocks from the surface, then chances are there are more rocks underneath the surface. 

You should do more than just remove the rocks from the soil one by one. There is a more efficient way to do it. 

Manually remove the rocks using sifting screen

Technically, removing the rocks by hand is also a manual activity. This time, you would have to use a handful of materials. 

Here are the things you need:

  • Container (a wheelbarrow would be ideal)
  • Screen or sifter
  • Shovel

Just follow these simple steps

1. Map out the area

You need a process on how to go about removing the rocks from your area. You want to make sure you cover the entire plot of land where you will grow plants. 

Develop a directional system that would be easy for you especially if you can’t finish the task in one day. 

You don’t want to cover the same area in the next couple of days. 

Midsection rear view of female gardener pushing wheelbarrow at plant nursery

2. Set up the sifter and wheelbarrow

Put the screen or garden soil sifter on top of the wheelbarrow or any container that you can use. The goal is to put the soil over the sifter–the soil will smoothly go through it while the rocks will remain on it. 

It’s truly an effective way to separate the rocks from the soil. 

Find a sifter or screen with a small filter so small rocks won’t go through the spaces. 

3. Start digging

With the use of your shovel, you should dig around a foot of soil. As already mentioned, put the soil through the sifter and easily remove the rocks. 

4. Return the soil to the ground

As soon as your wheelbarrow is full, you can then remove the rocks from the sifter and put it in a separate container. 

As for the soil, you can put it back to the ground. 

5. Continue the process

As soon as you put the soil back, you can move on to the next area. You will then repeat the process of digging and sifting rocks. 

Use a tractor

This would only be ideal if you have a huge tract of land. Of course, a tractor would be too much for a small area. 

The process is basically the same. You still have to filter the rocks using a screen or garden soil sifter. 

Here’s the difference:

When you use a tractor, you can cover a lot of soil at once. It would be great for farmlands and the like. 

Renting a tractor is expensive, too. So, if you are just removing stones from your home garden, there is no need for that heavy equipment. 

Other equipment

Digging deep into the soil is always better since you will expose a whole load of rocks. However, if you don’t have the patience for it, there are other tools you can use to make things easier:

  1. Rake
  2. Rototiller

You can rake the surface and it will expose some rocks. Then you just remove the rocks by hand. 

It’s the same with the rototiller. It can slowly loosen the soil, thereby exposing more rocks. 

What to Do with the Rocks

Now that you’ve removed the rocks, you might be wondering: What am I going to do with these?

There are a lot of things you can do with them, actually. 

For starters

You can use them as decorative elements. For example, you could clean the rocks and use them as lining in the garden. 

It would definitely improve the look of your landscape. 

Plus, rocks are a really good addition to a zen garden, if you are into that. 

Zen Garden

There’s more!

If you are into water components at home, rocks are actually good materials for a pond bottom. They give the pond a more natural look. 

You can do the same if you want a waterfall at home. 


They can also be used as a pathway! 

There’s really so many uses for these rocks. The creative folks could even paint them and create something beautiful out of these rocks. 

And if you really want to dispose of them, try to give them to people who might need or want them. Don’t just throw them in the bin. 


No matter how annoying or tiresome it is, you need to remove the rocks in the soil. A few of them will be harmless since they don’t really take away nutrients from plants. 

However, too many rocks could be an impediment to the growth of the plants. They are barriers that would result in the roots of the plants not freely growing. These stones may even result in the overcrowding of the roots, which could result in the death of plants. 

In other words, you need to remove these growth impediments. It’s not that difficult to learn how to remove rocks from soil. But it’s definitely hard work. 

Useful Resources

  • How to Use Rocks in Your Landscape – HGTV
  • How to Build Rock Gardens for Small Spaces – The Spruce
  • Using Rocks in Farmlands to Remove Carbon Dioxide from the Atmosphere – The Daily Star

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