Rocks in Your Garden? Leave Them There!

Since the time of the earliest settlers in this country, the process has been relatively the same: We clear an area of trees and shrubs, peel off the sod, and till the soil.

by Dawn Combs
Rocks add minerals back to the soil for healthy soil that needs fewer amendments. Photo by Dawn Combs (
Photo by Dawn Combs

Most of us were taught to prepare the soil in our garden in a certain way. Since the time of the earliest settlers in this country, the process has been relatively the same: We clear an area of trees and shrubs, peel off the sod, and till the soil. Tilling has, of course, changed over the years. Regardless of the method, whether oxen-drawn plow or rototiller, we dutifully churn up the top layer of earth.

Those who really know what they’re doing then prepare the seed bed. After a couple passes have been made with the tiller, it’s time to get out the rake. Most of the best seed catalogs carry a bed-preparation rake. These are intended to fish out any large soil clumps or rocks.

Preparing the seed bed is necessary for proper seed contact with the soil. If there are large clumps, many small seeds will have difficulty settling into a soft place. Instead they drop down into large crevices and remain exposed to the elements. This leads to poor germination as the seeds easily dry out.

We see rocks, then, as a nuisance—a problem to be remedied so that we don’t damage our tiller and so that our seeds have a crumbly, soft bed. Somewhere on every large farm there’s typically a rock pile. These rocks have been studiously removed from the fields for years so that the farm equipment can run smoothly.

However, those rocks have a purpose in our soil. We should think of them less as obstacles and more as time-release mineral supplements. We have an epidemic in our supermarkets of food that’s not nutritionally dense because it’s grown on nutritionally deficient soils. With each rain, the rock pile on each of our farms leaches minerals into the soil on which it sits, but nowhere else.

Rocks are made of once-living materials. They are the calcified remains of sea life or the fossilization of old-growth forest. Their nutritional and energetic contribution to our soils is beyond our understanding. We have been taught to spend many hours removing them to make the perfect soil. Then we take a soil sample to find that we are missing key minerals and spend copious amounts of money trucking in rock-powder amendments to correct the deficiency. It would be much more efficient and effective to keep the rock in the soil to begin with.

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There is no rock pile on our farm. As we till, if a rock pops up we either go around it or move it just until the job is done. For us, the seedbed isn’t prepared until the rocks are returned to the rows from which they came. These rocks maintain the soil nutrition, provide a shady place for a toad to sit and shelter young seedlings from strong wind and driving rain. They are a friend in the garden and should be welcomed. Their ancient wisdom whispers to young plants of long dead animals and times gone by. Reconsider the wisdom of removing the elders from your garden this year and see what happens.

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