Time To Transplant? It’s Dibble Time!

When it comes to planting transplants, nothing beats a dibbler for spacing, managing weeds and determining numbers in your garden plots.

by Zach Loeks
PHOTO: courtesy of Zach Loeks

When transplanting in the garden or market garden—or even for edible landscaping in your community—there is nothing better for keeping your garden plots organized than a dibbler.

A dibbler is a tool that makes small, pre-dug holes in the garden bed for transplanting. The holes are roughly 2-inch square by 1 to 4 inches deep.

Whether you’re planting thyme as an understory for pears and plums, transplanting peppers into mulch or burying garlic cloves in the fall, all transplanting can benefit from dibbling.

A dibbler does far more than just pre-dig holes.  As we will discuss, dibblers can also provide precise spacing for your transplants, help manage weeds and assess quantities of garden transplants when crop planning.

Check out these 5 tips for choosing high-quality nursery transplants.

Dibble Types

The most basic dibbler is a single hand-held dibble. It’s essentially a stick and I dare say probably the oldest agricultural tool we have. Our early human ancestors shoved sticks in the ground, then dropped in seeds and plants.

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Modern handheld dibblers usually have a T-shape and allow a planter to gain a good grip. You can, in some cases, get by with using a trowel as a dibbler.

Other variations include a board-type dibbler with a bed-wide base and several rows of dibbles. You can push the entire dibbler board into the ground and produce a magnificent row of holes all lined up with precise spacing.

This style is also often used for transplant trays, as a tray-sized board with mini dibbles for each cell!

manual dibbler
Zach Loeks

Let’s Get Rolling

The grandmaster of dibblers is the rolling dibbler. You can find these in both hand-pushed and tractor-mounted versions.

These dibblers not only provide precise spacing between rows and within the row, but they also pack the soil lightly to help firm up your Permabed.

These rolling dibblers can be very helpful for planting in larger gardens and farms because they produce an exact spacing. Also, the spacing is adjustable with clip- and snap-on type dibbles.

This precise spacing is very efficient when others are helping you plant. You can simply say “put one transplant in every hole,” taking the guesswork and nitty-gritty out of proper plant spacing.

Proper plant spacing, as we have discussed in previous articles, is crucial to effective weed management, both using hand tools and tractor implements such as the basket weeder. Proper and precise spacing also allows us to calculate exactly how many transplants are needed for a garden bed—whether 50, 100 or 300 feet long.

Are you planting two rows of pepper transplants at 14 inches between rows in a 50-foot bed? Or maybe three rows of strawberries at 12 inches between rows and 6 inches between transplants in each row? Maybe it’s six rows of garlic at 6 inches between rows and 6 feet between dibble holes in each row.

No matter your numbers, the math is straight forward. You can easily figure out how many transplants you need and set your dibble to make a hole and home for each.

Learn how to harvest and dry homegrown garlic.

water wheel dibbler
Zach Loeks

And Away We Grow

Larger market gardens and farms even have larger equipment dibblers (such as the water wheel transplanter) that dibble. They have trays for transplant mounted on the equipment and seats for planters to plant into the dibbled holes that are even pre-soaked from a water tank held above the equipment.

Crops that are great to dibble include anything you transplant. But of particular note are leeks, garlic and anything planted into poly-type mulches.

On my farm I have trialed and used many dibbles and made many myself, here are some of my favorites:

  • My favorite trowel, which I use to dibble and plant when working in my landscaping around the home, and in the greenhouse
  • A seedbed roller with snap-in dibbles from Johnny’s Selected Seeds for the small garden plots.
  • A modified waterwheel dibbler I mounted on my Kubota L245 from Dubois Agrinovation

Together, these dibblers serve my home garden, market garden plots and farm fields very well.

Grow On,


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