In my yard, I have a large mud area that I plan to plant grass in. This mud area, because of how it was originally set up, has many stones in it (ranging from 5 to 15 centimeters in diameter). The only ways I can try removing them right now are by hand picking them out, or by trying to rake them (so they are pulled out of the mud) and picking them up with a shovel. Is there a better way to accomplish this?

Here is what the mud looks like:

enter image description here
( click for larger image )

  • 2
    Why can't you rake them? I do it all the time before seeding folks lawns.
    – J. Musser
    Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 1:31

5 Answers 5


I had the same problem after clearing some landscaping and trees that had died from the former owner of my house and this is what I tried and failed and what I tried and worked effectively.

Keep in mind I had some holes from stumps I dug out by hand and I was also trying to level my yard out at the same time. I cleared about 200 square feet about 2 feet down consistently of rocks bigger than a quarter this way.


  • Raking it out, though I ended up raking a lot of just dirt back into place too and having to pick up the rock.s
  • Picking our rocks by hand, even by encouraging the young kids and making it a game and providing rewards for each bucket.
  • Power Washing the ground then raking and shoveling.

Worked, but ineffective:

  • Loading Dirt into heavy duty plastic milk crates and hosing them down.
  • Cut out the center of a wooden pallet with a saw-all and attached two layers of metal diamond form grid/lattice bought at the hardware store. (Note a Steel Paint Can Grid may also work for smaller jobs) and then hosed it down having the dirt fall underneath it and loading leftover rocks into buckets.
    • Note: this required me moving rocks and dirt multiple times and it clogged often and had a smaller capacity.
    • Note: Chainlink Fence I found to be way too wide and let most rock through.
    • Note: Chicken and Rabbit Wire was too weak with the weight of the rocks.
    • Note: The cost of the metal lattice with how well it held up (not very well) with the weight was a big frustrating and was not the most efficient.

Worked Best, though it used a lot of water.

  1. I purchased a Yard Cart with a metal lattice bottom and drop-down sides at the local hardware store like this one.
  2. Used a high-pressure nozzle initially, but sped it up by using an electric power washer with a broad spray.
  3. Loaded up the above cart with the dirt rock mixture (halfway otherwise mud doesn't wash away completely and it can get too heavy for cart and break axel which is what I did toward the end).
  4. Used cart to transport rocks to a pile across the yard. Water distributed dirt evenly.
  5. Reloaded back up and repeated. Each load taking ~5-10 minutes depending on how much grass and roots were in load.

Once I developed the later method I was able to complete most of the area I was working on in several hours, the biggest issue was the mud and letting the water settle.


You could try to build a sifter:

  1. Get a square meter/yard of 1/2" or 2cm wire mesh from the hardware store, "Chicken Wire" may work.
  2. Build a square frame that is a few inches smaller than your mesh.
  3. Staple the mesh to the frame

Then you can shovel your mud into the sifter and give it a good shake to separate the stones.

Here are some more advanced directions that include a wheelbarrow attachment/rail system if you're feeling adventurous.

There seems do be an undue amount of concern about using a sifter with wet soil/mud...

In my experience most mud will dry out to become, you know, just regular soil within 6-24 hrs.

Soils heavy in clay will require a lot more work:

  1. You could use more water to turn the clay into a slip or slurry while passing it through a sifter.
  2. You could wait for the clay to dry completely and starts to split into mudcracks. Then you can break it up a bit with a garden hoe and shovel it into a sifter. Your sifter in this case will very likely need to be re-enforced or built with a heavier gauge wire. Hardened dry clay will still crumble when shaken and agitated over the sifter and fall through leaving the rocks behind.

The soil in question doesn't appear to be terribly heavy in clay, at least judging by the color and granulation on the surface in the picture, and it doesn't appear to be terrifically wet either. It looks to be just damp topsoil, probably because it is a low lying area.

Some raking/tilling/hoeing before shoveling the soil into the sifter may make for easier going with the sifter, but it shouldn't be a big deal.

  • 2
    Can stones on mud can be removed using sifter? I think it is only for dry sand. The photo posted in mud not dry sand. Commented Dec 27, 2014 at 23:56
  • @JoachinJoseph: Why couldn't it? Does the mud go through the mesh? Do the stones not go through the mesh? If the answer to both questions is "yes", the sifter will work. Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 0:40
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    @IlmariKaronen I would say only the dry & thinner soil works good on this method. I have used the sifter many times in my house and doesn't work as expected for mud. At least needs to be dried & broken into smaller. Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 1:28
  • @JoachinJoseph: Your "mud" sounds more like clay to me. If it forms large clumps that don't break up easily, then no, it won't be easy to sift. Drying and crumbling it may help, but so could wetting it to make it more runny. It's hard to tell from just a picture whether the OP's mud is like that. Commented Dec 28, 2014 at 15:04
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    I can also attest that sifters don't work with wet soil. Although I've gotten around it before by using a tiller to break up the soil before putting it through the sifter. Commented Dec 29, 2014 at 22:16

I'm helping my dad do this to his new garden and we have borrowed a shopping trolley pit chicken wire in the bottom and coming up over the sides made handles on either side so can lift it after then filling it about half way with the shovels and hosing it down wile shaking it after just lift the stones out and put them where you want we are getting it done much faster than before


Things I have tried:

  • Stack crates or containers with slits(any stackable containers are better, and thicker containers work better) in the bottom up on top of each other(stacking the crates or containers 3 or higher works, using 2 should work, as well). Now stick the rocks in a crate at the top of the stack and shake the whole apparatus. This works better with thinner and dry soil, so you should maybe dry the soil out, first. Raking the muddy rock soil into a pile(trying to avoid as much rocks as possible) is necessary for this step. If you shake the apparatus vigorously it doesn't matter how thick the dirt is. This is a ready made version of a soil sifter.

    • Taking one crate and shaking the rocks with that also helps. This would be more useful for muddy dirt.
  • Using sieves(household ones work fine, but can be destroyed from vigorous shaking), but from experience they can gum up if you put to wet of dirt in them. This probably won't work, unless you can dry the soil out.

  • Taking fencing(the larger the rocks the larger the fencing or metal mesh can be) and hanging it over(tying or screwing it into place) a frame. This can be wooden one.

Make a dirt Sifter

enter image description here

Additional Info

What techniques can be used to manually sieve stones from the soil efficiently?: This shows some pros and cons on how to better make a dirt sifter.

If you didn't want to build a frame, I've seen people just throw a section of hardware cloth over a wheelbarrow and toss material onto it. Looks like more ongoing work though -- I think you're better off building a frame.

The sifter should be designed so that rocks come out easily -- you don't want a fully enclosed frame, because then you have to tip it over to dump out the rocks.

Ideally the sifter will be inclined -- the rocks will just fall out instead of you having to remove them.

Decide where you want to have the sifted soil land (e.g. wheelbarrow, container, or the ground) and design the sifter around that destination. For example, if you want to capture soil in your wheelbarrow, make the frame wide enough so that it sits on the wheelbarrow edges, tilted so that you lose the rocks between the handles, and not so high that it will tip over your wheelbarrow.


This question is like, "How do I get my wife to enjoy my activities? i.e. Ogling pictures on the internet?"

In both cases, you seem to be wanting to fight the very forces of nature! The rocks are but pebbles, causing no harm and add valuable space to your clay /muddy soil, allowing water to not just puddle, but flow down.

I would suggest instead of wasting water (and time /energy) making small rocks wetter, I would instead have you add some sand and some mulch and turn it all over making a much more viable growth medium. Your grass will still grow, but warning - if you ever lose your gold ring in the grass ......

  • ... search on Lifehacks.SE for a method to find it (</smartass>)
    – Alex
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 7:52

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