Be aware of underground utilities when digging in the garden

  • Just as farmers do with their fields, home gardeners need to rotate their crops to control disease.

    Just as farmers do with their fields, home gardeners need to rotate their crops to control disease. Courtesy of Chicago Botanic Garden

By Tim Johnson
Chicago Botanic Garden
Updated 5/18/2020 6:27 AM

If you have a lot of digging to do in your garden, it's important to have your utilities located before starting the work.

In the suburbs, call J.U.L.I.E. at (800) 892-0123 or 811 to have your yard marked for underground utilities (this is a free service). Its website is In Chicago, call DIGGER at (312) 744-7000. It generally takes two working days for these services to locate your utility lines, so allow plenty of time before digging.


These locating services will not mark any lines you have installed yourself such as a gas line to a grill or wires for landscape lighting. Dig carefully by hand if you are working within 18 inches of either side of any marked underground utilities.

Also, take care when digging in gardens with underground sprinklers. Black polyvinyl piping used in many systems is very easy to cut with a spade.

• Rotate the crops in your vegetable garden to control pest problems. This is the easiest way to practice organic, integrated pest management gardening.

Many insects and diseases attack vegetables within the same plant family. By planting vegetables from a different family in a problem area, you minimize the chances for a repeat infection.

The basic families include the cabbage family (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, radishes and turnips); cucumber family (gourds, melons, squashes and cucumbers); nightshade family (eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes and peppers); goosefoot family (spinach and beets); onion family (leeks, garlic and onions); legume family (all peas and beans) and the carrot, celery and parsnip group.

• Try to stay out of beds when the soil is very wet to avoid excessive soil compaction. Weed from the edges of beds during typical wet periods in spring.

• Tim Johnson is director of horticulture at Chicago Botanic Garden,

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