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What Should I Set My Fence Posts In? (Dirt, Gravel, Crushed Rock Or Concrete?)

by Lianne Jones May 25, 2022

What Should I Set My Fence Posts In?

A properly constructed fence will offer security, protection, definition to your boundary and an attractive addition to your yard.

Of course, you will want the money and time you invest in erecting a fence to be worthwhile and an investment.

However, if the fence posts are badly installed or the wrong material is used to set them, then your fence will not survive very long. A fence is only as good as the posts that support it.

So it is important to make sure that the right base is used to hold the posts securely in place.

Factors that will influence your choice will be the material of the fence posts, e.g., wood or metal, the type of fence and the kind of soil that the posts will be set in.

To help you choose, read our guide on what you should set your fence posts in. 

Should You Set Fence Posts In Concrete?

A lot of people will swear by having fence posts set in concrete, while others will debate its merits and suggest that it is overkill. But it depends on the type of fence that you want to install and its purpose.

For livestock, the more secure the fence posts the better. Cows and horses have a habit of scratching against posts, causing them to move.

In those situations, a concrete base will keep your fence post firmly in place.

If you just want a fence to mark your boundary then concrete may not be necessary but will hold the posts and fence securely against the wind and weather.

Which Fence Posts Can Be Set In Concrete?

Any fence post can be used with a concrete base, so wood, metal or even concrete posts. However, just because something can be done doesn’t mean it should be done.

Setting wooden fence posts into concrete is going to lead to rot at the base of the post.

While wooden posts are popular and relatively cheap, if set in concrete you may have to replace them after a few years.

This can end up costing you more money. And when the posts rot, they leave behind the lump of concrete in the ground. Not so pretty.

Metal fence posts, however, are ideal for setting in a concrete base. They won’t rot and are maintenance free for the most part.

What Type Of Soil Is Best For Setting Fence Posts In Concrete?

If you have sandy or loose soil, then it’s best to set your fence posts in concrete rather than in the dirt. A fence post that can move in the soil will not hold your fence up for long.

Heavy clay soil is more compact and will hold a fence post in the dirt, so for this soil type concrete may not be necessary.

How To Set Fence Posts In Concrete

We will assume that you have measured the distance of the fence and run a straight line between two stakes at the first and last fence post position.

You can then use an auger or a post hole digger to dig a hole for the post. The hole should be between one fourth and one third of the length of the fence post. Place the post in the hole and make sure it is level and plumb.

Now fill the hole around the base of the fence post with the concrete. This is typically fast setting and comes pre-mixed or in dry form. Leave to cure for a few days before attaching the fencing.

It is worth forming the concrete into a mound so that rainwater runs off and does not run down the base of the wooden posts. 

Can I Set Fence Posts In Dirt?

Can I Set Fence Posts In Dirt?

Absolutely! This is one of the quickest ways to set your fence posts. It is also one of the most practical if you are installing a perimeter fence to your yard or just as a feature around your home.

Setting fence posts in dirt for livestock fencing is probably not the best solution. Animals pushing against the fence will cause the post to move and over time it will fail. This could put your livestock at risk of escape. 

What Type of Fence Posts Can Be Set In Dirt?

Setting fence posts directly in the earth is convenient, but it also comes with some risks. Moisture in the soil can cause the base of the fence post to rot more quickly than if it was set in concrete or gravel.

Naturally resistant timber like cedar and redwood can slow this process, but are expensive. Pressure treated wood will survive the damp environment longer than untreated wood, so this is another option.

Metal posts can be driven into the dirt but may require some support at the base, especially if the fence posts are narrow. Metal fence post anchors are ideal for this purpose.

How To Set Fence Posts In Dirt

Once you have set a line to mark out your posts, you can start to dig the holes.

It’s best to use an auger or post hole digger for this, as it maintains the diameter of the hole from the top to the bottom. If you use a shovel, you will end up with a cone-shaped hole.

One third of the post should be in the ground, so for a six-foot post two feet should be below the surface.

Don’t make the hole too wide, or the fence post will not be stable. Make sure that all subsequent posts are at the same height and are level and plumb.

Should I Set Fence Posts In Gravel?

Setting your fence posts in gravel will allow any water to drain away. This means that the post will not be standing in water and exposed to rot. Gravel gives a good base and is firm enough to hold the post in place.

Fence posts that are bedded into gravel are less likely to move due to frost heave by providing good drainage. 

What Soil Type Is Best For Setting Fence Posts In Gravel?

Heavy clay soils work best with setting fence posts in gravel, as it is less likely to spread out under the weight of  the gravel.

Loose or sandy soil is not really suitable for this type of fence post bedding, as it may move with the gravel. 

How Do I Set Fence Posts In Gravel?

Dig the holes as normal, allowing a depth of one third of the fence post. Place the post in the hole and fill with 4-5 inches of gravel.

Tamp it down and repeat the process, adding the same amount of gravel each time until the hole is almost filled. Tamping the gravel ensures that it is compacted and interlocks for strength.

If you want, you can top off the fence post hole with soil and cover it with grass for a neat finish. 

Can Fence Posts Be Set In Crushed Rock?

Crushed rock provides a stable footing for your fence posts. This means that your fence will be better able to withstand wind and storms, and you will have great drainage around your fence post.

You will need to make sure that the fence post holes are large enough to take the fence post and the crushed rock that you are setting it in. This is normally around twice the width of the fence post. 

What Soil Type Is Best For Setting Fence Posts In Crushed Rock?

Clay and other heavy soils are best for using this method of setting fence posts. The crushed rock interlocks giving a solid foundation and the clay soil holds it firmly in place.

Sandy or loose soil does not have enough stability for this type of fence post bedding and may shift under the weight. 

How To Set Fence Posts In Crushed Rock

Again you want to have around a third of the fence post in the hole, but this time you need to add around six inches. This is taking into account the crushed rock at the bottom of the post hole.

The holes should be about twice the width of the fence post. Pour six inches of crushed rock into the hole and place the post in the center. Make sure it is plumb and level, you will need someone to hold the post in place.

Tamp the crushed rock down and, like the process with gravel, keep repeating until the hole is filled. The fence post should be rigid and stable at this point. Unlike with concrete, you can attach your fencing straight away.

So with all of this advice, we hope you now feel confident about what you should set your fence posts in. Remember that the posts are literally the backbone of your fencing, so they need to be strong and solidly held in place.

They also need to be able to withstand a bit of punishment like animals pushing or scratching against them or high winds and storms.  If the fence posts fail, then the fence will too.

By following our guide, you will now have the confidence to choose the right fence post bedding and will be able to enjoy your new fence for years to come.

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