Always reach out to 811 before you dig? Really?


Feb 20, 2024
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I've known about the 811 system for years, thanks to their savvy messaging. However, I thought their slogan — Call Before You Dig — related to heavy construction work with excavation machines and other earth moving equipment. Well, I just learned today that it also applies to simple gardening activities, at least in my state. I purchased two plum trees that were tagged with the 811 information. I looked into it, and in my state, we're expected to notify 811 before disturbing the soil. It doesn't matter how deep you intend to dig, or what tools you'll use to accomplish your goal. That goes for homeowners, as well as contractors and other professionals. After applying, the utility companies come out and mark their lines. Once that's done, I'll receive a permit to dig that's good for two years. Unfortunately, from what I've read online, it takes ages for all the companies to respond to these requests. Supposedly, I can't dig until it's done. My trees could perish before then.

It seems like such a ridiculous requirement. Do you think it would be okay to skip 811, as long as I plant my trees away from the power line and keep my hole relatively shallow? Are other people really notifying 811 every time they need to use a shovel? I'm also worried about getting into trouble for the stuff I've already planted. Once I bring them to my property, these guys will surely know that I failed to follow the law previously. I'm worried that they might report me. I honestly just assumed that 811 didn't apply to simple things like planting trees and other plants.
United States
Do a little "digging" into information on how deep gas, water or electrical lines go underground. Square that information with how deep your plant/tree has to go and determine the need to call from that.

I think companies have to put that information on their product by law because different plants require different depths for their root systems. Check into that as well. How deep mature roots will go, that is
I'm sure the blanket 811 requirement is in place out of an abundance of caution and not adhered to for most amateur gardening/hand digging activities. Maybe if you were planting a large tree/shrub that you really needed a deep hole for, I could see 811 being used, but probably not in your situation. Still, you do need to be careful.

When it comes to your gas line, you can usually tell where the gas runs by the location of the gas meter along the side of your house. The line probably runs directly to the road from there (but possibly not). Gas lines are also generally located about 18 inches below the surface but could be shallower if your property's experienced any soil erosion over the years.

If you have a lot of land and are doing a lot of planting or other land disturbing work on your own, you could consider purchasing utility line detection equipment. For example, my dad uses this Schonstedt utility locator as part of his stump grinding business. It's expensive and won't technically satisfy the 811 requirement, but if you're doing a lot of work could save you lots of time while providing similar peace of mind as 811.
I like your common sense approach to the rule, @Eric. I doubt the utility companies want to come out in every instance that someone adds plants to their yard. Luckily, in my state, the law doesn't apply unless you're digging several feet down. It seems more sensible to me.

@Overtime, I'd probably call since you're planting trees. Have you considered putting them in pots, instead? Some dwarf varieties can be grown that way. If you do contact 811, be forewarned that the utility company will only mark the lines that they're responsible for. You'll likely need to contact Comcast, Cox, and any other private entity that has run cables or pipes underneath the ground, too.

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