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I was telling an uncle about the concern of digging a conduit trench in my heavily planted garden (trying not to disturb the plants) to run electricity from the house to the shed about 35 feet away.

He said that you could run conduit on the ground (or barely cover it with mulch); no need to dig a trench and bury it. I am highly skeptical as I've never heard of this before nor can I find anything on it. He's done habitat houses.

Can you? I live in the US, Nebraska. It gets very hot and cold here seasonally. Any tips on making a trench with a tight space?

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    Unfortunately your uncle is wrong. Conduit spanning between buildings needs to be buried as Ecnerwal points out in the answers. You might consider going overhead but if you do there are required height clearances also. Either way, better safe than sorry. Check the National Electrical Code and the local codes for your area. A trench in a tight space just requires a shovel and determination. 😊 – ArchonOSX Nov 9 '17 at 19:35
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    I have used conduit and adapted a hose fitting and used water to bore through the ground under sidewalks and driveways the problem with this method is a large hole is needed at 1 end way more work than digging up flower beds. But it could be done. Conduit on top of the ground would not be to code. – Ed Beal Nov 9 '17 at 20:38
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    You can skip all digging and go old school. Use an elevated run to the shed, similar to how power is still delivered to most buildings in the US. Check your local codes or professionals to see what's legal in your area. – Brock Adams Nov 9 '17 at 23:13
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With rigid or intermediate metal conduit ($$) you can follow code without going very deep - 6" under dirt, 4" under a concrete cover of at least 4" thickness extending at least 6" to either side. Unless you want a concrete path through your garden along the route of the conduit, that's not likely what you want.

Rigid and intermediate metal are tough enough that you won't likely damage them while digging with hand tools.

PVC needs to be 18" under unless concrete protected.

Table 300.5 of the NEC should clarify all that for you.

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I'm not sure on the cost of this option, but you could use directional boring. You may be able to rent the machine, but it's fairly specialized work and it might be preferable to hire a company to do it.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Directional_boring

This process allows pipe to be buried underground without disturbing the land above anywhere except at the entry and exit points.

Here's a youtube video showing how it works: https://youtu.be/FQBVTlcl20c

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There are basically three levels of depth allowed by code (to my knowledge), and they depend on cable and conduit type. None are at ground level, however.

I recently ran a similar line through several flower gardens. It's not difficult to create shovel-width channels for conduit down 18 inches or so. Do it in spring or fall when the plants are less active and they probably won't mind the disturbance.

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Possibly there are code restrictions. However , I would bury it "deep" To avoid hitting it with shovels, etc, later after you have forgotten where it is located.

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I would consider a cheap solar setup for the shed. Most likely you don't have huge power needs. Even a few hundred US dollar setup can provide you lighting, music, and battery float-charging. This might very well be cheaper than playing for outside electrical work, potentially much cheaper, and certainly less effort. I realize Nebraska isn't ideal for going fully solar house-wise, but it still should work for a shed.

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