What comes to mind when you think of the desert? Endless waves of sand? Yes, but desert soil can be much more complex than that.
Some desert soils contain more gravel than sand; others are hard to break up. Desert gardeners approach their soil in various ways, but there are certain tools they use to make it easier to break through difficult soil and create an oasis in the desert.
Three Types of Desert Soils:
- Sand and gravel. These are the easiest desert soils to garden. Just add compost to improve these soils and stop them from draining too quickly.
- Caliche. Beneath sand, you may find caliche, a stubborn calcium carbonate layer that’s as tough as concrete.
- Hardpan clay. Although different from caliche, it’s also tough.
TIPS TO WORK DESERT SOIL:
- Buy a pickaxe, mattock or digging bar.
- Dig after a rain.
- Or remove as much soil from the hole as far as you can and fill the hole with water. Allow it to drain and soften soil before digging further. If it takes a long time to drain, you may have caliche or hardpan beneath.
- Depending upon how deep the hard layer is, you may need to dig or punch hardpan soil with the pickaxe or mattock to create drainage holes called “chimneys.” Then fill the hole with water to soften the soil.
- Repeat until you have dug a planting hole three to five times wider and no deeper than the root ball of the plant.
- Add a small amount of compost to your soil. A little goes a long way in the desert.
- Or build a raised bed with enriched, purchased topsoil and compost to grow vegetables, perennials and fruit.