Our Terrible, Awful, Horrible, Stupid, Nutrient-Deficient Soil

I’ve mentioned this before but I think it bears repeating that our soil quality is about as bad as soil quality can get. Frankly, using the words ‘Las Vegas soil’ and ‘quality’ in the same sentence is a little ridiculous. There’s nothing quality about the barren mix of rocks and dust we expect our plants to live in through heat, cold and loooong stretches with no significant rainfall. The truth of the matter is some of the most commonly-used plants in our valley are simply not having it long-term.

Of course, it’s kind of hard to blame them for not always looking like they’ve just stepped out of an Annie’s Annuals catalog when you consider the fact that less than 1% of our soil is organic matter, leaving mostly sand, clay and minerals to fill in the rest.

That’s uhhh, kind of low organic matter, guys. Try to imagine how you’d look and feel if only 1% of your diet contained nutrition. Probably not so hot after a very short while. Of course, I’m positively certain you’re all a bunch of crazy sexy beasts who consume nothing less nutritious than garden-grown kale and legumes as it stands now. You’ll never convince me otherwise.

I’m just here to point out that if a diet devoid of nutrients was imposed on you against your will and you had the pleasure of being anchored in all your butt-naked glory into a spot where it gets upwards of 110° and you had a few hundred square feet of decorative rock surrounding you always, there’s a better than average chance that your health and looks would take a quick hit. That’s all I’m saying.

It’s tough to get across just how hardcore terrible our soil really is so I often bring up that time I heard a soil expert on KNPR put it on par with what you’ll find in Baghdad. I’ve admittedly never had the pleasure of touring Baghdad myself but based on most reports it seems safe to say it probably wasn’t meant as a compliment.

Whatever. Let’s just commit to doing the best we can with what we’ve got.

How to Counter Crap Soil in 5 Easy Steps:

    1. The easiest way to counter crap soil is to pick plants that tolerate crap soils. Then you pretty much never have to worry about it ever again. Done and done.
      *This is the option I recommend for all my non-masochistic readers. The masochists should continue to read steps 2-5.
    2. If you really want to try something that prefers more nutrient-rich soils, start by amending the soil when you put it in the ground. Dig your hole especially wide (2-3x as wide as the nursery container). Mix in some compost or garden mix with the existing soil to make it a little richer. Another option would be to put it in a container and plant using a rich, well-drained potting soil.
    3. Use organic mulch on top of the soil around your plant to both conserve moisture and introduce organic matter to your soil slowly and consistently. It also makes your garden look a little more ‘finished’ without reflecting heat back on your plants like decorative rock will do.
    4. Fertilize your plants on a regular basis. Depending on what you plant and what you use to fertilize, that may mean once a month or one to two times a year. As a general rule, liquid fertilizers need to be applied more often than granular options.
    5. Finally, keep in mind that trees and shrubs with high-quality soil requirements will likely not live as long here as they will in places with better soil quality (so, pretty much everywhere else on the planet). Don’t blame them when they struggle and please don’t complain when you inevitably need to replace them.  Especially if you picked ’em.  Suck it up, buttercup.   I still love you.

That’s all I got on this one. Good luck, my fellow Martians. We’re all in this together.



  • Is it possible to make a compost pile in Las Vegas? I hear it requires worms, but I don’t know if they would survive here.

    • Hi Kathy,
      You can definitely make a compost pile in Vegas and I’m happy to report we have worms all over the place here! I don’t have a pile myself but an excellent resource for help with putting one together is the Master Gardeners’ Cooperative Extension. They have an office at the corner of Paradise and Windmill or you can give them a call at 702-222-3130. Good Luck!

    • Good question, Shane. You may have just handed me my next post topic. I’ll give you a quick list of flowering plants here that are easy to find through local nurseries but know that any of our native plants will thrive in our crappy soils and require practically no water at all. Look for desert birds of paradise (Caesalpinia species), Texas sage (Leucophyllum species, specifically Lynn’s Legacy if you want a lot of flowers), Baja fairyduster (Calliandra californica), Angelita daisy (Tetraneuris acaulis), Penstemon species, and Bells (Tecoma species). Let me know if there’s anything you’re looking for specifically though. Good luck!

  • I have been very successful Just my compost pile I started with grass clippings adding all of my kitchen scraps no meat of any kind I added decomposed cow and horse manure from the farm down the street. Turned and wstered weekly. . Every year a work into garden

  • I have also been really successful with our compost. We built a container, using slats of wood and chicken wire. We started with some “browns” from our yard – branches, fallen leaves, etc. We supplement by using the leftovers from our kitchen and cooking – vegetables and fruit that are getting overripe or spoiled, leftovers from cooking, leftover coffee grinds. We keep eggshells out of the compost, but some people put them in. It’s been 15 months now and the compost looks great. We did not use any starters or helpers. Just let mother nature do its thing. Our compost is also turned and watered weekly.

    • That’s great news, Cate. Thank you for the input! The more we know about how to make it all work the better 🙂

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