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, uh, kind of low organic matter, guys. Try to imagine how you’d look and feel if only 1% of your diet actually contained nutrients. Probably not so hot after a very short while.  I mean, 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 and I don’t even know why you’d want to try.

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 your health and looks would take a quick hit. That’s all I’m saying. You’ll never convince me otherwise and I’d love to see you try.

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. Admittedly, I’ve 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.


    1. 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.


    1. 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.


    1. 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.


  1. 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.



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