My yard is mostly caliche. How do I get rid of it?

Cindy Craw
by Cindy Craw
Any time I want to start a garden or plant a tree, I've had to rent a jackhammer to break through the caliche and then dig all the rocks out. Some of the time, I've amended the soil by mixing in potting soil. I live in the Sonoran Desert in Tucson, Arizona. Surely there's an easier (and less expensive) way to get through it or get rid of it? Maybe there's some product I don't know about?
  11 answers
  • Janet Pizaro Janet Pizaro on Mar 09, 2017

    Unfortunately it takes a long time to break that down. You need to apply gypsum for the clay. My suggestion to you is to make portable gardens the are just as pretty with the right assortment of plants.

    • Cindy Craw Cindy Craw on Mar 09, 2017

      Thank you, William. I've read all the articles attached to your links. It looks like I am sunk. I only have about 2 or 3 inches of topsoil before I hit caliche and that caliche is a good 2 feet thick. According to one article, "...caliche still is an enormous irritant to any desert homeowner and gardener. The very thought of removing it can be daunting. Caliche is a formidable opponent in the battle for the backyard, but with the right tools, gumption, and energy, this fascinating, natural cement can be conquered by any desert homeowner." Color me daunted.

  • Cindy Craw Cindy Craw on Mar 09, 2017

    Thank you, Janet. I briefly considered raised-bed gardening, now it sounds like something I should explore.

  • Dfm Dfm on Mar 10, 2017

    i have family in el paso- they have run across the same issue. they used smaller containers for their vegg plants and gave up after the 1st yr. i would also look into

    drip irrigation methods, put your water where it's needed, with little run off. i ran across a growers catalog that sold irrigation kits, but since there is a growers supply store near by it was less expensive to go and get the supplies my self.

  • Cindy Craw Cindy Craw on Mar 10, 2017

    Thanks for the suggestion, Dfm. It's worth considering.

  • Inetia Inetia on Mar 13, 2017

    Does the stuff break up in such a way that it can be used to build retaining walls? Maybe you could excavate a section the size of your choosing and use it to build retaining walls along three edges of the excavation. Save enough materials to build the fourth retaining wall after bringing in a dump truck of topsoil to fill said excavation. Create and oasis in the raised garden while keeping the dessert setting in the rest of the yard.

    • Cindy Craw Cindy Craw on Mar 13, 2017

      Inetia, most of the time, what I end up with is a grey-white powder and small rocks with no soil mixed in. It's practically straight lime--I think. It may be calcium or cement. The rest is composed of fist-sized rocks that I pile along the back fence--which looks super ugly, but I don't know what else to do with it. I don't want to put them in the garbage bin that the city picks up; they don't want rocks in the trash. If I could afford it, I'd love to do what you suggest, but with railroad ties. I'm definitely going to have to go the raised-bed route. Thank you for your suggestion.

  • Linda Albert Linda Albert on Mar 13, 2017

    Cindy, , think of all the colorful pots you could place around your space, to draw atttention. A N Y thing grows in a pot! And they don't have to be expensive.

    I have played with multi colors of spray paint on (leftover from past years) plain white plastic pots.

    You'd be surprised what folks throw out, so very pretty basic pots, that

    look fabulous/unique, with a touch of spray paint! Try a few,, , , surprise yourself!

    even place a large one in the middle of a raised bed. For added height, I place a large empty pot upside down, and then place a flowering pot on top Of that. Instant height!

    • Cindy Craw Cindy Craw on Mar 14, 2017

      Linda, that's a really good idea. I especially like your idea to add height by using upside-down pots. Thank you.

  • Suzanne Suzanne on Mar 14, 2017

    Pelleted alfalfa horse feed can break up clay. But raised beds are really the answer . Build up on top of the hardpan or clay.

  • Nei20993083 Nei20993083 on Mar 14, 2017

    I asked friends in Las Vegas - they said scrape up the topsoil for the raised beds... and paint the caliche grey - (call it concrete!)

  • Johnavallance82 Johnavallance82 on Jul 31, 2023

    Fill raised beds with good compost!