What to use and how to ammend my soil

warriorant(Goodyear AZ)February 10, 2006

Let me introduce myself to the forum.

I have spent most of my gardening life on the East coast in Connecticut where I attended the New York Botanical Gardens program for commercial horticulture of which I am certified in.

I now live in Goodyear Arizona, having moved here back in April, 05.

Recently I took my shovel to the ground and began to start my garden here. After digging a while my gardening heart almost broke. Never have I seen (or imagined) a soil as poor as the soil I have encountered here. And in all fairness I'm viewing it as "dirt" rather than soil.

Back in CT we have a rich organic soil which is replenished by nature in the fall by tree leaves and other organic material in conjunction with spring rains.

As an addition to natures work I would each fall collect about 50 or so bags of leaves and compost them into black gold for use in the garden beds each spring. Needless to say this is not the cycle here in the desert and the soil seems incredibly poor and also seems to lack any biologicals such as earthworms and the sort for aeration and organic improvement.

I am turning to this forum for advice on how to reasonably amend my garden soil short of replacing it.

What are the best additives for general use here in Goodyear Arizona?


Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
gemfire(z9/10 AZ)

Hello and welcome,

I know what you mean about the dirt, its awful but you
can make a nice garden here, check out the link below.
You can add to what they suggest, anything that you
might put into compost. I used cardboard instead of the
newspaper, but I've let it work all winter. Also I
try to do alot of composting. If there is a landscaper in
your area you may be able to get grass clippings free.
Also APS will give you wood chips free if you are in the
area where they are trimming trees. If you have more
questions be sure to come back to gardenweb. You'll learn
alot here. Just keep asking.
Happy Gardening,


    Bookmark   February 10, 2006 at 6:40PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
warriorant(Goodyear AZ)

Thanks for the post.

How about additives like soil sulfur, ironite, gypsum! when and how should I use those? Is there something more I should use?

Also is the water from my municipality salty? There seems to be a chalky residue on my truck after I wet it down like I've never seen before. So much so that I cant really use it to hose down the windows!

    Bookmark   February 10, 2006 at 8:03PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
MaryMcP Zone 8b - Phx AZ

There is a site called hot gardens - all one word, you know what at the end. They have a section on improving desert soil. Hopfully this message makes it through GW's screening process. I tried to email warriorant privately but it looks like there's no address associated with your page.


    Bookmark   February 11, 2006 at 8:06AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
gemfire(z9/10 AZ)

Hello again,

Just have to tell you, I just dug a hole for a new rose
bush where I had done the lasagna layering. Before I
could not get my shovel 2" into the dirt, now I dug
about 2 ft with ease. The soil looks great. As far
as your questions on additives I don't think you would
need to add much as this way puts it all back the way
nature intended it to be. I can't believe it worked so
well in the time I've had it there (approx 3 months)
its not even all the way decomposed (I had to cut away
cardboard) and there were actually bugs in the soil.
I haven't seen anything but ants here in 10 years.
I'm definitely going to continue with this method in
small areas until I get my whole yard done.
Cardboard, grass clippings, chopped leaves,
steer manure, and water well once or twice a week).

Happy Gardening,

    Bookmark   February 11, 2006 at 1:49PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
warriorant(Goodyear AZ)

thanks for the info everyone. I'm going to have to try the Lasagna composting.

I got a few books from the library on gardening here in the Southwest and they said the soil here is very alkaline and sulfur might be needed to correct the OH for some plants, along with gypsum to remove the salt build up from watering the garden from tap water

    Bookmark   February 11, 2006 at 2:40PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
gemfire(z9/10 AZ)

You should come to the "Spring Plant Swap and Get Together".
You'll meet lots of nice people that have been gardening
here for years. Some bring plants to trade or give away.
You might find something you're looking for and get a lot
of useful information at the same time. It's the people
that are on this forum that live Arizona. They come from
all over to be there. Last time we had quite a nice


    Bookmark   February 11, 2006 at 4:30PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
warriorant(Goodyear AZ)

where is the swap meet held?

    Bookmark   February 11, 2006 at 6:00PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
gemfire(z9/10 AZ)

See the "Spring Plant Swap and Get Together" post
on this page.


    Bookmark   February 11, 2006 at 8:52PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
kactuskathi(9a Goodyear)

If you e-mail me I will upload a post on lazagna gardening and answer any questions I can. I live in Goodyear also.


    Bookmark   February 12, 2006 at 12:13AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I can totally relate to your post! I moved here from NH where I had beautiful gardens. When people ask what I miss about the east coast, one of the things I tell them is that I miss the dirt! LOL!

I am concentrating on container planting and square foot gardening for now, adding a little at a time because of the soil cost. Walmart has bags of steer manure for .80 for a cubic foot, so I've been mixing that with peat moss and vermiculite or sand. I have a small yard.

I am also going to check out the lasagne composting that has been mentioned here.

It's hard to believe but there are many plants that will grow in this dirt. I am trying things here that I could not grow back east, rather than trying to re-create what I had there.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2006 at 11:39AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
warriorant(Goodyear AZ)


Yes it was shocking to find the type of soil here! I sat in my yard in a catatonic state of disbelief for some time until my wife nudged me from my haze. I'm doing better now though.

I'm still frightened by the salt content that comes from my garden hose though!

    Bookmark   February 12, 2006 at 2:03PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
DrynDusty(z8 AZ)

Greetings, warriorant! I'm new to the lower dessert, myself, and hit the ground running, hoping to put my transplants into the ground quickly last fall. Whoa! The shovel clanged off the ground, the tiller bounded into the air rather than dent the surface.
We've been slowly laying out lasagna patches, and now see worms in some abundance! This week we hauled load after load of leaves, probably 30 bushels, from a neighbors yard onto the garden. Another neighbor has horses, so we'll use their manure, too. This may take some time. I'm glad the perenniel transplants are in 5 gallon buckets. Now for a good rain!

    Bookmark   February 12, 2006 at 2:36PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
warriorant(Goodyear AZ)

I found that using a "San Angelo Bar" makes digging go very fast now. What was a slow impossible process before now moves a long rather quickly with the San Angelo Digging bar. You get a good work out from the bar also!

    Bookmark   February 12, 2006 at 3:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I've had good luck with digging up the soil and replacing it with potting soil. But it's kind of expensive. Anyone know of what soil ammendments may help the soil to grow some vegetables?

    Bookmark   October 31, 2008 at 1:14AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Before preparing garden beds you will want to water the area to a depth of 12 inches. A soaker hose is great for this or you can let a regular hose trickle overnight. Then wait about 5 days before you begin digging. The soil should be moist but not sticky.

A great recipe for garden soil for flowers, herbs and vegetables is:
1/3 native soil
1/3 sand or pumice
1/3 compost, or composted mulch

You will want to till your garden beds to a depth of 12 inches which means you'll need to use about 4 inches of each ingredient and mix until you have a uniform consistency. This can be done by hand or you can use a rototiller if the area is large. You can blend in a fertilizer like ammonium sulfate at the same time.

Don't use steer manure unless you are prepared to wait several weeks while it decomposes. This process will rob nitrogen from new seedlings or transplants so it's best to use compost or composted mulch that's already broken down.

You may need to use bird netting to protect new transplants or seedlings - birds love these especially lettuce. I like to use 1/4 inch soaker tubing - the kind that has in-line emitters for my garden. I run the tubing lines about 8 inches apart in the beds and I have it hooked up to a valve so I can control how often and how long to water. If you email me privately, I can send you an illustration.

A great book on gardening in local soils is Desert Gardening for Beginners. It was written by the University of Arizona and has great planting tables for veggies, flowers and herbs in the back. It's available for $8.95 from the U of A or on line from places like Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.

Here is a link that might be useful: Desert Gardening for Beginners

    Bookmark   October 31, 2008 at 2:22PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
petzold6596(8b southern NM)

The simplest thing to do is add organic material and ONLY organic. You need nothing else other than water. Our native soil contains all the microorganisms any good soil would need. Our desert soil is hard for lack of constant moisture, so add water as you dig. Dig down about 18 inches and mix the organic material with the native soil and water and water, the little critters will take over and in a year you will have soil that rivals back east's. No need to make this more complicated than it is, the KISS principle. (keep it simple sweetheart)

    Bookmark   November 1, 2008 at 12:15AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

petzold6596: I see that you lived in Michigan. We moved there from west Texas and the clay in West Texas is a red clay. I had learned how to garden beautifully there. I live in the Flint area now and the clay is a sticky gray color with a lot of rock. I have dug a lot of beds and added topsoil, peat moss and some sand. Those beds are doing great. This year, I dug a couple of very large beds. I just finished digging them and am having trouble getting the soil broken up into small chunks. It is so sticky. My question is: Is it necessary to add the above that I mentioned or will things grow ok in the native soil if I add some organic material and water. I have access to lots of leaves in the fall that I plan to cover the beds with but I did want to plant these before winter. Should I wait and be patient? (so very hard)

    Bookmark   July 14, 2011 at 11:56PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Potting soil and basket types for Hanging Baskets
I'm planting my first hanging baskets in the White...
'Desert Museum' and 'Sonoran Emerald' Palo Verdes
The last thread on these two trees was about a year...
placement of Gasteraloe
I scored yesterday on a 1.5 gallon gasteraloe at HD....
Best place to buy trees?
I need a new queen palm and would like a palo blanco....
Bad Bad Bad
This site is not very good !!!
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™