The Q&A Archives: Soil Characteristics in the Desert

Question: What causes soil to be high, really high, in phosphorous and LOW in nitrogen and potash? My water is very high alkaline, DARK blue-black, on the color scale, and the soil tests about 8.5. with a barren landscape!

Answer: A pH of 8.0 to 8.5 is typical for desert soils. Desert soils are always low in nitrogen. Most desert soils have less than one-half of one percent of organic matter. There is very little leaf drop and plant refuse in the desert, as compared to a forest in the Northeast, for example, and what there is gets quickly used up. Adding organic matter will increase the nitrogen content, but it is not a one-shot fix. Organic matter is constantly being broken down and used up, so it must be added before every planting season in garden beds. As to the high phosphorous content, that's probably a characteristic of your area soils. (I live in an Arizona desert that has soil high in potassium.) For specifics check with your County Cooperative Extension office in Fallon, 111 Sheckler Rd., 423-5121.

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