Are you gardening on chalky soil? … if so you might be interested in today’s post which is all about what plants you can plant on chalky soil.
I used to think I couldn’t have the garden of my dreams if I had chalky soil. What plants would I be able to grow ? … would they be boring and uninteresting? … would I even be able to grow any soft fruit ?
Now … after 4 years of trial and error I’ve discovered how wrong I was to think I couldn’t have the garden of my dreams. I’m fortunate to have created what I think is a beautiful and productive garden on what is essentially thin, weak, chalky soil.
I’ve also been able to grow a few acid loving plants along the way … by adopting a slightly different strategy.
How do you know if you have chalky soil?
The soil tends to be dry and full of stones … and if you turn over the soil you can see tiny lumps of chalk on the surface. Sound familiar? … if so don’t worry as there are still simply loads of wonderful plants for us to enjoy.
When I first moved to Blackbirds I bought a soil testing kit from the local garden center. I followed the instructions and mixed the little tablet that came with the kit with some water … then added a sample of soil to the mixture.
After a shake the sample turned a murky dark green colour, which basically meant my soil was Alkaline.
I also took samples from other areas of the garden to see if the chalk was isolated to certain areas … but they all produced the same result. It was pretty conclusive … I would be gardening on chalk from now on.
There is a cheaper alternative to the soil testing kits. Try adding regular vinegar to a handful of soil. If there is chalk present the soil will react by starting to fizz.
Is chalky soil bad for plants?
I guess the short answer is no …. well not all plants anyway. The thing about chalky soil is it tends to drains really fast which is not ideal for moisture loving plants like runner beans, broad beans, peas, or evergreens.
If you want to improve the general structure of your soil and retain more moisture then add barrow loads of compost to the soil.
I’ve never actually managed to change the PH value of my soil yet, other than maybe by a point or two, but perhaps if we continue adding compost for the next 5 – 10 years it might eventually have an effect.
So what DOES grow well on chalky soil?
That’s an easy one to answer … I just need to wander round my garden or pull out a few pics from the last 4 years to see what grows well on my chalky soil.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but these are the plants that do consistently well in my garden year after year.
- Grape Vines
What should I avoid growing on chalky soil?
Basically any plant that hates growing on or near to lime like the gorgeous Rhododendron above.
“But I want to see the gorgeous rich, dark lush growth of a Chamelia in the garden”.
Well we can … but it is going to need an alternative strategy if they are to remain healthy and produce those amazing flowers. I plant my mine in a large 20″ pot filled with regular organic compost mixed with a sprinkling of bone meal.
You don’t need to buy expensive Ericaceous compost … instead buy the cheaper “4 BAGS FOR THE PRICE OF 3” deals at your local garden center … or use your own home grown compost mixed equally with garden center bought compost.
Above all try to avoid mixing any of the existing soil from the garden with the compost! (as I did once) as you’re simply introducing lime back in to the compost mix. Keep it lime free is my advice and you won’t go far wrong.
How do I improve my chalky soil?
Chalky soil doesn’t retain compost for long unfortunately. I add loads in January and again at the end of September. The more organic matter you can add the better.
Should I get rid of my chalky soil?
… if it were only that easy.
I’ve tried all sorts of methods to remove the chalk from my garden, but every year it comes back with renewed vengeance! The best thing is to live with it and choose alkaline loving plants or alternatively build raised beds.
If you plan to make a raised bed for your shrubs and/or vegetables I’d advise making it at least 9″ inches deep so the plants are well above soil level and the roots can’t grow down into the chalky soil.
Back fill with imported top soil and compost.
Also if possible try to avoid building the raised beds directly onto the soil. If you have no choice then best to create a barrier between the bed and the soil using a double layer of garden membrane on the bottom.
Anything else I should know about gardening on chalk?
Yep … it’s actually not as bad as it seems and with a little ingenuity and careful selection of plants you can have a wonderful garden full of lovely plants, as well as an abundance of fruit and veg.
My own advice if you’re gardening on chalk?
I’ve spent the last 4 years working out exactly what I can and can’t grow and I’ve devised strategies for dealing with it … but one thing is for sure, It’s enabled me to grow some beautiful plants at Blackbirds.
In summary …
- Accept the conditions and adapt accordingly.
- Grow plants that do well on chalky soil and avoid those that don’t.
- Grow your acid loving plants in pots and fill with regular organic compost, but avoid sinking the pots into the soil as the lime will seep into the pot.
- Remember the golden rule of gardening which I’ve read and heard many times …. if you want to be successful with plants provide the right conditions for the right plant in the right place.
- Last but definitely not least … buy yourself a blackboard for the potting shed … you’ll never be without chalk that’s for sure!
The weather has been good to us in Hampshire this weekend and my daughter has come to stay for a few days which is lovely.
Hope you found this post useful, if so please feel free to pass it around.
Have a great week!