May 12th, 2007

Zanthan Gardens
The pile in the driveway has doubled in size since I took this photo. I’m still trying to get it out of the lawn.

Angelina (of fab Dustpan Alley fame) asked me what caliche is. As it turns out, I’m not actually sure that I’m using the correct term but I refer to the yellow hardpan layer of clay that’s beneath our more benevolent blackland prairie clay as caliche. It’s common in all the places I’ve lived in the southwest US. My mother grew up in New Mexico and that’s what she called it. Maybe it’s just hardpan, which my online dictionary defines as “a hardened impervious layer, typically of clay, occurring in or below the soil and impairing drainage and plant growth.”

The University of Arizona has an informative article on conquering home yard caliche. In it they describe it as, “a layer of soil in which the soil particles have been cemented together by lime (calcium carbonate, CaCO3). Caliche is usually found as a light-colored layer in the soil or as white or cream-colored concretions (lumps) mixed with the soil.”

Yep. That sounds just like the awful stuff that I have been fighting all week to keep out of my garden.

Zanthan Gardens
When damp, the texture is like brown sugar.

Zanthan Gardens
When you walk on it, caliche flattens and hardens like cement. Can you make out the footprints?

Zanthan Gardens
When it dries out, caliche forms clods as hard as rocks.

by M Sinclair Stevens

2 Responses to post “Caliche”

  1. From Julie (Austin):

    Thanks for this informative — and iillustrative — post.

    My mother grew up in Knickerbocker, Texs, near San Angelo, and she and all her family have always used the word “caliche.” “Hardpan” is new to me, and a fascinating term.

    One other feature of caliche–

    On the road up to the house, there used to be a small handpainted sign.



  2. From Dawn (Austin):

    Oh dear! I see why you’d want to keep that out of your garden. Yikes!

    I grew up with the word ‘hardpan’ instead of ‘caliche’. We had plenty of hardpan on the farm of my youth in the Ozark mountains. I remember my mother digging compost and manure deep into her big veggie garden to combat the hardpan. It wasn’t easy, but it did seem to work well.

    Good luck with your continued building progress.