If you are gardening in the high desert you are dealing with very sandy “soil”, usually containing small pebbles and rock chips.  This is the stuff that swirls through the air, forms a “dust devil” and stings your skin if you get caught in it. Underneath this layer, and often shallower than you would like is solid rock. Do not despair! Sandy soil is easier to amend than clay and you can do it!

If you are following the Build It steps your garden area should be taking shape now. I have learned over the years that when working on a large project it is beneficial to pause from time to time. Call it the wisdom of age but when I rush forward I almost always regret it. Living with something for a few days will point out changes you may want to make. Light will fall differently not only on different days but at different times of day. Something nagging in the back of your mind will finally become clear. Your mood may change. So take my advice and take five! And no doubt you are exhausted and a rest is in order.

You will want to bring in new soil for your garden beds. You do not have to bring in “black gold” however you do want decent soil that is weed free. Look for local ads that say “Clean Fill”; often septic system companies will sell a truck load for a reasonable price.  How much you need obviously depends on the number and size of your beds, whether or not you want to edge those beds and the height you would like. I recommend a 6” to 12” layer of new dirt.


You will most likely be ordering this dirt by the cubic yard. Remember your math!

Length x width x height = volume

If you measured in feet (instead of yards) divide by 27.

You will be amending this soil from the start and continually throughout the garden’s life. High desert soil is very porous, water will run right through so I feel there is no need to dig your new soil into the old on a large scale.  You will be melding the two every time you plant and that is sufficient.

Compost is a must. It is rich in the nutrients your plants need and helps soil retain its moisture. On top of your new soil you will want to add several inches of compost. I use either steer manure or chicken manure compost. I buy cubic foot bags at Home Depot for $2.87 per bag (2023). Homemade is great too and as you will be adding more every year this would be another project to add to your arsenal. Dig it in and do not scrimp.

I add fertilizer and other amendments after the plants are in.

Practical advice from a home gardener

I am Deborah Valiquet – artist and obsessive gardener. Here you will find my advice for creating a garden oasis in the high desert. I’ll share my experiences – successes and failures over the last 10+ years. 

Even if your garden isn’t in the high desert you will find lots of valuable information here. Let’s dig in!


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