I live in the middle of the chihuahuan desert, where we have clay soils in the Ph range of 8.5. I don't mind fertilizing and turning the soil, but I want to take advantage of the natural soils around me as much as possible without buying potting soils, peat moss, or composting. I've read this post, but I'm more interested in planting things I can eat.

Are there any edible plants I can grow in this type of soil (aside from the obvious prickly pear and mesquites)?

  • Did you mean that you do not want to compost yourself, or that you don't want to purchase compost? Because my first recommendation would be to start adding as much organic material as you can. It doesn't have to be anything fancy - you could just dig trenches and bury the organic waste from your kitchen. This would improve your soil over time.
    – michelle
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 19:08
  • @michelle: That's a good idea. My original intent, however, was to use the soil as is.
    – Paul
    Commented Jan 29, 2014 at 19:22
  • If Sempervivum tecotrum grows in your soil/climate, you can eat those as a vegetable. They're decent on pizza. If you lactoferment them, they get kind of a salty vanilla-type flavor. If eaten fresh, they have kind of a tart taste. You could probably grow wonderberries just fine (they'll probably grow a lot better from reseeding than the initial transplant, though). If you find someone with some, just get some berries, and throw them in your yard. The seeds can remain viable in the soil for years. Wonderberries are excellent on pizza (and in frittatas, with tomatoes). Commented May 26 at 2:25

2 Answers 2


Well, I'd still highly recommend composting. You don't have to improve the soil all at once, but most common edibles just have not evolved to grow in poor soil - they've been bred over generations and generations to be pampered a bit. I'm not sure what your motivation is for choosing fertilizer over compost, but you'll actually be kinder on your native soil by composting than by adding fertilizer.

That said, I live in a very different climate than yours (Upper Midwest) and have way more rainfall, but I do have alkaline clay. The plants that do best in areas of my soil that I've not improved yet are herbs - mints, thyme, oregano, sage, chives, winter savory and dill are all very happy without any changes to the soil. French sorrel also does great and can be used as a vegetable. Kale would be worth trying - it comes up happily in my garden paths where the soil is poor.

Beyond that, I think I'd see if there are any old-time gardeners in your area who save seed from their own gardens. You're more likely to find strains that do well in your native soils and climates if you can find seed that has been selected for it. Good luck!

  • You're probably right. I guess I was just looking for an "easy way out" of the effort into composting. But if I really want it, I'll just have to put the extra effort into it.
    – Paul
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 15:41
  • I get it! And composting can sound very daunting if you want to do it "right". The thing is, it doesn't have to be that much work. My grandmother simply dug her kitchen scraps into holes between the rows in her garden - and the plants did great. I do the same because it works fine and doesn't require me to maintain a compost pile.
    – michelle
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 18:39

One word, Pomegranate. But you probably already knew this. I do actually grow fruit trees in soil exactly like yours in central coast of California .. hard clay pH 8.3. Amend with lots of copper and boron and wash in with lots of vinegar in water once or twice a year - there's one fig that is much tougher and better tasting than all the rest for growing here "violette de bordeaux" it will grow as a large bush, it does not do well pruned as a tree. epsom salts are also appreciated since there's not much Mg in these soils, nothing green to decompose. Apples and Plums seem to do the best as far as fruit. Apples love clay.

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