Caliche and Hardpan

      A common misconception when digging in the High Desert is that all hard to dig dirt is caliche. Caliche is not the only contributor to the back-breaking work you’ll have to do to landscape your yard. Hardpan is extremely compacted soil that can become even harder after construction equipment compresses it. 

    To determine whether you have caliche or hardpan you can view the color. Caliche is a light cream color and hardpan is typically the same color as the surrounding dirt. You can also soak the suspect soil and continue to dig after it has soaked. Caliche will not soften up and allow more digging regardless of a good soaking, hardpan on the other hand, will allow you to dig a few inches deeper as it slowly soaks. 

   The solution for hardpan is to slowly soak and continue to dig to the desired depth and width for the requisite planting. Caliche’s solution is less simple. There are several options depending on your situation. 

    1. Break up the caliche with a jackhammer, pick, or “San Angelo Bar”

    2. Create “chimneys” 3-5 ft. from the root ball to allow drainage through the caliche (retest drainage afterwards)
    3. If breaking through isn’t an option, you can mound 2 ft. of soil onto the planting site and to where the roots will eventually grow. Roots can grow up to 4 times beyond the mature canopy and this can make this a significant project if planting larger plants or trees

    4. Simply moving your planting site is a great option if that eliminates caliche and is available as an option