What to plant in chalky soil – 8 top tips for growing a luscious garden with chalky soil

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Chalky soil areas are common across Britain. Areas with chalky soil will often have hard water and will struggle to grow acid-loving plants. High alkaline levels in chalky soils can be troublesome for some gardeners, but simply adapting to the environment will help you grow a beautiful garden.

Chalky soils are widely distributed across Britain.

These soils are shallow, stony and free-draining.

Any organic matter can decompose rapidly which makes them difficult to keep fertile.

Often plants in these types of soils will have poor growth and yellowing leaves as a result of being unable to absorb manganese by their roots.

How do you know if you have chalky soil?

Chalky soils vary greatly and can appear as gravelly type soil to clay-like.

The clay-like aspect may be a result of finely divided calcium carbonate which makes it a poor environment for plant growth.

In situations where true clay is present, nutrient levels are likely to be higher and therefore the capacity to hold water is improved.

Chalky soils can be light or heavy but will be made up of calcium carbonate and be very alkaline, meaning a pH of around 7.1 to 8.0.

In addition, if you place soil froths in a jar of vinegar and it contains free calcium carbonate or limestone, you have chalky soil.

Another sign of chalky soil will be lumps of visibly chalk, white stones or large sharp flints which split easily.

These soils are often shallow, but where deep, they can be moisture-retentive and support a wide range of plants.

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What should you plant in chalky soil?

Chalky soils offer a challenge to the budding gardener – but there is no need to fear, all you need to do is opt for plants which thrive in alkaline conditions.

The most important first step when planting with chalky soil is to establish how deep your topsoil is.

Some plants may tolerate alkaline soil conditions on shallow soils over chalk, but others will not.

Topsoil may need to be brought in to make planting possible in some cases.

The top 10 plants best suited to chalky soil include:

  • Californian poppies (Eschscholzia californica)
  • Weigela
  • Gypsophila paniculata
  • Madonna lily (Lilium candidum)
  • Wallflowers (Erysimum cheiri)
  • Crown imperial (Fritillaria imperialis)
  • Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)
  • Philadelphus
  • Peony
  • Black elder (Sambucus nigra)

The best tips to remember when planting into chalk are:

  1. Break up your chalk to a depth of 30 inches so plant roots can spread out and establish properly
  2. If you are bringing in new soil, add plenty of well-rotted organic matter
  3. Smaller plants can establish themselves more quickly than mature specimens
  4. Watering is essential – you should make sure to water well for longer than with other soil types as plants in chalky soils are prone to drying out.
  5. You should use mulch in a bid to conserve moisture.
  6. Wet and chalk soils may become sticky and unworkable, but can often be cultivated soon afterwards without serious damage.
  7. Mediterranean and prairie plants should grow well in chalky soils
  8. Acid-loving plants will struggle in chalky soils.

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