Choosing plants to grow in chalky soil.

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Plants for Chalky soil

 

 If you Garden in the South East (the White Cliffs of Dover) you will know you have mostly lime rich chalky soil, it is dry, stony and low in nutrient, but by choosing the right plants, species that are naturally adapted to these environments like our own wildflowers growing in the meadows of the South Downs and the Mediterranean flowers and shrubs that are at home in chalky soil, lovely gardens have been created on chalk.

 For those of us not sure what type of garden soil we have, a simple soil test will point us in the right direction. 
We then have choices, spend a fortune trying to change the chalky soil in our garden, or grow what will grow. If you want to grow lime-hating plants like rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas and heathers and you have chalky soil, grow them in containers filled with ericaceous compost


Three types of plant that grow well in Chalky soil

The types of plant I know will grow well in Chalky soil are:

  1. Our own native wildflowers such as poppies, cornflowers and chamomile grow well in chalky soils. 
  2. Plants that originated from the American chalk prairies like Echinacea, Lisianthus and Rudbeckia
  3. Mediterranean herbs like lavender, rosemary, bay and fennel, all love chalk soils and sunny spots.

Other Chalk loving Hardy perennials to be mixed with the plants I have mentioned above too create a natural chalk garden. 

 

Androsace lanuginosa Rock jasmine, Aster amellus 'King George' Aster,  Aster x frikartii 'Monch' Aster, Bellis perennis 'Pomponette' Bellis daisy, Bergenia cordifolia 'Purpurea' Elephant's ears,  Blechnum spicant Hard fern,  Briza maxima Greater quaking grass,  Buglossoidespurpurocaerulea Gromwell,   Campanula takesimana 'Elizabeth' bellflower,

entranthus ruber var. coccineus Red valerian, Cephalaria gigantea Giant scabious, Cerastium tomentosum Snow-in-summer,  Chelone obliqua Turtle head,  Clematis tubulosa 'Wyevale' Clematis,  Coreopsis verticillata 'Moonbeam' Tickseed , Crocosmia 'Lucifer' Crocosmia,  Deschampsia cespitosa 'Goldtau' Tussock grass,  Bleeding heart,  Dryopteris filix-mas Male fern. 

 

There are several more wildflowers that will grow and thrive in chalk   soil wildflowers grow in

Things to know about gardening on Chalky soil

 

Identifying chalky soil 

Chalky soils range from gravelly to clayey in appearance and can be light or heavy, but are largely made up of calcium carbonate and are very alkaline (they have a pH of 7.1-8.0)  To test for lime in the soil fill a jam-jar with vinegar and drop some soil in, if it froths it contains chalk or limestone and is lime rich. 

 

The problems with gardening on chalky soil.

  • It is often full of stones and can be severely dry in summer
  • It is poor in nutrients as both manganese and iron can become unavailable to plants 
  • Chalky soil is shallow and light, but will make it easier to cultivate than clayey soil.
  • Can't grow acid-loving plants like camellias and rhododendrons unless you are prepared to grow them in containers.

Good things about chalky soil

  • Hardly ever floods, Because the land made up off chalky soil is mostly elevated and the chalk is porous.
  • Chalky soil warms up quickly in spring.
  • With good manuring and fertilising it can be made moderately fertile and ideal for growing a wide range of plants.
  • Mediterranean and prairie plants like chalky soils and grow well in them.

How to improve chalky soil.

My advice would be to make the most of what you've got, or move home to London on clay, but if you want to spend money and time, here are a few things you can do;

  • Dig in plenty of organic matter from your compost heap to help improve moisture retention and humus levels in the soil. Also, mulch plants with organic matter to conserve moisture
  • Chalk and limestone sub-soils are usually deeply fissured so tree and shrub roots will find moisture, but it may be necessary to break up the sub-soil to get sufficient depth for woody plants. 
  • Grow green manure such as clover and vetch to help fix nitrogen in the vegetable garden, borders and lawns.