Choosing plants to grow in chalky soil.

Three types of plant that grow well in Chalky soil

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

  1. Our own native wildflowers local to the area, 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 above to create a natural chalk garden are listed in this article. 

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

For those of us that are not sure what type of garden soil we have, This simple soil test will point us in the right direction. 
We then have three choices,

  1. Spend a fortune trying to change the chalky soil in our garden, 
  2.  Grow what will grow. Those are the plants listed in this article.
  3. 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. 

Plants for Chalky soil

 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

Need to know facts about gardening on Chalky soil

how to identify chalk 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 get 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 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.
  • Adding organic compost and manure to chalky soil can  make it 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 stay put and willing to spend a bit of time on the garden, 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.