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101 Complete guide on desert soil and it uses

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Desert soil:

Desert is a landscape which cannot be cultivated. Deserts consist of barren land that is not suitable as a residence for living beings including plants, animals and human beings. Deserts are categorized on the basis of precipitation that falls and some other things like temperature, atmosphere and climate changes. There are some cold regions where little precipitation falls, those are called polar deserts or cold deserts. All over, deserts occupy 33% of the total land area of the universe.

When talking about a desert soil, it develops under the sparse vegetation areas, in warm and dry climate and the calcareous and hardpan layer beneath, is covered with light color soil. Desert soils are only suitable for cultivating rare plants. If you ever experience living in a desert, you will come to know that trying to convert it into a fertile land is nothing but craziness. You cannot fight with nature.

Rather, you should only cultivate plants that are favorable with the climate changes in the desert and with the desert soil.  This is mostly because two important substances that affect the soil are water and organic nutrients which are present in plants. And both of them are absent in the desert so the formation of soil is totally different.

Vital Points

  • Desert soils are a strong source of gypsum and they cover large arid areas in India, mostly western and northwestern areas, lying between Indus river and Aravalli mountain.  
  • This Soil are not the same in all deserts. It varies from place to place and the origin of desert. Some deserts have desert soil which is sandy in texture, while some of them have a sticky clay layer on the top. Some deserts also form brick red, gray or brown colored soil. Or sometimes, desert soil is covered with a layer of small rocks. Interesting thing about desert soils is that, no matter what form they are in now, it didn’t just happen. They took thousands of years to form the soil in this form and texture.
  • Deserts are usually known as hot and dry regions. Though, not all of them are the same. Deserts originated in the south pole, the Antarctic continent is a dry polar desert. Though it doesn’t snow very often here and moisture level is really low, these deserts are likely to suffer from flash floods, which is exactly the reason behind the formation of these beautiful colored rocks and dunes in deserts.
  • Aridisols is common name for dessert soil which means dry soils. But there are extremely hot regions in the Sahara and Australia where the soil is known as Entisols. Which means that the soil is too dry to form a new soil horizon. Reason behind them could be those flash floods we already discussed. They usually occur in spring.

Characteristics of desert soils:

The rare characteristics of desert soils are mostly all due to the two main attributes: absence of water and organic matter that’s present in plants. Which means that no chemical changes in weather can happen here, or just a little. Another thing about the desert is the big temperature fluctuations during day and night, like frost, sedimentation and erosion, which causes a breakdown of rocks into sand layers. Due to low moisture, and very little rainfall, most of that soil lacks the organic material and microorganisms, which happen to form a packed and hard soil layer known as desert pavement.

Desert soils are sometimes rich in salt which affects the environmental welfare and agricultural production after the salinization. Which is accumulation of water soluble salts in soils to determine the impact of soil on agricultural production.

Desert soils are usually just a little adaptive from parent material. Mostly, it is stated that typical soil is not even developed in deserts. Desert soils are usually dry, known as Aridisols, and the rest of them are differentiated by few other categories. Like soils with clay, and soils without clay. Rarely are they differentiated by mollisols and vertisols. Mollisols are solids with Dark A horizon and vertisols are cracking clay soils.

Desert Soil & Water

Soils in deserts react differently towards water and rainfall. Which is why they store water inputs for a short time and the ability of water towards the regulation process is modified. Regulation process includes infiltrations and redistribution of water. This water distribution is very helpful as it gives space to patchy plants production which would be impossible in other circumstances because typical desert soil does not allow so and little rainfall would not even reach through. So this sparse plant growth makes water distribution really important as this water distribution is more helpful and useful rather than precipitation. 

Polar desert soils are known as Haploturbels. They usually are formed on sandy or gravelly landscapes. Polar desert soil formation is totally different from usual deserts. It is confined to open-textured material beneath which is a dry permafrost. The organic matter availability in polar deserts is usually less than even 1% but due to the Vascular plant covers, it increases in some areas.

Hot desert soils are formed in extreme environments and they belong to the regions that have extreme environmental behavior. They have soluble constituents and they are non-flushing in nature. Pedogenic studies occurring for hot desert soils describes the physical, chemical, biotic and abiotic nature of soils in a better way.


Desert soils might not be suitable for all kinds of living beings and plants but they still have many microorganisms that allow moss, algae, lichens and bio crust to form. Which means, hot desert soils are also very fertile, the only reason living beings don’t survive is less rainfall which doesn’t exceed the limits and insufficient to create enough moisture. Most of you might know the well-known plants like cactus and shrubs that grow in the desert as they don’t need a lot of water, whenever it rains, it makes desert bloom.

As we already discussed, desert soils are very fertile and they can grow a lot of food including fruits and vegetables if irrigated and maintained properly. The central valley of California is a hub to grow a lot of fruits and vegetables. But when it comes to the desert, flood irrigation might not work all the time, because desert soil makes flood water evaporate quickly, which leaves the layer of salt over the soil. This is called Salinization. And this is the reason why many plants could not survive salty soil and water.

Climate that makes desert soil prone to floods:

desert soil

The extreme changes in temperature of desert makes desert soil not suitable for most of the plant species.

In day time, the temperature could rise up to 40˚c, whereas, at night it could drop down to 0˚c, which is one of the reasons why life couldn’t resist the atmosphere of the desert.

Seasons in the desert could sound funny as there are two distinct seasons, summer and winter where temperature could be between 30-40˚c in summers and 20-30˚c in winters. And the climate is extremely dry as well.

Desert soils are really dry which is why they soak up the water really quickly and evaporate it, even if it rainfalls, which leaves the salt behind. Desert soils look sand, rocky and crusty due to their dry nature. Only plants and animals that are adaptive to dry and hot atmospheres could survive here.

Uses and benefits of desert soils:

Desert soils might look sandy and gravelly, it might appear as it could be of no use due to such dry, hot and exhausting climate changes. But desert soils could be extremely helpful if you build them healthy they could benefit you in many different ways. Desert soils in arid and semi-arid environments could be maintained in a healthy way which will lead to a healthy yard, healthy trees and healthy food. Let’s take a look at different uses of desert soils:

Desert soils are useful for shrub production which could be used by goats and sheep. Some of the desert soils grow some shrubs and plants after rainfall, which can be utilized as a food for cows and goats.

Some deserts are also a source of feeding ground for ranchers. Like 20-25 hectares could be used to feed some goats or one cow.

Different kinds

Desert soils are not all of the same kind. Different deserts all over the world have different kinds of soils. And all of them have different attributes and different categories of uses. Most usual types of desert soils are Aridisols and Entisols.

Aridisols are dry soils, which have less organic content and they are usually a ground for shrubs and drought-adaptive plants. Most of the deserts all over the world have Aridisols.

The other one is Entisol, which means dry soil. Though all desert soils are dry, this one only has one thing that makes it different from others. Soil horizon is absent in Entisols. Where other desert soils have multiple layers of soil, Entisols are mostly underlain by a huge amount of Horizon A.

Desert soils have very less rainfall, and less amount of stored water due to the dry nature of soils, which soak water and evaporate quickly. Which is why, these soils have less salt that make them suitable for the growth of desert plants. Desert soils, therefore, due to less rainfall and storage of water, hold a lot of nutrients, and are good for agricultural purposes if a proper irrigation system is provided.

Home to rare species:

Desert soils are home to rare and strange groups of animals and plants. Those plants and animals have adaptive behavior towards dry and hot atmospheres and they don’t tend to survive at many different places. Those plants have special features that make them adaptive towards desert soils. They have thick waxy kinds of leaves and large roots. Also some of those plants have a large water storage system, which makes them grow in dry soil of deserts.

Animals that are adaptive towards desert soils have such behavior and physical features, which let them survive in hot and dry desert. For example, jackrabbit whose long ears are for heat regulation, or spadefoot toad, who hibernates in driest months and all other insects and amphibians that are likely to live in dry and hot places like deserts. Some nocturnal animals also take advantage of cold nights in deserts.

Tropical and subtropical desert soils:

Subtropical soils are less humid, dry in nature and have extreme weather fluctuations. Sandy soils in subtropical deserts are sort of the soils found in tropical deserts.

The sandy soils in tropical deserts have less than 18% clay and at least 68% sand and they go out of structure and hard when dry. Desert soils are hard to cultivate but these kinds of soils make it almost impossible.

Though tropical sandy soils are not suitable for cultivation, other tropical soils that lack nutrients and by applying nitrogen, those soils can make the production of rice crops possible.

Semiarid desert soils:

Semiarid deserts are cold deserts where temperature doesn’t go any higher than 100˚F and thus they are suitable for cactus growth and many other plants including brittle bushes, catclaw, bur sage and mesquite which gives shelter to small animals living in deserts.

Polar desert soil:

The polar desert soils are different in nature. Usually 15-26 cm of rainfall occurs in polar deserts. They don’t have a soil horizon because most of the soil is frozen. Polar desert soils could preserve anything that gets caught before the soil gets frozen.

Coastal desert soils:

Coastal desert soils usually tend to have average temperature like cool winters and warm summers, and receive usual amount of rain like other deserts, which is 8-13 cm. but the good thing about coastal desert soil is that they are rich in nutrients and contains enough salt which make the growth of different medicinal plants possible. Those plants include salt bush, black sage and rice grass.

Final thoughts:

Deserts look like an infinite sea of sand. Which appears to be of no particular use. But reading this guide, you will get to know the interesting facts about desert soils and different benefits of different kinds of desert soils. Nothing in this world is created without cause. Mother nature has a cause for everything that’s present in the universe. Desert soils are of great importance and if taken seriously and put some effort, they could be of much more benefit. 

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