Learn which plants thrive in your Hardiness Zone with our new interactive map!

Types of Soil in Deserts

By Caroline Fritz ; Updated September 21, 2017
Desert soil is amazingly diverse despite popular imagery.
desert image by Balogh Eniko from Fotolia.com

Four types of deserts exist on earth: hot and dry, cold, coastal and semiarid. Each has different types of soil depending upon where the desert is located. A desert is typically categorized as any area that receives less than 20 inches of rainfall a year, except for cold deserts, which are located in mountainous areas. Each soil type supports different plant life as well.

Hot and Dry

Hot and dry deserts, characterized by their high daytime temperatures and low nighttime temperatures, located in the United States include the deserts of the Southwest: Chihuahuan, Sonoran and the Mojave, according to the University of California Museum of Paleontology.

In both the Chihuahuan and Sonoran deserts, the thin soil contains calcium and in some places, cover a bed of limestone called caliche. As a result, there are several species of cacti that only grow in the lime-rich soil. In the Mojave desert, the soil is covered with a crust that acts as a living, biological ecosystem, complete with organisms that contribute to the health of the soil.

Cold Deserts

A cold desert is characterized by the type of its precipitation, which is mainly snow or fog, and its long winters and short summers. In the United States, the Great Basin, located in Nevada, is an example of a cold desert. The terrain consists of mountain ranges, slopes and valleys and subsequently, the soil is composed of gravel, sand, clay and, in some areas, salt from the ancient lakes that used to cover the flat land of the park, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden.

Coastal and Semiarid Deserts

Coastal deserts are found in Neotropic zones, such as South and Central America, and Nearctic, which covers North America, northern Mexico and Greenland. The amount of rainfall in a coastal desert ranges from three to five inches a year and features long, warm summers and short, cool winters according to WorldBiomes.com. The soil in these areas is sandy, porous and alkaline.

Semiarid deserts exist around the world, including in North America, South America and Africa, and feature long, warm summers, according to EarthRestorationService.org. These types of deserts receive less than two inches of rain, which falls in the winter, and the soil types include both sand and gravel.


About the Author


Caroline Fritz has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience, mainly for publications in northwest Ohio. She is currently an editor for a national technical magazine focusing on the construction industry. She has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio.