You seem to be aware of the challenges that you face with caliche soils. Such soil presents a difficult set of circumstances in trying to grow a lawn. Common problems with caliche soils include the facts that they can create an impermeable caliche layer that can prevent water from draining properly through the profile, that they can foster an accumulation of salts in the profile, that they can limit root depth, that they contain a high soil pH, that they prevent nutrient uptake, etc. All of these issues may not be easily solved and can cause significant issues when trying to grow lawn grass.
Lawn grasses typically will grow well in a soil pH range of 6-7.5. Caliche soil can create unfavorable pH for lawn grass growth. The quality of caliche soils can vary widely, so you may want to complete soil tests to determine your specific soil conditions and determine the best plan forward.
You're on the right track with your approach to amending the soil. Proper soil amendment is often necessary to create a proper soil medium for turfgrass growth. Understandably, as you note, it may be impractical to amend the soil over the entire yard.
While no lawn grass will grow well in caliche conditions without proper soil amendment, it has been suggested that buffalograss may have a higher tolerance for these conditions and may be a good choice depending on your location. If your preference is for bluegrass, fescue, or Bermudagrass, 12-18 inches of soil amendment may be required. The soil test will provide you with good information to aid your decisions. No matter what species you select, proper maintenance will be paramount since growing conditions will not be ideal.
Source: the lawn care experts at John Deere.
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