Type of Soil in Himachal Pradesh


Himachal Pradesh, situated in the lap of the Himalayas, has a diverse and intriguing geological landscape. The diverse terrain of the region gives rise to a wide range of soils, which are influenced by altitude, climatic conditions, and geological features. The soil in Himachal Pradesh varies from thin, bare soil of high mountains to rich, deep alluvial soil of the valleys. Its formation is affected by the altitude and climatic conditions of the region. Currently, the soil resource in Himachal Pradesh is facing massive problems due to soil erosion.

Img source: CSK HP Agricultural University

Formation of Himachal Pradesh Soils

The soils in Himachal Pradesh are a result of the weathering of sedimentary and metamorphic rocks from the formidable Himalayan ranges. Combined with the decomposition of plant and animal remains, these weathered rocks contribute to the formation of soils with distinct colors, textures, and nutrient compositions.

Soils of Himachal Pradesh

Himachal Pradesh boasts a diverse range of soils, which vary in composition depending on factors such as altitude, vegetation cover and structure. Based on altitude and climate, the soils of Himachal Pradesh can be classified into six major zones: 

i. Low-hill Soil Zone 

ii. Mid-hill Soil Zone 

iii. High-hill Soil Zone 

iv. Mountainous Soil Zone 

v. Dry-hill Soil Zone.

I. Low-hill Soil Zone

Covering elevations up to 900-1000 m above sea level, the Low-hill Soil Zone includes districts like Una, Hamirpur, Bilaspur, Kangra, Mandi, Paonta Valley, and Nahan area of Sirmaur, Kunihar area of Solan, and Bhattiyat region of Chamba districts.

Soil Characteristics:

  • Light grey to brown color.
  • Shallow depth.
  • Mainly situated along riverbanks and streams.
  • Alluvial soil with low organic matter and calcium carbonate.
  • Notably, they are calcareous in nature, with calcium carbonate content varying from 2.0 to 4.5%.
  • Sandy loam texture.
  • Carbon and nitrogen ratio of approximately 10:1.

Suitable for cultivation of:

  • Maize.
  • Wheat.
  • Rice.
  • Sugarcane.
  • Sub-tropical fruits: mango, litchi, guava, etc.

II. Mid-hill Soil Zone

Elevations ranging from 1000 m to 1500 m above sea level, the Mid-hill Soil Zone encompasses areas like Arki in Solan, Palampur in Kangra district, Pachhad and Rainka tehsil of Sirmaur, Chamba, upper Bhattiyat tehsil, lower Churah, and Dalhousie of Chamba, and Jogindernagar area of Mandi.

Soil Characteristics:

  • Podzolic soil.
  • Clayey loam texture.
  • Medium organic matter.
  • Greyish to brown soil color.
  • Varying percentages of pebbles and stones.
  • pH ranging from neutral to acidic.
  • Presence of some alluvial soil.

Suitable for cultivation of:

  • Maize.
  • Potatoes.
  • Stone fruits: peach, plum, apricot, pomegranate, etc.

III. High-hill Soil Zone

Found at elevations between 1500 m to 3000 m above sea level, the High-hill Soil Zone includes Chachiot and Karsog tehsil of Mandi, upper Shimla hills, upper areas of Pachhad and Rainka tehsil of Sirmaur, and upper parts of Churah to Chamba district.

Environmental Features:

  • Supports mixed deciduous forests and coniferous trees.

Soil Characteristics:

  • Fine texture, varying from silty loam to clayey loam.
  • Light to dark brown soil color (brown soil).
  • Thick soil layer.
  • High fertility status.
  • Slightly acidic soil reaction.
  • Soil erosion challenges.

Suitable for cultivation of temperate fruit production:

  • Apple.
  • Cherry.
  • Pear, etc.

IV. Mountainous Soil Zone

Occupying elevations from 3000 m to 6000 m above sea level, the Mountainous Soil Zone encompasses parts of Shimla, Kangra, and Kullu districts.

Soil Characteristics:

  • Silty loam to loam texture.
  • Dark brown soil color.
  • Primarily under forested areas (forest soil).
  • Not ideal for widespread agriculture.
  • Some parts successfully grow apples.
  • Slightly acidic to moderately acidic soil reaction.

Growth Environment:

  • Pine trees thrive in this soil.

V. Dry-Hill Soil Zone

Extending beyond 6000 m above sea level, the Dry-Hill Soil Zone covers Pangi tehsil of Chamba, Kinnaur, Lahaul and Spiti, and Bharmour.

Environmental Conditions:

  • Minimal monsoon rainfall.

Soil Characteristics:

  • Sandy-loam to loam texture.
  • Slightly alkaline soil reaction.
  • Deficient in nutrients: phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium, sulfur, zinc.

Suitable for cultivation of dry fruits:

  • Almond.
  • Walnut.
  • Raisins, etc.

Soil Fertility Landscape of Himachal Pradesh

To understand soil quality, it is important to go beyond its texture and explore its nutrient composition. Soil fertility is determined by a range of essential nutrients that can be classified as macro and micro elements. Both types of nutrients are crucial in shaping the agricultural potential of a region.

Macro Nutrients Unveiled (NPK Revelation)

Unlocking the secrets held within the soils of Himachal Pradesh reveals intriguing insights into macro-nutrient distribution:

Nitrogen Levels:
  • Una and Hamirpur soils lack nitrogen, requiring targeted interventions.
  • Kangra, Bilaspur, Shimla, and Sirmaur soils have moderate nitrogen, supporting sustainable agriculture.
Phosphorus Status:
  • Kangra, Una, and Shimla soils lack phosphorus, demanding specific measures.
  • Hamirpur, Solan, Kinnaur, Kullu, Mandi, and Sirmaur soils show medium phosphorus, fostering robust growth conditions.
Micro Nutrients Overview (Zinc, Calcium, Copper, Magnesium, Manganese, Iron, and More)

Zinc Status:
  • Nurpur, Jahu, Palam Valley, Chotta Bengal, Kullu, and Jwalamukhi suffer from zinc deficiency, necessitating closer attention.
Copper Levels:
  • Copper content across the state is medium, indicating stability.
  • However, zinc, manganese, and iron content are insufficient, warranting a closer examination.

Soil Challenges in Himachal Pradesh

In Himachal Pradesh, soil-related issues pose significant challenges to agriculture. The state's topography, characterized by the Himalayas, makes it susceptible to soil erosion, with approximately 58.36% of the land experiencing intense erosion, particularly in the Himalayan region. This environmental fragility contributes to Himachal Pradesh being ecologically vulnerable, as reported in August 2022.

Soil Composition and Texture

The soil texture in Himachal Pradesh ranges from silty loam to clayey loam, with dark brown color. While the soils on favorable aspects are deep, there are concerns about poor soil health and degraded soil organism habitat. Various factors contribute to soil problems, including physical, chemical, and/or biological soil disturbance, fallow periods without living roots, low biodiversity in the production system, and low or no surface plant residue cover.

Acidity of Soils 

The major problem in the state is the acidity of the soils. The districts of Kangra and Shimla, and some parts of Chamba, Kullu, and Mandi have mainly acidic soils. Due to the high levels of toxic aluminium, iron, and manganese, acidity has adverse effects on plant growth. Moreover, it leads to the low availability of vital nutrients such as calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and molybdenum. 

Lack of Nutrients 

The soils in Una and Hamirpur have low nitrogen levels, while the soils in Kangra have low phosphorus levels. Additionally, Sirmaur, Solan, and Nahan have less calcium carbonate, which is another essential mineral. All of these regions suffer from a lack of essential nutrients due to severe soil erosion.

Land Distribution and Agriculture Challenges

The size of cultivable land in Himachal Pradesh is distributed as small (58.12%), marginal (32.51%), and large (9.37%). Some areas experience poor soil quality, leading to challenges in water management, resulting in low production and income for farmers.

The Soil Testing Programme

To ensure the fertility of the soil for each season, soil samples are gathered from the farmer's field and tested in soil testing laboratories.With a commitment to empowering farmers with knowledge, the Government of Himachal Pradesh has established soil testing laboratories in every district, excluding Lahaul-Spiti. During 2010-11, two static soil testing labs were upgraded, and one mobile lab was established in Palampur in Kangra district. At present, many mobile soil testing vans and labs are operating in the state.
This initiative aims to provide farmers with Soil Health Cards, offering valuable insights into the soil status and nutrient requirements specific to their fields. Through this collaborative effort, the agricultural landscape of Himachal Pradesh is poised for sustainable growth and prosperity.

Other soil conservation methods include

  • Contour plowing: Plows land parallel to the contour of the slope. This method can reduce soil erosion in hilly areas.
  • Terrace farming: Creates level spaces on a hillside. This method can reduce soil erosion and improve water conservation.
  • Check dams: Stores excess water from heavy rains and streams for use on the farm.
  • Afforestation
  • Mulching
  • Crop rotation
  • Cover crops 
  • Conservation tillage
  • Planted windbreaks
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