It is essential to consider soil characteristics when establishing vegetation in arid lands. In this study, the redundancy analysis (RDA) ordination method was used in this study to evaluate the habitats of Halocnemum strobilaceum, Limonium iranicum and Tamarix passerinoides growing in the Sejzy region, east of Isfahan. The study area was stratified into six ecologic-floristic complexes. Stratified random sampling was then employed to collect soil and vegetation data from 1-ha quadrats on nine sites. The soil samples were analysed to determine the characteristics of the soil in which the three species grew and to examine the soil profiles up to a depth of 2 m. Soil analyses revealed that high amounts of gypsum, silt, clay, saline, alkali and sulphate in the soil constituted a favourable habitat for Halocnemum strobilaceum. However, the per cent of silt and sulphate concentration in deep layers were negatively correlated with the growth of this species. Evaluation of the L. iranicum habitat revealed that the amounts of carbonate and CCE in the topsoil were positively correlated with the establishment and growth of the species but salinity and alkalinity were negatively correlated. The primary soil characteristics that positively influenced T. passerinoides included the presence of organic matter and bicarbonate ions in the soil layers and the total Ca and Mg content of the topsoil. However, Na was negatively correlated with Tamarix species. Determination of the soil characteristics that are associated with each of these xerophytic species can be used to determine which species is suitable for rehabilitating degraded sites in the study area. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.