Growing and Gardening in Sandy Soil


sandy soil

As promised the last time we discussed the 5 different types of soil, we’re discussing the most effective ways of gardening in sandy soil in this post.

We’ve noted before that sandy soil drains quickly, and as a result, plants aren’t given enough time to absorb nutrients. It goes without saying that sandy soil isn’t much of a welcoming media for plant life—save maybe weeds, which my own sandy garden has plenty of, and plants that can stand missing water baths for long periods of time.

If you’re lucky enough to have sandy soil in your area, don’t despair. It’s a problem that’s easily solved. It needs work more than other soil types but if done right, improving sandy soil could be one of your gardening trophies. We’ll tell you how.

Organic Matter in Sandy Soil

The important thing to remember with sandy soil is that organic matter is essential to retaining water and nutrients for plants. It improves soil texture by settling between the large particles of and plugging the spaces in sandy soil.

A one-time application of organic matter won’t ensure fertile ground for succeeding years, save for lawns, which are amended at the time of construction.

For gardens and plots with sandy soil, you need to add humus yearly, several months ahead of the planting season—in a series of applications. This will allow the soil to stabilize and be colonized by beneficial microorganisms like ecto and endo mycorrhizae needed by 95% of all plant life.

The best source of organic matter for sandy soil is green manure, fast growing plants that are just as quick to rot. Such plants like clover, vetch, oats, young weeds or plants, and nettles of any kind– tilled and turned over–enhance the soil with necessary plant food. Other sources of green manure also include poultry manure (sans bedding), peat moss, compost, old sawdust, sod, straw, native peat and other garden refuse.

The Extension Laboratory at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst advises an application rate of green manure at six to seven cubic yards per 1,000 square feet. That’s about a 2-inch coating of organic matter spread across the topsoil or about 5-6 inches of total surface soil when mixed.

The soil amendment must be methodically integrated by spading, forking or plowing in to allow it to settle for several months before sowing or planting.

If there’s no time or money is tight for a one-time amendment, targeted application of organic matter can be done on flower beds, vegetable gardens and the immediate root zone of shrubs and trees.

Mulching Sandy Soil

Mulches help the soil retain water during hot, dry seasons. In sandy soil, apply mulch after transplanting and when the plants are all ready growing.

A layer of mulch 2 inches deep could also be applied annually, in late autumn when plant growth has stopped, particularly for perennials and shrubs.

watering plants

Watering Sandy Soil

Since sandy soil is a poor medium for water storage, watering plants more frequently and at shorter intervals will go a long way in keeping soil moist. Soaker hoses and drip irrigation systems have shown best results and more frugal use of water for this soil type.

For water-hungry plants like tomatoes, one trick that you could do when planting them in sandy soil is to bury pine logs approximately three feet beneath it. When the wood breaks down, it’ll slow down water drainage. At the same time, the decayed matter adds nutrients to the soil.

Ideal Plants for Sandy Soil

Of course, the best way to growing in sandy soil is still in planting sand-loving or dry condition-tolerant plants. Here’s a list:

  • Trees: eastern white pine and red cedars.
  • Common shrubs: Japenese barberry, Siberian pea shrub, flowering quince, gray dogwood, common smoke tree, and privets.
  • Ornamental vines: trumpet vine, Oriental and American bittersweet, winter creeper, trumpet and Hall’s Japanese honeysuckle, and hardy grapes.
  • Blooms: blanket flower, California poppy, cleome, crape myrtle, and lavender.
  • Other plants: artemisia, euphorbia, oregano, perennial flax, Russian sage, Rosemary, thyme, and tulip.

There you have it—tips on growing in sandy soil, and the plants that love them!

Up next, we’ll be discussing clay soil so make sure you return so you don’t miss it. You can also sign up for our RSS feed by hitting that “Follow Me” button hovering on the right.

How about you? Are you working with sandy soil in your plots or gardens? Share with us what you’ve been doing to improve sandy soil and making your plants happy through the comments section below.

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4 Responses to Growing and Gardening in Sandy Soil

  1. A lot of good advice. My soil is clay, not sand, but even so I do all of my veggie gardening in raised bed, and as much of my perennials as possible in pots or raised beds as well. Thank you.

  2. I am new to Texas and rather intimidated by the soil here. It is soooooooooooo different looking than the rich, dark soil of the Pacific Northwest, where I hail from. I’ve added you to my Google Reader so I can come back and learn from your blog.


    p.s. Thanks for joining in on the Saturday Show & Tell blog carnival over at Mental Mosaic. I hope you will join in again soon! :)

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