The Dirt On Gardening In Sandy Soil


If you find that your soil is easily depleted of nutrients, has a hard time retaining water, and easy-to-grow crops are just not growing as expected, you may be gardening in sandy soil!

Too much sand in your soil can be a challenge to work with, but with the right information and preparation, you can create a thriving garden. This guide will teach you everything you need to know about gardening in sandy soil.

What Is Sandy Soil?

Soil is sandy when a sample contains 65% or more of 0.05-2 millimeter size particles of minerals such as quartz, limestone, granite, or shale and less than 15% clay or silt.

Why Is Sand Important In Soil?

Sand, along with organic matter, is one of the three main ingredients in garden soil. It’s important because it helps to aerate the soil, improve drainage, and prevent compaction.

However, sand is considered the largest particulate in soil. When sand levels in soil reach above 75%, the material becomes very hard to maintain healthy plant development.

What Does Sandy Soil Look Like?

If you wonder what sandy soil looks like, you can try this test:

  1. Take a sample of soil from an inch or so below the surface
  2. Grab and handful and dampen it with water
  3. Roll it into a tube between your hands or compress it in your palm
  4. Open your hand and inspect the sample.

Sandy soil will not roll or compress into a shape and maintain it. Instead, any slight movement will crumble the formation, and you’ll see the grainy texture.

Clay soil will stay together under pressure and have a muddy appearance.

Silty soil will hold its shape but have a more airy texture.

Loam, which every gardener dreams of attaining, will be the perfect combination of firmness that will break apart with a bit of effort.

Is Sandy Soil Good For Plants?

Pure sandy soil has a difficult time providing and holding water and nutrients that your fruits and vegetables need to flourish. The dry, acidic nature of sandy soil is best suited for plants such as certain types of root crops, roses, cacti, weeds, and grasses.

So depending on how sandy your soil is, you may not be able to successfully grow certain types of plants.

The following list of pros and cons will help give you an idea of what to expect from your sandy soil and the things that may affect plant growth.

Pros of Sandy Soil

  • Soil texture is lighter, looser, and easier to till
  • Plant roots grow readily through sand
  • Soil drains well to reduce root rot or “muddy feet”
  • Sandy soil does not compact
  • Sandy soil erodes slowly
  • The soil warms faster in spring for earlier crop plantings

Cons of Sandy Soil

  • Soil texture drains quickly
  • Does a poor job retaining nutrients
  • Sandy soil can get too hot, damaging roots
  • Sandy soil requires more water and fertilizer

Is Sandy Soil Acidic Or Alkaline?

Sandy soil is often more acidic, with a pH level below 6.5. Most plants prefer a neutral soil pH level, around 6.5 to 7.0.

This can make it difficult for plants to take up nutrients from the soil, as well as increasing the risk of root damage from herbicides and other chemicals.

Liming your soil is one way to raise the pH level and create a more hospitable environment for plants. This process involves adding lime, or calcium carbonate, to your soil.

The lime reacts with the sandy soil to create a more alkaline environment, which can help to improve plant growth.

Additionally, liming can help to increase the level of nutrients in the soil, making it more fertile and better able to support plant life.

High amounts of sand in your soil may indicate acidity and a lack of nutrients. So, having your soil tested professionally will help you know what you need to improve it for gardening and to beautify your lawn.

What Is The Best Fertilizer For Sandy Soil?

The best fertilizer for sandy soil will be a commercial slow-release granular-formulation product that provides:

  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Sulfur
  • Calcium

You can choose a plastic-coated fertilizer such as Osmocote, or a thick-layered product like a 10-10-10 all-purpose fertilizer.

Or, you can choose to go the organic route by using compost to fertilize sandy soil. You can till compost into the soil pre-planting, use it as mulch around plants, and apply it as a top dressing over lawns.

As the organic matter decomposes in the compost, it slowly releases minerals and nutrients into the sandy soil.

Applying a granular fertilizer 3-4 times a year is necessary for sandy soil, as watering and rainfall will wash the nutrients away faster than in loamy soil.

When using compost as a fertilizer, reapplication every year or growing season will create the best results.

Another great way to fertilize sandy soil is to leave grass clippings on your lawn, shred leaves and spread them over dirt or grass, or spread peat moss lightly over areas of concern.

You can use a liquid fertilizer to give an instant boost to sandy soil, but don’t expect the effects to last. Constant reapplication of liquid fertilizers gets tiresome and causes detrimental salt build-up around plant roots.

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