Sandy Soil: What is it exactly that makes a soil sandy? Experts identify sandy soils as those that have 18% clay and over 68% sand particles 100 cm into the soil.
Sandy soil has the distinction of being the lightest of all soils – prone to wind and water erosion and characterised by the gritty texture caused by hardly visible bits and pieces of rock that range from 0.05 to 2 mm in diameter.
Some may think that sand’s light texture makes it a suitable ‘lightening’ agent for heavier soils. But be careful: Adding a bag or two of sand on to an already heavy soil will result to an even heavier soil.
Soils high in sand particles are notoriously known for poor water retention, poor structure, high permeability, and high sensitivity to even the slightest pressure.
Sandy soil is also called “hungry soil” – referring to the soil’s demanding watering needs and the speed it dries out. It also has the distinction of being the most porous of all soil types – precisely the reason why it’s not suitable for planting unless improved upon so it retains moisture and nutrients better.
On the brighter side, sandy soil warms easily and quickly during spring, giving gardeners the opportunity to start planting earlier than usual. Not to mention it’s easy to work with – digging in and getting it to good shape won’t break your back.
In general, sandy soils are acidic, which plants love, but its lack of and difficulty holding in nutrients make it unfit for gardening.
It’s almost mandatory to enrich the ground with compost, manure, and other organic matter. The organic materials added to the soil will be broken down by the soil’s microorganisms for plants to feed and thrive from.
Planning which plants to grow well ahead of time is also recommended. Doing this and taking note of the plants’ moisture and nutrition requirements will help you determine how much amendment to add to your garden soil.
So is your soil sandy?
Sandy soil – thanks to its clearly defined physical characteristics – is easy to identify. Start by taking a handful of dry soil. Slowly drip a small amount of water onto the dirt. Knead the water through it until it feels like moist putty and squeeze it. If it feels gritty and the bits fall through your fingers, You have a sandy soil.
Sand-rich soil has 3 main problems as far as gardening is concerned.
For starters, the large and coarse sand particles provide good aeriation and drainage, but it also means water just drains away too quickly for plants to fully benefit from the moisture.
Worse however, it cannot provide good plant nutrition on its own as it usually lacks in clay particles and organic matter for plant food to hold on to – causing stunting, yellowing of leaves, poor fruit production, meager blooms, and other symptoms of nutrient deficiency.
Plants aren’t the only ones that suffer from sand’s lack of moisture and nutrients. Microorganisms too have a hard time thriving in sandy domains as they need the same moist and nutrient-rich environment that plants need to flourish – and this is a problem.
You may not see a lot at first glance but healthy soils are haven for billions of life forms that are invisible to the naked eye. These microorganisms are responsible for cycling nutrients, suppressing diseases in your garden, and more. But with sandy soil lacking the conditions for these healthy organisms to thrive, plants will miss out on the benefits they provide.
But don’t fret! Improving sandy soil is possible.
One method recommends applying about 6 inches of finer soil on top of the coarser and lighter sand particles. This allows the ground to hold more water by slowing down the drainage until the top, finer particles are nearly saturated – remedying the sand-rich ground’s inability to retain water and nutrients.
The same method is employed in making golf greens: a layer of sandy soil is piled on top of a tier of gravel. Doing so prevents incessant draining and keeps the water in the upper layer of the ground to support the growth of short-rooted grass.
READ MORE: All You Need To Know About Loamy Soil
Use Grabco’s grab hire in Chelmsford to easily obtain and transport all the aggregates needed to improve your sandy soil.
You don’t need to be golf-club-owner rich, however, to fix your garden soil. There is, in fact, a very affordable solution: Compost!
Compost is one of the key ingredients in organic gardening.
It’s characterised by a dark appearance and soil-like texture – permeating your garden with nutrients and increasing the sandy soil’s water and nutrient retention when applied, which healthy microorganisms and plants love.
Creating compost is very straightforward. Dead leaves, leftover food, manure, barks from surrounding trees – anything that’s organic (or categorised as green waste) is a good candidate. At the most basic level, it simply requires a lot of patience – just wait for the organic matter to break down into humus after a few weeks or months and that’s it!
To get started, simply apply 3 to 4 inches of compost on the entire surface of your gardening beds, and plough the compost as deep as possible into the soil to prepare it for planting. If you have a lawn that needs trimming, you can let the grass clippings just fall off the ground rather than dispose of them. Eventually, the grass clippings will decompose, feeding the soil with more organic matter.
You should also consider planting cover crops. These hard-working and hardy plants also known as green manure are very easy to plant and grow – and the returns they deliver will repay your efforts many times over.
Cover crops – like cowpeas, buckwheat, etc. – areplanted to control pests, stop the spreading of plant diseases, suppress pesky weeds, and help you build healthier soil. These plants are mixed deep into the ground just before they start to bloom – boostingtheground’s organic content.
Mulching is another soil-enriching method you should have in your arsenal. It benefits your garden in more ways than one: it increases the soil’s organic matter, complimenting the compost and cover crops.
A layer of mulch also reduces evaporation from the soil’s surface while keeping it cool, allowing microbial life to surface while providing the perfect living conditions for soil microarthropods that are essential to balance the soil’s ecosystem.
There you have it! Now there’s no excuse for not gardening in your sandy soil as you just have learned 3 methods to improve it, namely composting, cover crops, and mulching.
PROS AND CONS
What’s Nice About Sandy Soil
We’ve discussed the physical properties of sandy soil and the ways to improve it, and you may think that this type of soil is inferior compared to others. But that isn’t the case – sand-rich soil has definite advantages, many of which are afforded by the same “weak” physical characteristics it gets flak for.
Waterlogging – a huge problem for gardens in heavier, clay soils especially during winter – isn’t an issue with soils high in sand as it drains well (too well sometimes) and soaks the plants’ roots easily. This means you can grow plants that are extra sensitive to moisture.
Working with sandy soil – digging, hoeing, and weeding through it – is infinitely easier than tending to clay soil thanks to its light texture. There are no heavy lumps to hoist or break, no impenetrable hard patches to claw through, and no rocks to get in the way. This means roots can freely pass through the ground – essential for healthy, unimpeded plant growth.
Spring is the season when sandy soils shine the most. Since it doesn’t hold moisture that well, it dries and warms up easily during spring – allowing gardeners to sow and germinate seeds at an earlier date.
What’s Not So Nice About Sandy Soil
Spring is nice for sandy soil but the summer season that follows require extra care.
Sand particles’ fine, grained silica base combined with the scorching summer heat can make the soil – especially its surface – so hot that plants don’t make it past the seedling stage. This, along with sand’s free-draining properties, makes frequent watering of your plants an absolute necessity.
And as if that’s not enough, sandy soil can also form a barrier on the surface – preventing the ground from absorbing moisture and dehydrating your plants.
Providing plant nutrition – as we’ve emphasised –isn’t the strongest suit of sand. fertilisers, water, and nutrients are drained quickly, and the surface only has a thin layer of organic matter on the surface. Unless you apply mulch at least once a year and till it composts regularly, it’s not going to change.
Also known as Acacia dealbata, these plants are grown outdoors in the milder regions of UK – making for a lovely display. Its pompom, yellow flowers bloom in spring – scented, rich in nectar, and sure to attract bees and insects.
This daisy is popular for several reasons: It’s drought-tolerant, thrives even in suboptimal conditions, and rewards gardeners with blooms of different colours. Take note, however, that it likes basking in the sun, and its flower heads will close especially if the weather is too cold and the skies are too cloudy.
This sandy soil-friendly, evergreen shrub is a nice addition to your herb garden. It can grow even in poor soils and maintaining it is a breeze. Of course, the dark green, great-smelling foliage it produces – along with its numerous culinary uses – is always welcome.
This plant dons a frond-like foliage that goes hand-in-hand with its delicate petals. The flowers can bloom in a variety of colours – red, purple, white, pink, and orange. It can grow anywhere from 1 to 6 feet tall and is able to thrive in a variety of conditions.
Summer is a troublesome season for gardens in sandy soil, but alliums can take the heat! These summer flowers are easy to grow and are especially striking in autumn, with their seed heads putting on a lovely parade. Allium can add height and structure to your gardening space and are ideal as cut flowers.
Roses are always in – for Valentine’s Day, birthdays, weddings, and the list goes on, but they’re a hassle to grow. So here’s an alternative: The rugosa rose – native to eastern Asia – is a variety that flourishes easily and anywhere. Poor soil conditions aren’t a problem for this rose and it can even be found thriving in sand dunes along coasts.
This flower has been associated with the colour purple, and why not? But lavender can also produce white and pink blooms just so you know. Mounding lavenders can grow anywhere from 1 to 4 feet in diameter while also a bit taller than that. These flowers grow best in full sun so the summer season won’t be an issue.
No, the blanket flower isn’t a lazier, more boring version of the wall flower. On the contrary, it’s bright and lively – and the flower’s toughness makes it even more impressive. It takes drought in its strides and can grow even in sandier soils.
It’s sturdy, it’s beautiful, and it does well whether in light shade or under the sun. What’s not to like about the penstemon!? It boasts tall and arching stems, which are decorated with white, yellow, purple, or red flower blossoms that resemble small trumpets.