The Dirt on Dirt – Sand

Sandy soil is often cursed by gardeners but sand can be a wonderful thing. The Dirt on Dirt – Sand will teach you about sandy soils, why you should love them, and how to make them even better.

Soil comes in a whole array of types. The basic categories are clay, silt, loam and sand with constant variation within each of these classes. If you have silt or loam soils you are sitting pretty, gardening will be easy and you will love your soil. If you have clay or sandy soils it will take a bit more input from you before you love your soil. Trust me, you can love your clay or sandy soil, it just takes a bit of knowledge and a bit of elbow grease. So the question is: how, exactly do you learn to love sandy soil? Read on to learn more about what sandy soil is, why you should be glad you have it and how you can make it even better.

First, things first, how do you know you have sandy soil? Does water quickly drain through your soil with puddles a rarity even after hard rains? Is it difficult to squeeze the soil into a ball? It these things are true then you probably have sandy soil. Sandy soils offer both benefits and disadvantages when compared to clay soils. They may require more water, more fertilizer and more amending, but they are much easier to work with and many plants prefer this type of soil. If you have clay soils, click here to read about working with clay soils.

What is Sandy Soil?

What does it mean that you have sandy soil? A sandy soil is composed of many irregular to rounded tiny grains of sand, as opposed to the many tiny plate-like soil particles that make up a clay soil. If you imagine a glass jar filled with ping pong balls, this is what a truly sandy soil looks like under magnification. If you imagine a jar filled with poker chips, this is more how a clay soil would appear when magnified. As you can imagine there is a lot more air space between the rounded sandy soil particles and this larger amount of air under the soil surface is what gives your soil the characteristic of being well-drained. This simply means that water moves quickly through the soil and air replaces it quickly.

Before we go into too much detail, a sandy soil will replace water with air more quickly, and this is why sandy soils dry out faster than clay soils. Is this bad? Well it all depends on your soil and what you are trying to grow, sandy soils are best for plants that like to have their roots dry out quickly, but it can also be adjusted to support plants that do not. It is always hard to know which kind of soil you have without doing a soil test, but your local county extension service will help you in doing a basic soil test to let you know what particular type of clay soil you have.

What’s good about sandy soil & what’s bad about it?

Let’s take a look at what a sandy soil offers to gardeners, both the good and the bad.

The good parts: A sandy soil is so much easier to work with than clay soils, it is lighter weight, doesn’t compact, and in general is easy to dig in or amend with compost, and most flowering plants benefit from the fact that it is well drained. You will rarely have to worry about over-watering and root rot problems are less likely. Transplanted plants seem to establish a little bit faster in sandy soils as well, since it is easier for their roots to get a foothold in this looser type of soil. Sandy soils also tend to warm up a little faster in the spring when compared to clay soils, so if you are an impatient gardener having a sandy soil gives you a little bit of head start in spring.

A few bad things: Since sandy soils are made up of well…sand you will find that it doesn’t hold water or nutrients very well. Sand is composed of silica, usually quartz crystals, and these have relatively no ability to hold onto nutrients and little ability to hold on to water. Hopefully you are not gardening in pure sand, but even then there is hope. You just have to plan to use water more efficiently, and to water deeply, slow release types of fertilizer are better than liquid fertilizers, and you’ll want to spend a bit more time adding compost or other organic matter into your soil to beef it up. In these days of drought warnings and water restrictions sandy soils are getting a bad reputation, but like most bad reputations this is largely a misconception. A sandy soil has a lot of great qualities including that it is much more difficulty to compact a sandy soil, clay soils can be compacted by driving over them with lawn mowers, cars etc, and sandy soils are more resilient. .

How fertilize sandy soils most effectively – We all need to learn is how to avoid wasting fertilizers as they eventually run off into our lakes, streams and groundwater if we use them improperly. Nowhere is this more important than with sandy soils. Since sandy soils cannot hold either nutrients or water as well as clay type soils, they allow more water and nutrients to run through the soil, which means they end up somewhere else other than your garden.

Fertilizer manufacturers have come up with a type of fertilizer that mimics the way a clay soil adheres to and then releases fertilizer. The name for these fertilizers that hold and slowly release fertilizer is “slow-release fertilizers”. There are two types and you may want to experiment with both to see what works best for you. Plastic coated or resin coated fertilizers (such as Osmocote®, Dynamite®, and Nutricote®) are marvels of technology with multiple layers of plastic surrounding the fertilizer, each layer of plastic has minute holes which allow fertilizer to leak out slowly where plants can grab it up before it moves through the soil.

Sulphur coated slow release fertilizer act in a similar way only using sulphur (itself a fertilizer) layers to restrict how quickly the fertilizer breaks down. In both cases you’ll get better results with the fertilizer mixed into the soil at planting rather than placed on top your mulch after you have finished planting. Mixing the fertilizer into the soil allows soil bacteria and underground moisture levels to help with uniform delivery of your fertilizer. Also a small percentage of fertilizer gets atomized back into the atmosphere unless it is covered with soil.

Regardless of which type of fertilizer you choose a slow release fertilizer will usually allow you to fertilize about ¼ as often as regular granulated fertilizers or water soluble fertilizers. This can really make your life easier during the spring and summer. Most landscapes and gardens need a liquid fertilizer about every 2 weeks, OR a granular fertilizer about every month, OR a slow release fertilizer 2-3 x per season. Over fertilizing is simply wasting money and potentially harming the environment. You can actually cause more problems by fertilizing too much; over-fertilized plants tend to be more susceptible to insect and disease problems because they have been pushed so hard to make them grow that they are weakened and more likely to have problems. Click here for more information on fertilizer.

How to water sandy soils most effectively – Watering is the biggest challenge most gardeners’ face and most people over-water their plants, it is the single biggest cause of plants dying. Luckily if you have a sandy soil, you are not likely to be an over-watering statistic. The key to watering sandy soils is to water less frequently but for longer each time, this encourages deeper root systems on plants and also allows them to penetrate deeper into the soil where there is more water available than there is at the surface. Less frequent deeper watering will help develop deep root systems and frequent light watering encourage shallow roots which make plants less drought tolerant. Check with your local county extension service to see what recommended watering rates are in your town.

The best way to water is deeply and infrequently (except for recently planted flowers and landscapes, these need water frequently to get established). If you have a sprinkler system, make sure to check and see that is not overwatering on a regular basis, plants get used to whatever watering cycle you give them, so plants that are regularly overwatered are more likely to collapse when the water isn’t there, on the contrary plants that have to work just a little bit in between watering are tougher and more likely to handle short dry periods. For more on watering landscapes click here.

How to make sandy soils better:

Incorporating compost – For gardeners with sandy soils adding organic matter to the garden soil is simply a matter of survival. Luckily this type of soil is easy to dig in and a breeze for a rototiller. You want to add the same types of organic matter regardless of what soil type you have: compost, straw, shredded wood bark, etc) by adding these things to your soil you can help it to retain more water and fertilizer as well as providing additional nutrients as these organic bits decompose. For most sandy soils it may be better to use a slightly coarser material for your amendments because they break down so quickly in well drained soils, especially if local rains are heavy.

Sometimes adding large amounts of organic matter all at once can temporarily reduce the nutrient nitrogen, so when adding uncomposted materials, you may want to bump up your fertilizer levels until plants appear to be growing actively with no problems. The first sign of a nitrogen shortage is plants turning a yellowish green. The compost you add each year will also act as a slow release fertilizer and a as an additional way to hold water for your growing plants! Click here for more information on compost.

Mulching – For sandy soils mulching is essential to get plants established. Because sandy soils have so much more air space than other types of soil, water evaporates from the surface of the soil at a much faster rate than clay soils. Applying a 2-3” layer of mulch composed of compost or other organic matter will stop water evaporation almost entirely. This helps keep the water where the plants need it, underground. A layer of mulch will also act to cool the soil during summer heat and extend the life of flowers and vegetables in the garden as well as reducing temperatures overall in the garden.

Having a sandy soil is actually a lot less work than clay IF you know how to handle it. They are easier to work with, less effort to dig in and easier to adjust if problems occur. The key to success in sandy soil is less frequent deeper watering, using slow release fertilizers to reduce the amount of fertilizer run off and environmental pollution, and adding as much organic matter as possible to the soil to help hold water, nutrients, and keep plant roots in place. Another key to success is selecting plants that do well in well drained soils, ask your local garden center or county cooperative extension service about what plants work best in your area.

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Need help with what to do in your garden?

Q What is a sandy soil?

A Sandy soils contain a high proportion of sand particles, with little silt or clay to modify the grainy nature of the soil. Sandy soils occur in patches in many districts, and can be very coarse, like builders’ sand, or very fine and powdery. One of the commonest types of sandy soil occurs in heathland, such as the Surrey heaths and Norfolk breckland. This very poor soil is largely used for forestry rather than farming.

Caption: Sandy soil (left) falls apart when squeezed in the hand

Q How do I know if my soil is sandy?

A If you can see the individual grains, and the soil feels gritty between your fingers, your soil is sandy. When rolled in the hand to make a sausage shape, it crumbles and falls apart and won’t hold its shape. Water drains away quickly, though sandy soils can develop a hard pan that impedes drainage.

Q What is a soil pan?

A One of the characteristics of sandy soil is that iron, humus and clay are washed down through the soil by rain, and settle at about a foot below the surface. Over centuries, this deposit forms a hard waterproof layer called a pan.

This can impede drainage, leading to serious bogginess all winter. Digging down to about 40cm will reveal whether a pan is present. If you find one, deep digging is needed to break it up before drainage can occur and roots grow.

Q What benefits do sandy soils have?

A Sandy soils generally drain well and hold little water. They are dry and warm in spring, so early sowing and planting can take place and they produce wonderful early vegetable crops. Sandy soils are often acid, so acid-loving plants thrive. Lime-loving plants will put up with a mildly acid soil. If you need to adjust the pH to a less acid level, lime is cheap and effective, whereas making limey soils more acid is very slow and expensive.

Some sandy soils are composed of fine sand. Fine sand actually holds nearly as much water, that plants can get at, as good quality loam. If you are lucky enough to have one of these soils, you can expect very good plants.

Sand is light and easy to dig, and can be cultivated all year round; and it does not stick to your boots and get carried around the house and garden.

Q What are the problems with sandy soils?

A Sand particles are very much larger than silt and clay particles. This means the gaps between them are bigger too, so water flows away very quickly. The ideal soil has enough sand to allow good drainage, but sufficient clay to retain plenty of moisture.

In sandy soils, summer drought is almost inevitable. Only an exceptionally wet summer will provide sufficient water to prevent it.

In clay soils, nutrients are retained because they bind to the surface of the clay particles. In sandy soils, most nutrients are washed out quickly. Even in sandy soils, phosphates are usually retained, but potash and nitrogen go very easily, and calcium is often in short supply. This is why sandy soils are usually infertile and acid.

Another drawback to sandy soils can be that when the sand is fine, and there is a little clay or silt present, sandy soils can pack down under the influence of watering or rain. This forms a surface cap that inhibits the emergence of seedlings.

Q How do I manage a sandy soil?

A Water supply is the first concern. Watering is essential, but you can reduce the need for water by planting further apart, so plants have more soil. Mulching to limit loss of soil moisture by evaporation is also helpful.

It is a waste of time to dig sandy soils in autumn in an attempt to improve texture, as sandy soil packs down again relatively quickly. It’s better to dig, if necessary, in spring, though you will need to tread down the surface for seedbeds to aid moisture-retention. At other times a light forking or tilling with a three-pronged cultivator is sufficient.

The good news is that sandy soils are very easy and light to work. Unlike clay soils you can use a powered cultivator if you need to work a large area. Powered cultivators are very liable to smear and damage clay soils, but are unlikely to harm sandy ones as long as the soil is reasonably dry.

Organic matter is vital: aim to add at least two bucketfuls a sq m around ornamental plants, and twice this for veg. If you’re short of material, concentrate on one area at a time, rather than spreading the organic matter too thinly. You can dig the organic matter into the soil or spread it on the surface for worms to incorporate.

Caption: Mulching is a great way of adding organic matter to sandy soil

Q Can green manure help sandy soil?

A It is a good plan to cover all uncropped areas with green manure crops over winter, when grazing rye, field beans or vetches will all grow well. Green manures help prevent nutrients from being lost, improve soil structure and protect the surface from rain damage. Leguminous crops, such as vetches or clover, also add nitrogen through the action of nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their roots. Most green manures should be sown in August, but grazing rye can be sown as late as October. In spring they can be dug in, or composted and added later.

Caption: Green manure can be sown in areas of ground as they’re cleared

Q What are my options for drought-proofing my sandy soil?

A In theory you could add clay to make your soil into a stickier, wetter medium. However, clay is heavy stuff and you would need a great deal of it to make a difference. The other drawback is because clay is so sticky, mixing it deeply into the soil is very difficult. Adding it to a sandy soil is not feasible except on the smallest scale.

Organic matter is the usual remedy, try compost, manure and especially spent mushroom compost. Mushroom compost is ideal as it also adds calcium. As well as retaining moisture, organic matter will break down to release a steady stream of plant nutrients. In fact, the nature of organic matter means that nutrients are bound to the organic matter and are not easily washed away. The downside is that the warm, aerated conditions in a sandy soil lead to organic matter breaking down very rapidly. Studies suggest that a heavy dose of well-rotted organic matter is needed every year to improve the moisture holding capacity of a sandy soil significantly.

To some extent you can drought-proof your soil by deep digging, mixing organic matter up to 50cm or even 70cm into the soil. This increases the amount of soil the plants can explore for water and nutrients. However, this remedy is only for the energetic and fit.

The only sure remedy is irrigation. The development of low-volume drippers and leaky pipes means that accurate watering with little effort or waste of water is now fairly cheaply attainable.

Best Plants for Sandy Soil

However, sandy soils are typically low in nutrients. This is because the large pore space and fast drainage washes out any available nutrients.

Sandy soils also warm up and cool down relatively quickly from the air temperature changes, meaning growth in the spring will start quickly but cool nights in the autumn will make the perennials go into dormancy earlier as well.

In general, perennials that prefer sandy soils are happy being on the drier side and function well with little nutrients – a great recipe for a lower maintenance garden!

Here is a list of some of the most reliable perennials for your sandy soil garden. Whether you are looking for a specific color, height, or bloom time in your region, this list will help you identify what would be perfect for what you need!

The Easiest Plants to Grow in Sandy Soil

Bearded Iris (Iris germanica) – Zone 3-9

Coming in nearly every color you can imagine, bearded irises are a garden favorite! They require very little attention and have no problem competing for their place in the garden. The rhizomes multiply fairly quickly, so it is helpful to divide the plants every few years to avoid overcrowding and spread your iris collection! Many bearded irises are reblooming, so you can enjoy their color both in late spring and in early to mid-fall.

Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia) – Zone 4-9

Black Eyed Susans are a must have in your garden! They produce yellow daisy-like flowers with black centers topping off at 3’tall. ‘Goldsturm’ is a popular variety blooming profusely from mid-summer to early-fall.

Russian Sage (Perovskia atriplicifolia) – Zone 4-9

This purple-blue colored bloom opens mid-late summer on a 3-4’ spikes. The easy maintenance and reliable color of Russian sage makes it a sandy soil favorite

Salvia (Salvia nemorosa) – Zone 4-9

‘Lyrical Silvertone’ is a 2’ tall purple salvia that blooms from late spring to early summer. As a member of the mint family, it is low maintenance and reliable. A more compact option that adds blue to the summer garden is ‘Blue Marvel.’Only getting 10-12” tall, ‘Blue Marvel’ is perfect for short border edges and constant color from late spring to fall.

Sedum (Sedum) – Zone 3-9

‘Autumn Joy’ produces a reliable pink clump about 2’ tall. Blooming mid-summer to mid-fall, you get this bright color as other perennials are starting to slow down. This is a very carefree plant, requiring little attention. Just plant it, sit back, and enjoy!

by Matt Gibson

If you live in an area with lots of sandy soil, you’ll need to evaluate your options before you jump into amending your sandy soil with organic matter to get ready for gardening. Once you learn about these 35 plants that thrive in sandy soil, you might decide to keep your well-draining soil and plan your garden around these picks instead.

Often, gardeners who have sandy soil will go to great lengths to amend their garden beds with organic material to try to create a more sustainable habitat for a wider variety of plants. Many plants perform poorly in sandy soil conditions because the porous medium does not hold water or nutrients for very long.

However, despite its less than stellar reputation among gardeners, sandy soil does have advantages of its own. It drains well, it’s easy to dig in, and it’s less susceptible to bacterial and fungal diseases in the garden. Sandy soil also tends to warm up earlier in the spring than other soil types, which can mean new plant life earlier in the season.

Though there are not a ton of plant species that thrive in sandy soil, sand-based soils are much easier to amend than clay soils, and the plants that do perform well in sandy soil habitats are useful, attractive, and require very little maintenance.

So, if you live in an area that has lots of sandy soil, you may want to check out the plants that perform well in your area and plan your garden out to include some of those options. You may find that you only need to amend a few small beds to accommodate your needs, saving you lots of work in the rest of the yard. Or you might embrace your sandy soil completely and create a low maintenance garden that makes the most out of what your property offers. Even if you ultimately decide to amend the majority of your garden space despite the wide array of plants that thrive in sandy soil, you are sure to find one or two plants on this list that you will enjoy growing in the sandy spots of your garden.

Vegetables that Thrive in Sandy Soil

Carrots have tap roots, which means that carrots grow better when their root systems can easily penetrate the ground. That need for depth makes sandy soil a perfect medium for growing carrots. Clods of soil, like those present in clay-based soil types, can impede and disrupt the development of carrot root development.


Like carrots, radishes also have tap roots, which need to be able to easily burrow into the ground. Sandy soils are porous and more malleable than clay-based mediums, so they are therefore suited to be a habitat for radishes, carrots, and other root vegetables.


Potatoes are another root vegetable that thrives in sandy soil. This is mainly because sandy soils have an acidic soil pH balance. Acidic soils eliminate the possibility of scab, a disease that plagues potatoes, often affecting entire crops.


Lettuce, more than many other leafy green vegetables, tends to tolerate the dryness of sandy soils as long as gardeners make sure that plants are watered daily and regularly, never allowing the soil above the roots to completely dry out. Hydration is especially on abnormally hot or windy days.

Collard Greens

Like lettuce, collard greens are able to tolerate the dry conditions of sandy soils better than other leafy greens. Collards also perform well in the early spring, which makes them more suited for sandy soils, which warm up faster than clay-based or loam-based soil types.


Tomatoes are sun-loving fruits that perform exceptionally well in the heat-retaining, well-draining habitat that sandy soils provide. Though they’re sometimes grown as annuals in the summer, tomatoes are usually grown as perennials that are harvested throughout a long growing season.


Zucchini is an annual summer crop and a heavy feeder that enjoys the warmth and excellent drainage of sandy soil habitats. As long as the plant’s fertilizer needs are met when it’s grown in sandy soil, zucchini will produce fruit that can be harvested in abundance.


Like zucchini, corn is a heavy-feeding annual summer vegetable that thrives in sandy soil as long as it is well fertilized.


Grown best from the crowns in a sandy soil medium, asparagus is well-suited to growing in trenches. Use bone meal or rock phosphate to fertilize your asparagus twice per week when growing in sandy soils for the highest yields.


Watermelon requires a longer growing season than other fruits of its type but enjoys the warmth and well-draining environment that sandy soil provides. Just make sure you provide sufficient space between plants for each watermelon to develop, as these plants will only thrive if they are not having to battle other plants for water and nutrients.


Though beans do best in a loose, well-draining soil, such as a sandy one, be sure to add in lots of compost to your sandy soil before planting beans for maximum yield.


Cucumbers need fast-draining soil to thrive, so a sandy medium is a great fit. However, you will need to go the extra mile in providing lots of water and nutrients for your cucumbers to keep them happy. A trellis must also be provided to give the cucumber vine a support to attach itself to and grow upon.

Herbs that Thrive in Sandy Soil

Thyme enjoys the slightly acidic content of sandy soils as well as the excellent drainage. Hardy in USDA zones five through nine, thyme thrives in rocky to sandy soils with full sunlight exposure.


Rosemary loves sandy soil and full sunlight exposure. Hardy in USDA zones eight to 10, rosemary enjoys the excellent drainage and acidic nature of sandy soil.


Like rosemary and thyme, oregano also enjoys the acidity and excellent drainage that sandy soil provides. Most oregano varieties should be planted in full sunlight. Oregano with golden or variegated foliage, however, should be given some shade during the hottest hours of the day, as these varieties are more sensitive to direct sun.

Groundcovers and Perennials that Thrive in Sandy Soil

Oregon stonecrop is a groundcover that thrives in a wide variety of growing conditions. This plant’s drought resistance makes it perfect for sandy soils. Oregon stonecrop grown best in full sun to partial shade and it produces yellow star-shaped flowers that attract butterflies and other pollinators.

Moss Phlox

Moss phlox grows well in just about any poor soil condition, but it especially flourishes in sandy or gravelly soils. Moss phlox is a groundcover that reaches about six inches in height and sprouts red, purple, and white flowers that attract butterflies.


Catmint is a fragrant, flowering perennial that is hardy in USDA zones three through 10. Its stunning blooms attract bees and butterflies—not to mention cats.


Lavender grows in USDA zones five through nine, and lavender plants perform well in sandy soils and drought-like conditions. Lavender is resistant to deer and rabbits and is also a great attractor for bees and butterflies.


Artemisia is a low-growing, ground-covering perennial that loves sandy soil. Grown primarily for its beautiful and fragrant foliage, the artemisia doesn’t flower, but if you brush one of its leaves gently, it emits a strange and delicious aroma.

Like most succulents, sedum is suited to hot, dry conditions, making it a great candidate for sandy soils. Available in countless varieties in nurseries, most sedums are tiny groundcovers that are perfect for rock gardens.

Annuals and Bulbs that Thrive in Sandy Soil

Armed with dense, plump roots that store water for plants to use during times of drought, daylilies are the perfect plants to grow in sandy soil conditions. Though it is not a very fragrant plant, the daylily’s beautiful blooms make up in appearance what the flowers lack in aroma.


Salvia is drought tolerant and well suited to sandy soil environments. These showy annuals quickly grow to one or two feet in height, adding streaks of vibrant color to your garden beds with spikes of pronounced red, purple, and blue flower clusters.

Giant Allium

Massive purple flowers shaped like pom-poms sprout atop a single stalk with very little foliage. The flower stalks tower three to four feet above the ground, making giant allium a showstopper in the back row of sandy flower beds.

Sweet Alyssum

Forming a low mat around four to six inches in height and two feet wide, sweet alyssum makes a lovely pink, purple, or white bed of color on your sandy garden floor.

Flowering Shrubs that Thrive in Sandy Soil

Adaptable to most any soil type, including sandy soils, the butterfly bush is a great choice for a flowering shrub that will draw the eye of passersby. The butterfly bush adds a swatch of color to the garden with its white, purple, or pink towering flower cones.

Siberian Pea Shrub

The Siberian pea shrub is cold tolerant and adaptable to dry, sandy soils. It’s bright yellow flower display is a sight for sore eyes in mid-summer.

Rose Of Sharon

This easy-to-grow shrub makes hibiscus-like flowers in the late summer months. It requires lots of water for ideal production when grown in sandy soil, but Rose of Sharon’s rose, white, or purple blooms are well worth the extra effort.

Red Chokeberry

Red chokeberry grows heartily in all soil conditions, including boggy and sandy types. Ranging from six to 10 feet tall when fully mature, red chokeberry’s white flowers, ornamental berries, and dark green foliage (which turns red in the fall) combine for a pristine display of the beauty of nature.

Flowering Quince

Native to China, flowering quince produces spiny twigs and scarlet-red blooms that appear before the leaves emerge. Flowering quince can reach heights of six to 10 feet in well-draining soil.

Evergreens that Thrive in Sandy Soil

Reaching two to three feet in height, evergreen spurge is a versatile plant that can adapt to just about any growing condition, as long as it has a well-draining soil. Evergreen spurge is adored for its yellow bottlebrush-style flowers.

Western Sword Fern

The Western sword fern is a shade-loving evergreen that thrives in sandy soil. Growing as high as four feet tall, the western sword fern doesn’t flower, instead producing thick fronds of leathery-looking foliage.

Trees that Thrive in Sandy Soil

The silk tree, also called the mimosa tree, takes five to seven years to reach full maturity, when it averages 30 feet high. A natural fit for sandy soils, the silk tree is a fast-growing deciduous tree with a lot of personality.

Black Locust

Black locust trees show bare branches that sprout fragrant white clusters of flowers in the early spring, followed by finely cut foliage, then decorative seed pods. Black locust trees tend to grow very quickly, even in sandy soils.


Eucalyptus is native to Australia, which is famous for its sandy soil. Though there are many varieties of eucalyptus tree available, all of them are fast-growing shade trees that produce a pleasing minty odor.

Videos About Sandy Soil

This short video highlights eight of the 35 plants we featured in this article, also offering a few growing tips for each featured plant:

This film from natural farmer John Kaisner explains how to use weeds to amend and improve sandy soil:

Just want to know which grass will perform the best in sandy soil environments? This tutorial video will show you how to grow grass in sandy soil while spotlighting several grass species that will thrive in sand soil types:

Want to Learn More about Sandy Soil?

Birds and Blooms covers Top 10 Plants for Sandy Soil

Garden Lovers Club covers Sandy Soil Plants

LoveToKnow Home & Garden covers Plants That Thrive in Sandy Soil

SFGate Homeguides covers List of Crops That Grow in Sandy Soil

SFGate Homeguides covers What Flowers & Plants Grow Well in Sandy Soil

Top 5 Plants for Sandy Soil

Garden areas with sandy soil can be tricky places in which to plant. Sandy soil drains quickly, often too quickly for many plants, leaving them high and dry most of the time. It also doesn’t retain nutrients well and has the potential to erode. Securing soil and enriching the area with the appropriate plants is a win-win proposition. The problem is finding specimens that will thrive in such conditions. Fortunately, there are many plants other than the classic succulents and cacti that will perform well in sandy regions of the garden. Here are the top 5 plants for sandy soil areas.

1. Ground cover plants. One of the best ways to secure soil in erosion prone areas is with ground covers. These need to be chosen with care and an eye to moisture needs, exposure and adaptability to occasionally dry conditions. Once established, these plants can thrive but a little babying will be necessary at first.

  • Many of the Sedum species will spread quickly and enjoy the attributes of a sandy area. Stonecrop and creeping sedum are prolific at establishing themselves in broader areas over time and they enjoy the nature of a sandy soil. These plants do need full sun for the best growth, however.
  • Moss phlox is another sun lover which doesn’t mind the low nutrient content of sand and is drought tolerant once established.
  • In partially shaded areas, the tough and tenacious English ivy is your plant. It will not only survive but thrive and give you a lovely, elegant carpeted green effect over time.

2. Trees and shrubs. Sandy soils can be improved over time with the addition of compost and other organic material, but the easiest solution is to choose plants that seem to like the existing soil condition. If you are a lazy gardener like me, you will take option B and select plants that are naturally adapted to such soils.

For dimensional impact choose trees like:

  • White Pine
  • Red Cedar
  • Ginkgo
  • Hawthorn
  • Honeylocust
  • Siberian Elm
  • Oaks
  • Serviceberry

Shrubs and bushes help fill in the lower spaces of the sandy garden area. Adding those that flower or fruit extend the appeal through several seasons. Useful specimens might be:

  • Flowering Quince
  • Witch Hazel
  • Siberian Pea shrub
  • Smoke Tree
  • Japanese Barberry

3. Perennial plants. Perennials are a no brainer. Bushy perennials with foliage that fill in open spaces enhance the total effect of the sandy garden. Spurge is a unique plant with funky foliage and surprisingly attractive flowers. Other foliage or flowering perennials for sandy conditions include:

  • Western Sword Fern
  • Agave
  • Daylilies
  • Yarrow
  • Sea Holly
  • Goldenrod
  • Tickseed
  • Mullein
  • Pincushion
  • Butterfly Gaura
  • Lamb’s Ears
  • Candytuft

4. Herb plants. Many herbs produce pleasing flowers and attract bees and other pollinators. And most are naturally adaptive to low nutrient, sandy soils. The following herbs will add aromatic appeal with low maintenance beauty:

  • Catmint
  • Lavender
  • Sage
  • Thyme

5. Ornamental grasses. If your sandy area seems like a seaside dune, treat it as such. Grasses and ornamental grass-like plants will mimic the ocean landscape without all the fuss of other types of plants.

  • Flax
  • Silky Thread Grass
  • Pampas Grass
  • Maiden Grass
  • Sedge

Numerous other ornamental and native grasses can fill in around the dune landscape with sensory ambiance and rustling vibrancy every time the wind passes through the garden.

As you can see, there are many choices from which to start in a sandy garden situation. Creating dimension or simply a certain texture to a sandy area is as easy as selecting plants that thrive in this type of soil. Remember that many plants will require a little TLC while establishing but each of these plants will stand alone once they are mature and have spread their roots out a bit. In time, your sandy area will be peppered with architectural appeal and colorful notes, in an area that was once a blight on the landscape.

Sandy Soil Amendments: How To Do Sandy Soil Improvements

If you live in a sandy area, you know that it can be difficult to grow plants in sand. Water runs out of sandy soil quickly and it can be hard for sandy soil to retain the nutrients that plants need to thrive. Sandy soil amendments can help improve sandy soil so that you can grow a wider variety of plants in your garden. Let’s look at what is sandy soil and how you can go about amending sandy soil.

What is Sandy Soil?

Sandy soil is easy to spot by its feel. It has a gritty texture and when a handful of sandy soil is squeezed in your hand, it will easily fall apart when you open your hand again. Sandy soil is filled with, well, sand. Sand is primarily small pieces of eroded rocks.

Sand tends to have large particles and the particles are solid and have no pockets where water and nutrients can hold to it. Because of this, water and nutrients tend to run out, and because sandy soil lacks both water and nutrients, many plants have a difficult time surviving in this kind of soil.

How to Improve Sandy Soil

The best sandy soil amendments are ones that increase the ability of the sandy soil to retain water and increase the nutrients in the soil as well. Amending sandy soil with well rotted manure or compost (including grass clippings, humus and leaf mold) will help to improve the soil the fastest. You can also add vermiculite or peat as sandy soil amendments, but these amendments will only add to the soil’s ability to hold onto water and will not add much nutrient value to the sandy soil.

When amending sandy soil, you need to watch the salt levels of the soil. While compost and manure are the best way to amend sandy soil, they contain high levels of salt that can stay in the soil and damage growing plants if the salt level builds up too high. If your sandy soil is already high in salt, such as in a seaside garden, be sure to use plant only based compost or sphagnum peat, as these amendments have the lowest salt levels.

Gardening in Sandy Soil…the Fix is in the Mix

Gardening in sandy soil can be a challenge. When it rains, the water drains through immediately. When you water, you may as well aim your hose at a sieve full of marbles.

More About Soil

Facts About Soil

Improving Garden Soil

Changing Soil pH

Improving Clay Soil

The Soil Food Web

My sister is a Master Gardener in northern Michigan. She lives on a grass-covered sand hill. When she started her garden, she could leave a hose running under a shrub for an hour, without even a hint of a puddle. The soil stayed dry 6” away. If I tried that in unamended California clay, I’d have a pond for a couple of days.

We’ve worked out two fixes for gardening in sandy soil, but before getting into them, take a moment to consider some of the advantages of sandy soil.

Yes, sandy soil has some advantages:

    Root Crops—like carrots, beets, radishes, and other tap-rooted vegetables—perform much better in sandy soils than in clay soils. It takes a lot of work to bring clay soil up to the kind of tilth that favors root crops.

    Herbs, which need good drainage, often thrive in sandy soils.

    Root Rots that plague gardeners working in clay soil are almost non-existent in sandy soil. No Phytophthora for you.

So the first trick of gardening in sandy soil is to take advantage of the strengths of sandy soil: loose texture and good drainage. Choose fruit and vegetable plants that need fast drainage. Bramble berries, herbs, and root crops are all good choices.

Fix # 1: Create Microbial Habitat

If you try to adjust the soil texture by adding silt or clay to a sandy soil, you’ll see some improvement, but most of it will just flush through the soil. There’s not enough organic matter to keep these fine-textured soil components from washing out.

Increasing soil organic matter is the key to gardening in sandy soil. You have to make the soil more “sticky”, so water and nutrients don’t just flush through every time it rains.

You do this by making the soil more hospitable to bacteria and fungi. Bacteria and fungi will provide the glues to bind your sandy soil into something much better.

How do make sandy soil more hospitable to bacteria and fungi? By adding organic matter. The best type of organic matter to add? Compost. Bio-char. Coir.

Garden Compost is the Best Form of Organic Matter to Add

A Handful of Finished Compost
© Steve Masley…Click IMAGE to Enlarge

Bacteria need moisture and nutrients to multiply. Both are in short supply when gardening in sandy soil.

Good garden compost is loaded with diverse populations of active and dormant bacteria and beneficial fungi, as well as residual bacterial and fungal “glues” that help bind sand particles together, while soaking up and holding moisture.

You can add large amounts of good, balanced compost when gardening in sandy soil, up to 40% of the soil volume. This will give you a marked improvement in both water retention and crop yield in the first season, with continued improvement in subsequent seasons.

But compost alone is the slow way. There are a couple of accelerators–bio-char and coir–that can shave a few years off your soil improvement efforts.

Bio-Char Accelerates the Process

Bio-char is organic matter, usually wood or coconut husk, that’s burned at a low temperature, in a low-oxygen environment. The resulting “char” is ground into loose shavings that can be mixed into soil to soak up and hold moisture, and provide habitat for bacteria, fungi, and the soil food web.

1 tablespoon of bio-char has the surface area of a football field. This kind of surface area provides ample habitat for bacteria and fungi to work their magic, knitting a pile of tiny rocks (sandy soil) into soil that can sustain healthy, vigorous plants.

Bio-char holds nutrients, not just moisture, in the root zone of plants. I’ve always had healthy, vigorous gardens, but in 2015, in response to the California drought, I started mixing bio-char into the soil before planting vegetable beds.

Many of our gardens were facing 35% cutbacks in water, so we were looking for organic ways to retain moisture in the soil. We mixed Bio Char into the top layer of soil in every garden, and mulched heavily. Even with 35% cutbacks in water usage, we had almost no fall-off in productivity.

Bio Char is even more effective in sandy soil than it is in our heavy western clay soil. I wouldn’t think of starting a garden without it.

The best thing about bio-char: It lasts for decades in the soil, and only needs to be applied ONCE. So while you’re improving your soil dramatically, you’re also sequestering carbon in the soil.


A Handful of Rehydrated Coir
© Steve Masley…Click IMAGE to Enlarge

Coir is dried, compressed coconut husk. A cheap and abundant byproduct of the coconut industry, it comes in brick-sized to suitcase-sized blocks.

Coir is an ideal soil amendment for gardening in sandy soil. When soaked in water, each block absorbs 5 times it’s weight in water, and triples or quadruples in volume.

Mixed into sandy soil, coir soaks up moisture, and holds it in the soil for a long time. It’s slightly acidic, just the right pH for most fruits and vegetables. Composed mostly of lignins, it breaks down very slowly, and can improve water retention when gardening in sandy soil for as long as 8 years.

The lignins in coir feed and sustain beneficial fungi, which work in conjunction with bacteria to bind sand grains into a sandy loam soil.

Why Use Coir Instead of Peat Moss?

Peat Moss is an alternative water-holding soil amendment, but it has some disadvantages, compared to coir:

  1. Dry peat moss is hydrophobic. Once it dries out, it actually repels water, as anyone who’s used it in a nursery mix knows. Coir is hydrophilic—it can soak up moisture even from the air, and is much easier to keep moist than peat.
  2. Peat moss is often extracted from peat bogs in an environmentally destructive way that damages wetlands.
  3. Peat moss is more acidic than coir. For acid-loving plants like blueberries, this is an advantage, but soil acidity is a problem for cruciferous vegetables, spinach, and lettuce.

If you keep adding compost every year, by the time this “scaffolding” has broken down, bacterial and fungal populations will be high enough to maintain soil structure without it. Instead of gardening in sandy soil, you’ll be gardening in loam.

Adding coir to sandy soil immediately increases it’s moisture-holding capacity. Populations of bacteria and beneficial fungi multiply, creating a virtuous cycle—bacteria create microaggregates that increase their habitat, and beneficial fungi thread their way through and around these microaggregates, increasing the water-holding capacity of the soil.

Better conditions allow more bacteria and fungi to grow, and more bacteria and fungi create more food for protozoa, nematodes, and other soil predators that drive the soil ecosystem. See The Soil Food Web for more information on how this feeds your plants.

To use Coir: Soak the block—or piece of a block, if you have a large one and aren’t using the whole thing—in a 5-gallon bucket of water. Be sure to drop the brick in so the long side faces up, especially if you’re soaking more than 1 brick. If you drop it in on end, it may swell against the sides of the bucket and you’ll have to hack it apart.

Use about 1 gallon of water per block. After 10-15 minutes, break up any dry chunks.

Mix coir into the planting hole for shrubs, trees, and perennial herbs. Use up to 20% of the soil volume removed from the hole. For established plants, apply a 2” (5 cm) layer to the surface and cultivate into the soil.

To improve water retention in flower and vegetable beds, apply a 1-2” (2.5-5 cm) layer of coir to the surface with compost and other organic soil amendments, and cultivate in before planting.

Municipal Compost, Animal Manures, and Other Kinds of Organic Matter

What if you don’t have access to “good” garden compost, but have ready access to municipal compost, animal manures, or other bulk soil amendments? Will these work for gardening in sandy soil?

Nitrate Depletion and High-Carbon Materials

A Nitrate Depletion Period ensues whenever high-carbon materials are mixed into vegetable garden soil. Soil bacteria multiply to assimilate the new carbon food source, sucking up soil nitrates to fuel the growth of their populations. This deprives your plants of the nitrogen they need to grow, and lasts for a few days to a few weeks, depending on temperature, soil moisture, and how much carbon was added.

Eventually, the bacteria use up the added carbon and start dying off. As they die or are eaten, the nitrogen bound up in their bodies is released back into the soil, where plants can use it. But the damage may already be done if your vegetables are stunted from lack of nitrogen at a critical time in their growth.

The answer is a qualified “yes”. Most animal manures will help retain moisture when gardening in sandy soil—especially if they’re well-composted, and had a lot of straw or bedding mixed in before composting.

Compost is trickier. Cheap compost and many municipal composts will help in the long term, but your vegetable yields might drop the first season, unless you take precautions. (See “Nitrate Depletion” Sidebar).

Cheap bulk soil amendments and municipal composts often have too much carbon, relative to the amount of nitrogen they contain. Sandy soils have low nitrate levels to begin with, so nitrate depletion happens more quickly if you add a high-carbon soil amendment, and you’re gardening in sandy soil.

To avoid nitrate depletion, materials added to loam soil should have a C:N (Carbon-to-Nitrogen) ratio of 30:1 or less. At this level, most vegetable garden soil has enough nitrate available to accommodate a rise in soil bacteria without compromising your vegetables.

To avoid nitrate depletion when gardening in sandy soil, the ratio should be less than 25:1. Good garden compost usually has a C:N ratio in the range of 20:1. It provides a short-term nitrogen boost immediately, but it’s more durable humic acids break down slowly, acting as a sustained-release organic fertilizer throughout and well beyond the growing season.

If you’re unsure of the C:N ratio of municipal compost or any other bulk amendment, add some supplemental nitrogen, like composted chicken manure, or feather meal when you incorporate it into the soil.

See Improving Garden Soil for more information on C:N ratios and bulk soil amendments.

See the manure section of the fertilizer page for the npk values of animal manures.

Fix # 2: Mulch, Mulch, Mulch!

Mulching is the second fix for gardening in sandy soil, and it compliments the first fix, increasing soil organic matter.

Mulching is probably the most under-utilized tool in the gardener’s arsenal, but it’s one of the most important, for both sandy soil and clay soil.

A good layer of mulch reduces evaporation from the soil surface and is one of the best ways to retain water when gardening in sandy soil. It keeps the soil surface cool, brings the microbial life of the soil right up to the surface, and provides habitat for the surface shredders—microarthropods like oribatid mites and springtails—that are so critical to the soil food web.

Usually, UV, heat, and dryness nearly sterilize the top inch of soil, but mulch makes this layer warm and moist in summer, so the soil food web releases more nutrients for your garden.

What is “a good layer”? 3-4” (8-10 cm) is good around the drip line of shrubs and fruit trees (keep it a few inches away from the trunk, but cover the rest). Under vegetables, an inch or so of fine mulch will usually do the trick.

As an added bonus, mulching reduces weed problems, and when weeds do sprout, they’re spindly, weak, and come out of the soil with the slightest pull.

In Summary, the Best Practices for Gardening in Sandy Soil are:

    Amend the soil with garden compost, bio-char, and/or coir to increase moisture holding capacity and boost bacterial populations.

    Mulch the surface to retain moisture and increase the depth of biologically active soil.

Top of Page

Facts About Soil | Improving Garden Soil
Changing Soil pH | Improving Clay Soil
Gardening in Sandy Soil | The Soil Food Web

We have a flat, sandy lot at the cottage. Is there any vegetation that will grow in very sandy soil? I’d love to see my vacuum bag empty of the pounds and pounds of sand being tracked inside.—Cheryl Rowan, via e-mail

That much sand can’t be good for the vacuum. And that much vacuuming can’t be good for your tan! But don’t worry: Lots of vegetation will grow in sand. First, do some recon. “Look to see what’s growing well in the natural areas around your cottage,” says Lorraine Johnson, author of 100 Easy-to-Grow Native Plants. In general, for exposed sandy areas that get a lot of sun, she recommends a spreading ground cover, such as juniper, native wild strawberry, pearly everlasting, or prairie smoke. These plants should all help hold the sand in place.

Also, check with a local native-plant nursery. Karen Landman, an associate professor of landscape architecture at the University of Guelph, suggests Grand Moraine Growers in Alma, Ont., which has an online catalogue that lists plants suitable for many types of soil conditions, habitats, or purposes.

Unfortunately, ground cover isn’t great to walk on, says Johnson, so also consider installing a boardwalk or a path with concrete pads or flagstones.


Sandy soil has its advantages. It drains well, is easy to dig in and warms up faster in spring than clay soils, meaning that plants start growing earlier – but there are fewer species adapted to it compared to other soil types. Sandy soil is relatively uncommon in nature and has several distinct disadvantages – it does not hold on to either water or nutrients for long.

Groundcovers and Perennials

Plant a groundcover or perennial to make maintenance easy.


Lavender is hard not to love. Originating in the dry, rocky hills of the Mediterranean basin, it is not only tolerant of sandy soil, it actually requires the excellent drainage provided by sandy soils. Plant it in full sun and water it only enough to get the roots established. Lavender is especially effective in long rows that can be used as a low garden border.


These low-growing perennials have the grey foliage that characterizes many of the most drought tolerant plants. The leaves are finely cut and incredibly soft to the touch; when you brush up against them a delicious fragrance is released. Artemisias are primarily a foliage plant, as the flowers of most varieties are inconspicuous, but they add a unique texture and color to perennial borders or can be used en masse as a groundcover.

Artemisia Leaves


Rosemary is another familiar herb that thrives in dry, sandy soil. It never needs water once established and blooms in late winter when most other plants are still waking up from dormancy. Try one of the prostrate varieties, like Lockwood de Forest or Irene, for use as a large scale groundcover in sandy soil.



There are an incredible diversity of sedums available in nurseries these days. They are succulents, so by nature they are adapted to dry, sandy soil. Most are tiny groundcovers that make great rock garden plants. There is also a taller variety called Autumn Joy that is a good choice for its extremely late bloom.


Annuals and Bulbs

Living in a sandy region doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice colorful plants in your yard.


Annual salvias add a strong shot of color to summer flower beds – crimson red, deep purple, and electric blue shades are all available. They grow quickly to one or two feet in height, depending on the variety. The blooms last for weeks, but once they fade, cut them back and they will bloom again until the first frost of fall. They are relatively drought tolerant for an annual bedding plant and are adored by hummingbirds.


Giant Allium

This is an unusual specimen for flower borders – it is closely related to onions, but is grown for it enormous purple pom-pom flowers that rise on a single stalk three to four feet above the sparse foliage. Giant alliums will bloom year after year in sandy soil with little care, making them a good choice for a semi-naturalized meadow planting.

Giant Alliums

Sweet Alyssum

This bedding plant is adored by butterflies and smells like honey. It grows in sandy soil and is likely to seed itself in cracks in the driveway, bringing color to the harsh, hot concrete. Sweet alyssum forms a low mat four to six inches tall and spreads up to two feet across. Pink, purple, and white varieties are available.

White Alyssum


Shrubs are excellent choices for privacy, and flowering varieties make beautiful additions to any garden in sandy soil.

Butterfly Bush

Butterflies flock to the elongated purple flower cones of this upright deciduous shrub. Butterfly bush adapts to most soil types, including sandy ones. White- and pink-flowered varieties are also available.

Butterfly Bush

Siberian Pea Shrub

This is probably one of the hardiest plants in the world. As you might guess from the name it is extremely cold tolerant, but it is also tolerant of light, sandy soils. Siberian pea shrub grows 10 to 20 feet tall and five to 10 feet wide, depending on the variety. It is deciduous and makes a dazzling display in mid-summer with its bright yellow flowers.

Siberian Pea Shrub

Rose of Sharon

A trouble-free plant for tough conditions, rose of Sharon produces two- to three-inch hibiscus-like blooms in late summer – rose, purple, and white are the most common colors. In sandy soil, be sure to give it plenty of water to support luxuriant growth and stimulate profuse flowering.

Rose of Sharon


Trees are a focal point for many homeowners, regardless of soil type.

Silk Tree

Also known as mimosa, this fast-growing deciduous tree is one of the best for sandy soils. It typically grows to about 30 feet, not quite what is normally considered a shade tree, but it does provide some shade and it doesn’t take decades to do it – five to seven years to maturity is typical.

Silk Tree

Black Locust

This is a tall, upright hardwood tree that also grows at an unusually fast rate, even in sandy soil. Fragrant white flower clusters emerge from the bare branches in early spring, followed by finely cut foliage and then decorative seed pods in fall. Purple Robe is a popular variety that sports magenta blossoms, instead of the typical white.

Black Locust Tree


All species of eucalyptus hail from Australia, a continent with a disproportionate amount of sandy soil. There are numerous varieties, but most are enormous, fast-growing shade trees, some reaching up to 150 feet in height. They are evergreen and emit a pleasing wintergreen-like fragrance from the leaves.

Eucalyptus tree

Sandy Soil Growing Regions

A plant adapted to sandy soil is one that is adapted to drought and infertile soils. Coastal regions and deserts often have sandy soil and there are pockets scattered throughout the country where ancient marine deposits form the underlying geology, resulting in sandy conditions on the surface. Mountainous areas often have poor, rocky soil with similar characteristics, so sandy soil plants can often be grown in these areas, too, as long as they are adapted to the cold temperatures that are typical of mountain environments.

Right Plant, Right Place

The key to success in gardening is matching the characteristics of your property to the plants that want to grow there. When it comes to sandy soil, the options are slightly limited, but there are still plenty to choose from. Because they share certain physiological traits that make them adapted to sandy soil, these plants also tend to look good together in the landscape.

Cooperative Extension: Garden & Yard

Soil and Plant Nutrition: A Gardener’s Perspective

Written by Dr. Lois Berg Stack, Extension Professor (2011). Revised by Dr. Lois Berg Stack, Extension Professor, and Mark Hutchinson, Extension Professor (2012). Revised by Dr. Lois Berg Stack, Extension Professor (2016)

Note to readers: This document contains many common soil science terms. Understanding these terms, which are italicized in the text, will help you understand soils as you read gardening books.

Soil is a dynamic three-dimensional substance that covers some of the world’s land surface. It varies from place to place, in response to the five factors that form it: climate, topography, organisms, the parent rock below surface, and time. Our Maine soils developed since the last glacier moved across the region, largely in response to the parent rock (largely granite) and topography. Most Maine soils are acidic, and have a somewhat depressed ability to hold and exchange nutrients used by plants. Our native plants evolved in this system, and are well adapted to Maine soils. However, we often amend Maine soils by adding organic matter, lime and/or fertilizer, in order to increase the productivity of our food and landscape plants.

Soil performs four major functions:

  1. It provides habitat for fungi, bacteria, insects, burrowing mammals and other organisms;
  2. It recycles raw materials and filters water;
  3. It provides the foundation for engineering projects such as buildings, roads and bridges; and
  4. It is a medium for plant growth. This text focuses on this last function.

What does soil do for plants?

Soil supports plant growth by providing:

  1. Anchorage: root systems extend outward and/or downward through soil, thereby stabilizing plants.
  2. Oxygen: the spaces among soil particles contain air that provides oxygen, which living cells (including root cells) use to break down sugars and release the energy needed to live and grow.
  3. Water: the spaces among soil particles also contain water, which moves upward through plants. This water cools plants as it evaporates off the leaves and other tissues; carries essential nutrients into plants; helps maintain cell size so that plants don’t wilt; and serves as a raw material for photosynthesis, the process by which plants capture light energy and store it in sugars for later use.
  4. Temperature modification: soil insulates roots from drastic fluctuations in temperature. This is especially important during excessively hot or cold times of year.
  5. Nutrients: soil supplies nutrients, and also holds the nutrients that we add in the form of fertilizer.

Physical properties of soil

Texture: Soil is composed of both minerals (derived from the rock under the soil or transported through wind or water) and organic matter (from decomposing plants and animals). The mineral portion of soil is identified by its texture. Texture refers to the relative amounts of sand, silt and clay in the soil. These three terms refer only to particle size, not to the type of mineral that comprises them. Sand is familiar to most of us, and is the largest textural soil size. Sand grains can be seen with the naked eye or with a hand lens. Sand provides excellent aeration and drainage. It tills easily and warms up rapidly in spring. However, it erodes easily, and has a low capacity for holding water and nutrients. Clay particles are so small that they can only be seen through an electron microscope. Clay soils contain low amounts of air, and water drains slowly through them. Clay is difficult to till, and warms up slowly in spring. But, it tends to erode less quickly than sand, and it has a high capacity for holding water and nutrients. Silt is sized between sand and clay. Individual silt particles can be seen through a lower-power microscope. It has intermediate characteristics compared to sand and clay.

Most soils contain all three particle sizes (sand, silt, clay). Loam is a term that is often used generally to refer to soils that are a mixture of sand, silt and clay. Most of our topsoils are loams. However, “loam” can vary from a rather equal mixture of the three textural sizes, to a mixture dominated by sand or silt or clay. As a gardener, you should inspect loam before purchasing it, because these variations affect management practices.

Structure: Sand is often found as individual particles in a soil, but silt and clay are almost always clumped into larger units called aggregates. The manner of this aggregation defines a soil’s structure. Soil structure is described by terms such as blocky, platy, prismatic and angular. Productive topsoils often have a granular soil structure. The size and shape of aggregates is influenced by mineral type, particle size, wetting and drying, freeze/thaw cycles, and root and animal activity. Decomposed organic matter, plant sugars excreted from roots, waste products of soil microbes, and added soil conditioners all act to cement particles into aggregates. However, aggregates can break apart from tilling, compaction, and loss of organic matter in the soil. Soil structure is a very dynamic process. Good soil structure increases the pore space (see below) that supports root penetration, water availability and aeration.

Pore space: Soil particles rarely fit together tightly; they are separated by spaces called pores. Pores are filled with water and/or air. Just after a heavy rainfall or irrigation event, pore spaces are nearly 100% filled with water. As time goes by, the water passes through the soil due to gravity, or evaporates into the air, or is used by plant roots, and more of the pore spaces are filled by air. Particles of clay fit tightly, and have very little pore space to hold air and water. On the other hand, sand on a beach has such a large amount of large pores that it drains too quickly to grow most plants in.

Pore space generally occupies 30-60% of total soil volume. A well-structured soil has both large pores (macropores) and tiny pores (micropores); this provides a balance of the air and water that plants need. Macropores provide for good drainage, and micropores hold water that plants can access. This helps explain how you can achieve a “well-drained but moist soil”.

Organic matter (OM) is previously living material. On the soil surface, there is usually rather un-decomposed OM known as litter or duff (or, mulch in a landscape). This surface layer reduces the impact of raindrops on the soil structure, prevents erosion, and eventually breaks down to supply nutrients that leach into the soil with rainfall or irrigation. In the soil, OM decomposes further until it becomes humus, a stable and highly decomposed residue. Humus is an important nutrient source for plants, and it is important in aggregating soil particles.

OM is always in the process of decomposing, until it becomes humus. OM levels are reduced through cropping and can be replenished by adding compost or manure, or crop residues, or green manure (crops such as buckwheat, clover or ryegrass that are grown as cover crops and then tilled into the soil). Soil OM can be conserved with reduced tillage practices, such as no-till. OM improves water retention, making it a good addition to sandy soil. OM is also added to clay or silt soils to increase aggregation and thereby improve drainage. OM provides nutrients as it decomposes, buffers the pH of the soil solution (see below) against rapid chemical changes, and improves soils’ cation exchange capacity (see below).

Good horticultural soil: Most soils are dominated by mineral particles; some are dominated by organic matter. Some soils have a high percentage by volume of pore space, while others have little pore space. Your soil might vary from one part of your land to another. Ideally, a “good horticultural soil” contains 50% solid material (mostly mineral soil plus 5-10% organic matter) and 50% pore space. At any given time, that pore space is occupied by both air and water. You can assess your soil by irrigating heavily, then allowing it to drain for a day. After a day of drainage, the pore space should contain about 50% water and 50% air. If the soil is very dry after a day of drainage, it is likely dominated by sand, and you could amend it over time by adding OM. If the soil remains very wet, it is likely dominated by clay or it is not well aggregated; you could amend such a soil over time by adding OM to support aggregation.

Chemical properties of soil

Soil chemical activity is related to particle size, because chemical reactions take place on particle surfaces. Small particles have much more surface area than large particles. Small soil particles play a big role in two chemistry-related processes: managing soil acidity (pH), and supporting the soil’s ability to hold nutrients (CEC).

First, it’s important to know that fertilizers are salts. When salts dissolve into the soil solution, they separate into a cation (a positively charged ion) and an anion (a negatively charged ion). For example, when we dissolve table salt (sodium chloride) in water, it separates into positively charged sodium and negatively charged chloride ions. When we add sodium nitrate fertilizer to the soil, it dissolves into the soil solution as sodium cations and nitrate anions.

Tiny particles (humus and clay) are very important for holding plant nutrients in the soil. Clay and humus particles have a negative surface charge. Cations are positively charged. Because opposites attract, the clay and humus hold cations, and prevent them from being leached out of the soil by water movement. Negatively charged anions remain dissolved in the soil solution, and are very susceptible to leaching downward.

Nitrogen is an interesting nutrient, because one nitrogen fertilizer might be positively charged ammonium that is held by soil particles, while another nitrogen fertilizer might contain negatively charged nitrates that remain dissolved in the soil solution. This explains why nitrates, which are anions, leach readily out of our topsoil and sometimes into our water supply. It also explains why “slow-release fertilizers” usually contain ammonium, which can be held by the soil particles and gradually converted to the nitrate form that most plants use readily.

Cation exchange capacity (CEC) is an expression of the soil’s ability to hold and exchange cations. Ions are constantly exchanged among the soil solution, CEC sites on clay and humus particles, and plant roots. This is not a random process, but is dependent on electron charge. Clay and humus have high CECs because they are tiny particles with very large surface-to-volume ratio, with many negative sites that can attract cations. Sand has very low CEC because sand particles are large, with low surface-to-volume ratio and hence fewer negative sites. A gardener can add higher rates of fertilizer less frequently when gardening in a soil with a high level of clay or humus, compared to a sandy soil, because cations (potassium, calcium, magnesium and others) are held by soil particles. Because a sandy soil cannot hold the same amount of cations, fertilizing them more frequently with smaller amounts of fertilizer is a better option.

pH: pH is a description of the soil’s acid/alkaline reaction. The pH scale ranges from 0 (very acid) to 14 (very alkaline). Soils generally range from pH 4.0 to pH 8.0. Northeastern forest soils can be very acid (pH 3.5), while Western soils can be very alkaline (pH 9). pH is important because it regulates the availability of individual nutrients in the soil solution.

The pH scale is logarithmic; each unit is 10 times more acid or alkaline than the next. For example, a soil with pH 4.0 is ten times more acid than a soil with pH 5.0, and 100 times more acid than a soil with pH 6.0. A soil’s pH depends on the parent rock (limestone is alkaline, granite is acidic), rainfall, plant materials, and other factors. Individual plants perform best within specific pH ranges. It is just as important to manage pH as fertility. Most garden plants perform well in a soil with pH 6.0 – 7.0. Acid-loving plants such as rhododendron and blueberry perform well in a soil with pH below 5.0.

Living organisms in soil

Many organisms inhabit soil: bacteria, fungi, algae, invertebrates (insects, nematodes, slugs, earthworms) and vertebrates (moles, mice, gophers). These organisms play many physical and chemical roles that affect plants. For example, their secretions help dissolve minerals, making them available to plants; some organisms convert inorganic substances into other forms that are more or less available to plants; organisms add OM to the soil; organisms help decompose OM; many organisms aerate the soil. Some living organisms in the soil cause diseases, some feed on plant tissue, and many compete with plants for nutrients and water.

Rhizosphere: The very thin zone of soil just around roots is called the rhizosphere. This zone is different from the rest of the soil, and it sometimes supports specific and unique organisms. For example, some fungi live together with roots, to their mutual benefit; these mycorrhizal relationships provide the fungi with a place to live, and the fungi assist in the plant’s water and nutrient uptake. Similarly, some nitrogen-fixing bacteria grow together with some plants, including many legumes (members of the bean family). The bacteria convert atmospheric nitrogen into forms that can be used by their host plants. When the host plant dies, the nitrogen compounds released during decomposition are available to the next crop. Any mutually beneficial relationship between two dissimilar organisms is called a symbiosis.

Soil water

Water is an amazing substance. It is called the universal solvent because it dissolves more substances than any other liquid. It is a renewable natural resource. It exists in nature as a solid, liquid and gas. Its molecules cohere (stick together) and adhere (stick to) to other surfaces; this accounts for its ability to reach the top of tall trees. It has a high latent heat, which means that it releases a large burst of energy when it passes from solid to liquid and from liquid to gas. And, when it passes from gas to liquid and from liquid to solid, it absorbs a large burst of energy. Gardeners reap the benefits all of these attributes of water.

Water-holding capacity: A soil’s ability to hold water is called its water-holding capacity. Clayey soils have high water-holding capacity, while sandy soils have low water-holding capacity. As a soil’s pore space is filled with water by heavy rainfall or irrigation, the soil becomes saturated. Then, water gradually drains downward, and the amount of water remaining in the soil against the force of gravity is called the soil’s field capacity. Clayey soils drain much more slowly than sandy soils. Loamy soils reach their field capacity 2-3 days after a heavy rainfall or irrigation. If no more water is added, the soil continues to dry out; plants take up some of the water, and some water moves upward in the soil and evaporates from the surface. Eventually, a soil may dry enough to reach its permanent wilting percentage, the point at which a plant wilts so severely that it cannot recover. At this point, the available water (water that remains available to the plant) is gone, and the only water that remains in the soil is so tightly bound to soil particles that plants cannot access it.

It’s important to understand a soil’s water holding capacity so that we can use appropriate irrigation practices. Irrigating a heavy clayey soil and a sandy soil in the same way would result in very different results.

Soil management

Good soil management is critical for crop productivity. Good management must include consideration of maintaining the soil’s integrity over time. Poor management can lead to erosion, loss of fertility, deterioration of soil structure, and poor crop yields.

Tilling: Mechanical manipulation of soil loosens the soil, and promotes aeration, porosity and water-holding capacity. It allows a gardener to incorporate soil amendments such as OM and lime. On the other hand, tilling tends to decrease aggregation, causing compaction (compacted soils are dominated by few, small pores). It can take years to overcome the damage caused by overtilling.

Managing pH: Soil pH regulates the availability of plant nutrients. pH should be managed only in response to soil test results. Soil pH can be lowered by adding some kinds of organic matter or sulfur or sulfates; this is not often needed in Maine soils. Soil pH can be raised by adding lime or some types of fertilizer or wood ash. It is difficult to overcome the negative effects of applying excessive amounts of these materials. Test first!

Mulching: Mulch is a material that covers the soil. Organic mulches such as compost, aged manure or bark chips decompose to supply OM and nutrients in the long term. Inorganic mulches such as stone or plastic sheet materials have little effect on nutrient levels and do not contribute OM to the soil. All mulches affect soil temperature by insulating or transferring heat, and all mulches help soils retain moisture. Mulches may also help reduce weed growth, prevent erosion and affect insect/disease presence.

Managing OM levels: In natural areas, plants and animals die, decompose and replenish OM in the soil. Each year, plant leaves deciduate and rot (compost) in place, and their nutrients and OM are added to the soil through rainfall and the freeze/thaw cycle that creates cracks in the soil. On the other hand, in developed landscapes where this natural cycle is interrupted, gardeners must implement processes to replenish soil OM. Leaves from deciduous trees can be left in place to decompose; plant debris can be composted and incorporated back into gardens as OM; and plant residue, green manures and animal manures can be incorporated directly into the soil. Some tillage is generally required to incorporate this material into the soil. Adding huge amounts of OM at one time can cause nutrient problems, especially if the material is not fully composted. Adding small amounts of OM periodically can contribute to longterm soil fertility, support soil microflora, contribute to good soil structure, and support the soil’s ability to hold both water and air.

Plant nutrients

Three elements, carbon, oxygen and hydrogen, are essential to plant growth and are supplied by air and water. The other essential elements are referred to as plant nutrients, and are provided by the soil, or are added as fertilizers, and enter plants almost exclusively through the roots. These plant nutrients are divided into two groups. Those required by plants in large amounts are called macronutrients; these are nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and sulfur. Plant micronutrients, needed in tiny amounts include iron, chlorine, zinc, molybdenum, boron, manganese, copper, sodium and cobalt. Macronutrients and micronutrients are all critical to normal plant growth and development; they are simply needed in different amounts.

Organic fertilizer sources include compost, aged manure, rock phosphate, soybean meal, and fish meal. Organic fertilizer can also be “grown” by planting a legume cover crop, which is a crop that is grown with the intention of tilling it into the soil, at which point it is referred to as a green manure. Cover crops also add OM to the soil. Inorganic fertilizer products are also widely available, either as single-nutrient or multi-nutrient products.

Fertilizers are labeled as slow-release or soluble. Slow-release fertilizers provide nutrients over a period of time, as they break down or decompose. Soluble fertilizers are fast-release, and many are dissolved into water and then irrigated onto crops.

Nutrients can be provided by many products and practices. Price, availability, ease of use, needed equipment, time and philosophy should be considered when selecting the best fertilizer and application method for any situation. Occasionally, in severe nutrient deficiency situations, some micronutrients are sprayed onto the foliage of crops, but most are applied to the soil and taken up by roots. In hydroponic production systems, nutrients are dissolved in water and washed over the exposed roots of plants.

Most soils have at least some residual nutrients. Only a soil test can assess this. Fertilizing without the results of a soil test leads to a waste of money and product, and can exacerbate an existing nutrient imbalance. In addition, sometimes nutrients are present in sufficient supply but are unavailable because of too high or too low pH. A soil test can reveal this, and a soil lab professional or crop consultant can recommend practices to resolve such problems.

Soil and fertilizer management tips for home gardeners

Some gardeners do not say that they garden, but rather that they work the soil. This reveals an understanding that good soil conditions are essential to support productive plant growth. Here are a few gardening tips related to soil management:

To amend a heavy (clayey) soil, add OM, not sand. As OM decomposes to humus, it “glues” particles together into aggregates, and improves drainage.

To amend a light (sandy) soil, add OM, not clay. OM increases sand’s ability to hold water and nutrients.

Most ornamental landscape plants (woody trees and shrubs, and herbaceous perennials and annuals) are best fertilized in spring. Fertilizing late in the season can lead to a late-season flush of growth that does not adequately harden off before winter.

Most houseplants are best fertilized at the rate recommended on the product label in spring and summer, and at half that rate in fall and winter.

Fertilize vegetable gardens by banding (place fertilizer alongside the crop row, 2” away and 2” deep in the soil) and/or by incorporating fertilizer into the soil in spring. Side-dressing supplemental nitrogen fertilizer next to growing plants later in the season may be necessary. Manage the pH of garden soil to ensure good nutrient availability. Rotate vegetable crops with cover crops to maintain good levels of organic matter, which helps the soil retain nutrients for plant use.

When fertilizing a lawn, determine the level of growth desired. If a low-maintenance lawn is desirable, no fertilizer may be needed. Slow-release fertilizers are preferred over soluble fast-release formulations. Apply a maximum of 2 pounds nitrogen per 1000 square feet per year on established lawns; in most cases, apply half at spring green-up and half in fall (before September 15). Avoid fertilizing in midsummer. Leave an unfertilized buffer strip of at least 25 feet adjacent to lakes, streams, rivers, bays, vernal pools and wetlands. Avoid using phosphorus fertilizer if a soil test reveals phosphorus is not necessary, as phosphorus can cause freshwater quality problems. Reduce the amount of fertilizer needed by 1/3 to 1/2 each year by mowing with a mulching mower. Avoid weed-and-feed products, which do not allow the option to adjust the fertilize rate.

Avoid compacting soils. Walk on paths, keep garden carts on paths, park in the driveway rather than on the lawn, and avoid walking on one path across a lawn when it is frozen. Never walk on saturated soil. Wait until the garden dries out in spring before planting.

Avoid bare soil in your vegetable garden. When a crop is harvested, replant the area with another crop or plant a cover crop. Bare ground is prone to erosion and surface compaction by raindrops.

To assess whether a soil is adequately drained for many landscape plants, dig a hole 6” wide and 12” deep. Fill it to the top with water and let the water drain. Refill the hole with water, and time how long it takes to drain completely. If it drains within 3 hours, the soil is likely sandy. If it drains in 4-6 hours, drainage is adequate for a wide variety of plants. If some water remains after 8 hours, the soil is likely high in clay content and the site may retain too much moisture for some plants to thrive.

Know Your Garden Soil: How to Make the Most of Your Soil Type

The Six Types of Soil

There are six main soil groups: clay, sandy, silty, peaty, chalky and loamy. They each have different properties and it is important to know these to make the best choices and get the most from your garden.

1. Clay Soil

Clay soil feels lumpy and is sticky when wet and rock hard when dry. Clay soil is poor at draining and has few air spaces. The soil will warm up slowly in spring and it is heavy to cultivate. If the drainage for the soil is enhanced, then plants will develop and grow well as clay soil can be rich in nutrients.

Great for: Perennials and shrubs such as Helen’s Flower, Aster, Bergamot, Flowering quince. Early vegetable crops and soft berry crops can be difficult to grow in clay soil because of its cool, compact nature. Summer crop vegetables, however, can be high yielding vigorous plants. Fruit trees, ornamental trees and shrubs thrive on clay soils.

2. Sandy Soil

Sandy soil feels gritty. It drains easily, dries out fast and is easy to cultivate. Sandy soil warms up fast in spring and tends to hold fewer nutrients as these are often washed away during wetter spells. Sandy soil requires organic amendments such as glacial rock dust, greensand, kelp meal, or other organic fertilizer blends. It also benefits from mulching to help retain moisture.

Great for: Shrubs and bulbs such as Tulips, Tree mallow, Sun roses, Hibiscus. Vegetable root crops like carrots, parsnips and potatoes favour sandy soils. Lettuce, strawberries, peppers, corn, squash, zucchini, collard greens and tomatoes are grown commercially in sandy soils.

3. Silty Soil

Silty soil feels soft and soapy, it holds moisture, is usually very rich in nutrients. The soil is easily cultivated and can be compacted with little effort. This is a great soil for your garden if drainage is provided and managed. Mixing in composted organic matter is usually needed to improve drainage and structure while adding nutrients.

Great for: Shrubs, climbers, grasses and perennials such as Mahonia, New Zealand flax. Moisture-loving trees such as Willow, Birch, Dogwood and Cypress do well in silty soils. Most vegetable and fruit crops thrive in silty soils which have adequate adequate drainage.

4. Peaty Soil

Peaty soil is a darker soil and feels damp and spongy due to its higher levels of peat. It is an acidic soil which slows down decomposition and leads to the soil having fewer nutrients. The soil heats up quickly during spring and can retain a lot of water which usually requires drainage. Drainage channels may need to be dug for soils with high peat content. Peat soil is great for growth when blended with rich organic matter, compost and lime to reduce the acidity. You can also use soil amendments such as glacial rock dust to raise pH in acidic soils.

Great for: Shrubs such as Heather, Lantern Trees, Witch Hazel, Camellia, Rhododendron. Vegetable crops such as Brassicas, legumes, root crops and salad crops do well in well-drained peaty soils.

5. Chalky Soil

Chalky soil is larger grained and generally stonier compared to other soils. It is free draining and usually overlays chalk or limestone bedrock. The soil is alkaline in nature which sometimes leads to stunted growth and yellowish leaves – this can be resolved by using appropriate fertilizers and balancing the pH. Adding humus is recommended to improve water retention and workability.

Great for: Trees, bulbs and shrubs such as Lilac, Weigela, Madonna lilies, Pinks, Mock Oranges. Vegetables such as spinach, beets, sweet corn, and cabbage do well in chalky soils.

6. Loamy Soil

Loamy soil, a relatively even mix of sand, silt and clay, feels fine-textured and slightly damp. It has ideal characteristics for gardening, lawns and shrubs. Loamy soil has great structure, adequate drainage, is moisture retaining, full of nutrients, easily cultivated and it warms up quickly in spring, but doesn’t dry out quickly in summer. Loamy soils require replenishing with organic matter regularly, and tend to be acidic.

Great for: Climbers. bamboos, perennials, shrubs and tubers such as Wisteria, Dog’s-tooth violets, Black Bamboo, Rubus, Delphinium. Most vegetable crops and berry crops will do well since loamy soil can be the most productive of soil types. However, loamy soil requires careful management to prevent depletion and drying out. Rotating crops, planting green manure crops, using mulches and adding compost and organic nutrients is essential to retain soil vitality.

Having trouble growing plants in sandy soil? Check out our gallery of 20 plants (plus growing tips) that will thrive in this environment.

Some areas of the country have sandy soil, while others have clay soil. If you live in a desert region or an area that is located near the coast, it is possible that the soil where your plants will grow is sandy. This type of soil is not known to be a great option for most plants because it will not hold water or nutrients for long, which means that the plants in the soil will have a difficult time growing without regular water and fertilizer. In fact, one of the best ways to help increase the growth potential of sandy soil is to mix it with compost. This will help build up the organic matter that is common in soil and help increase the nutrients that are available to your plants.

Another concern with this type of soil is the potential for erosion to occur because sandy soil is going to be much looser than clay soil. On the other hand, some plants prefer this type of well-drained soil, so if you find the right plant, you will be able to have a beautiful garden in no time. In general, some of the plants that will thrive in sandy soil include cacti, succulents, and similar plants that can live without a lot of outside maintenance and care.

One of the best types of gardens to grow in this environment is a rock garden because plants that tend to grow well in rocky soil will also grow well in sandy soil. Gardens that have a lot of ground cover will also do well in sandy soil, so you will have options for your garden.

In this guide, we are going to take a look at 20 different plants that will thrive in sandy soil.


Sedum is a hardy succulent that can be used as ground cover. It can grow without much water, in poor soil, and in intense sun and heat. These plants have flowers in shades of pink, and they grow best in zones three through 10.

Russian Sage

This purple sage actually prefers dry conditions, so it will thrive in sandy soil in growing zones five through 10. It is also a plant that does not require a lot of water or sun. They do spread, so you may need to prune and separate the plant.


This plant can easily handle harsh conditions including drought and poor soil, so if you need a flowering annual that can attract butterflies, birds, and bees, then this may be an option. They tend to grow best in zones two through 11.


Salvia is a plant that can tolerate a lot of heat and dry soil while attracting butterflies and other pollinators. They prefer well-drained soil, which helps them thrive in sandy soil, and they tend to grow the best in hardiness zones eight to 10.


Larkspurs can grow anywhere from one to seven feet in height. These plants can tolerate dry soil, but you will want to combine it with mulch. This plant grows best in zones two through 10, and they prefer shady conditions.


If you are looking for lush foliage for a sandy soil garden, then hostas are worth considering. They grow best in zones three through nine, and they can tolerate high temperatures and drier soil, so they will thrive in sandy soil.


Lavender is a lovely smelling plant that is ideal for this type of environment because it grows best in well-drained soil. It does not need a lot of nutrients to grow, and it loves the heat. This plant grows best in zones five through nine.

Butterfly Weed

If you want to attract butterflies and other pollinators, then butterfly weed is going to be ideal. This lovely orange flowering plant grows in hardiness zones three through nine, and it can grow in dry, rocky soil and drought conditions.


Phlox is a beautiful violet ground cover that will grow well in sandy soil. It can grow in most soil conditions, and it likes a lot of sunlight. They grow best in zones four through eight.


This is a plant that can easily grow to be up to five feet tall. It is very versatile, so it will grow well in sandy soil, especially in zones five through nine. The flowers that it produces are purple.


Growing best in zones three through nine, the columbine plant is one that will attract hummingbirds to your garden. Typically, the plants grow to be about two feet tall with blooms that can be many colors. They grow best in well-drained soil.

Joe Pye Weed

Joe Pye Weed is an attractive pink flowering plant that grows best in zones four through nine. It can grow in both full or partial shade, and it will tolerate drier conditions. It’s great for adding height to your garden because it can easily grow to 12 feet.


Foxglove are very vibrant plants that grow well in zones four through 10. These plants prefer well-drained soil and partial shade, but they can tolerate most growing conditions. These plants are poisonous, so grow them in an area away from kids and pets.


Also known as spider flowers, a cleome plant is a great option for sandy soil in zones four to 10. These plants are great at tolerating drought conditions, but they also don’t tend to bloom until they are well established in your garden.


This extremely low maintenance plant grows best in zones nine through 11. Resembling a colorful daisy, these plants will bloom in dry, sandy, or poorly fertilized soil. They are also drought-resistant plants, so they will not die if you forget about them.


Yarrow is a common plant to grow in this type of soil. This resilient, easy-to-grow plant loves a lot of heat and sunlight, so it’s ideal for areas where sandy soil is common. This plant tends to grow best in zones three through nine.


Seen most in zones four through nine, the daylily is a plant that can tolerate almost any type of soil. They also do not attract pests, so they require very little care to thrive. The blooms open in the morning, and by sunsets, they die.

Black Eyed Susan

In zones three through nine, you can easily grow Black-eyed Susan. Technically, the yellow and dark brown plant is a wildflower, but it is a plant that will tolerate a lot of sun, and it prefers well-drained soil.

Crape Myrtle

If you are looking for a plant that can live in cold conditions where the soil is not that great, then the crape myrtle is ideal. It produces beautiful blooms, and it does not require a lot of care. These plants grow best in zones seven through 10.


Growing in hardiness zones three through 10, the zinnia is one of the easiest plants to grow, especially in sandy soil. They like heat and well-drained soil, but they can also easily adapt to most growing conditions, especially if you add fertilizer to the soil.


Popular Garden Ideas

Popular Garden Ideas

Selecting Plants For Sandy Soil – Learn About Sand Tolerant Plants

Whether wishing to grow a beautiful flower garden or create a lush vegetable patch, the process of building and maintaining soil health can be quite the undertaking. Depending upon where you live, growers may encounter a wide range of soil conditions and types. While some soil types can prove problematic for differing reasons, sandy soil can be especially frustrating. Luckily, there are ways to manage sandy soil and, surprisingly, a number of sandy soil plants can even thrive in these conditions.

Problems with Plants That Grow in Sand

Sandy soils are especially troublesome to gardeners for many reasons. While well draining and able to prevent root rot in sensitive plants, this free-draining soil has great difficulty in retaining moisture and valuable nutrients in the garden. This is especially true in climates that receive hot summer temperatures. Sandy soil may also become more acidic, requiring balanced applications of lime to correct the pH levels of the soil.

Although it is possible to the correct the concerns of growing in sandy soils, garden plants that grow in sand will need consistent fertilization and irrigation throughout the growing season. This can be done on a small scale for flower beds and vegetable gardens, but for those wishing to create lush landscapes, you may have more success by choosing sandy soil crops and other naturally sand tolerant plants.

Sandy Soil Plants

Choosing plants for sandy soil may initially feel somewhat limited, but gardeners can enhance their landscapes through the incorporation of hardy native plants. In general, plants that grow in the sand will require less maintenance from homeowners as they become established and naturalize in the landscape. Here are just a few examples of trees and flowers adapted to growth in sandy soil:

  • Red cedar trees
  • Flowering crabapple trees
  • Gray dogwood trees
  • Mulberry
  • Succulents
  • Desert cacti
  • Lavender
  • Cosmos
  • Hibiscus
  • Rosemary
  • Rudbeckia

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