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Can Plants Grow in Sand? Yes! Here’s what to do

Some plants thrive well in sand, and others don’t. However, there are things that you can do to grow all plants in sand successfully.

Plants can grow in sand. It’s a common assumption that for plants to grow, they need soil, and while having rich soil definitely helps, some ground plants grow just as well in sand. A typical example is Cacti. However, growing plants in sand take a bit more effort. 

Plants can grow in sand if there is a steady supply of water and nutrients. Unfortunately, sandy soil does not hold moisture and nutrients well; therefore, plants with a more elaborate, deep growing root system will grow well. More attention will be needed to successfully grow plants that are not well adapted to sandy soils.

Unlike clay soil or loam soil, sand may not contain as many nutrients. However, plants can grow in sand, and there are some things you can do to make it more conducive for plant growth which we will explain further in this article.

Can You Grow Plants in Sand?

Plant Growing in Sand

Yes, you can. The plants that grow in the sand are quite a few in quantity, but they do exist. This question is often asked because sandy soil does not provide the minerals and nutrients as simple clay soil. 

This may come as a surprise, but sandy soil is often the preference of many plants, and some gardeners say that sandy soil is easy to work on. However, this is also a fact that clay soil is way better than sand in most factors.

Sandy soil or the sand does allow plants to grow in it. Also, it is relatively difficult to maintain plants in sandy soil compared to clay.

Sand medium needs more water, more fertilizers, and more dampness. 

The reason is that the sand is composed of larger particles. Therefore, its tiny particles are not tightly packed, and the sand is not potent. Moreover, the sandy soil does not keep the moisture intact for too long and requires water after some time continuously.

How to Amend Sand for Better Plant Growth

Mix in Organic Matter

Organic soil amendments include things like compost, aged manure, coconut coir, leaves and wood ash.

Mixing organic materials in sand can add nutrients to the soil by increasing the organic matter but at the same time reduce the vital nitrogen which the plant uses.

During the decomposition of leaves, microorganisms use nitrogen within the soil which becomes temporarily unavailable to plants. Adding small amounts at a time will be beneficial.

The same goes for any undecayed or “matured” organic material.

See our article on the benefits of using leaves in garden soil.

To create an ideal growing medium, I use this cost-effective soil amendment when repotting which enhances the soil and gives my plants the best growing conditions.

Mycorrhizal Inoculant by DYNOMYCO

Add Fertilizer

The best type of fertilizer to add to sand is a 10-10-10 (NPK) mix of Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium. This should be added in a granular form and covered slightly to prevent loss from erosion.

Use 2 to 3 pounds of fertilizer such as 10-20-10 for every 100 square feet of garden area. 

After the plant has established itself you can switch to foliar application of fertilizer. This can significantly reduce the loss through leaching or soil erosion.

See our detailed post on adding fertilizer when misting.

If you are interested in a fertilizer that will ensure your plant grows healthy for a long time with minimal intervention, I would recommend Osmocote Smart-Release Plant Food. You can find it by clicking here.

Osmocoat fertilizer

Add a top Layer of Mulch

You can buy mulch in bags or make your own with shredded newspaper or hay.

Adding mulch to sand gardens requires careful planning because it can cause problems if not done correctly.

If you are using straw or hay, try to put it on top of the sand so that it does not get wet. If possible, place it around the base of the plant.

When placing mulch around the base of the plants, do not allow it to touch the stem. It can wick water up into the stem causing rot.

The Benefits of Mulching:

  • Adds Nutrients
  • Reduce evaporation
  • Heat retention
  • Water conservation
  • Keeps weeds down.
  • Pest Control
  • Erosion Control

Mixing old mulch into sand can also be beneficial with respect to adding that extra organic matter.

Plant Sacrificial Cover Crops

A cover crop is any plant grown specifically for soil improvement purposes. They can be used to add organic matter to the soil, reduce erosion, increase water retention, and provide habitat for beneficial insects. The main types of cover crops include ryegrass, hairy vetch, crimson clover, and alfalfa.

Using cover crops on sand can effectively increase the nutrients for plants to grow and it’s like having a live mulch layer just sitting there, protecting the sandy medium.

What is the Best Type of Sand for Plants?

sand in gardening

The best type of sand for healthy plant growth is horticultural sand. Why? Because the horticultural sand is pretty suitable for drainage compared to other sands. 

You may or may not know if there is no passage for waste and unnecessary water in the soil. However, it has negative impacts on your plants.

Horticultural soil provides the best drainage system among the sandy soils. This sand consists of granite or sandstones.

But what makes it unique from others? You know that sandy soils are composed of larger particles, making it harder for plants to survive. 

Still, Horticultural sand is composed of larger particles than clay but smaller and finer particles than regular ones like beach sands. This feature of Horticultural sand makes it different from other types of sands. 

Can Garden Plants Grow in the Sand?

Yes, garden plants can grow in the sand. But even after all of its benefits, it still has some drawbacks. Like you cannot just plant rose or jasmine flowers in the sand. 

I’m saying this because most gardens have hundreds of flowers for beautification, which can’t be done in sandy soils.

But if you are gardening for vegetation and are planning to grow some vegetables in your garden, you can plant potatoes, cucumbers, beans, and other vegetables in the sand. 

They do well there. You would also like to consider one that will take another level of effort working on sandy soils.

What are the Effects of Using Sand to Grow Plants?

Sandy soils have drawbacks that make them less appealing than clay soil when it comes to gardening. Like it has fewer nutrients and minerals, less water and moisture. So let’s take a look at them one by one.

Less Support:

One of the biggest disadvantages of sandy soils is that they don’t support most types of plants due to their composition. 

The particles in the sand are not tightly stuck together, which makes it infertile. Most of the desert plants grow in the sand because they don’t need that much water.

However, those little spaces between the sand particles let these plants expand their roots, and because plants like Cacti do not require much water or moisture, Cacti plants grow in the sand.

Lack of Nutrients:

No matter how many times someone says that sandy soil is good, they cannot deny that sandy soils have way fewer nutrients than clay soils. Of course, that is also a negative point. But what nutrients in particular?

Because the sand has less support, it cannot keep or hold nitrogen in it. That’s why nitrogen can easily slip away from the sand, causing denitrification. 

Sandy soils also lack sulfur, potassium, and some other essential minerals.

Lack of Water:

Yet another con of the sand is its inability to retain water. Again the relatively larger spaces between the sand particles are the culprits here. 

Water quickly slips off the sand because of its composition, once again. Sand is mainly composed of crystal particles.

In general, no particle of the sandy soils supports water retention; thus, it becomes less beneficial for hydrophilic plants. 

Because of that, someone using sand for gardening will water it more often than clay soils. In addition, the lack of water in sandy soils dries them rapidly in the summer seasons.

Insect Infestation in the Sand:

Many insects, like sand mites, beach hoppers, blood worms, horse flies, live in the sand. These insects’ bites are pretty harmful, even for humans. 

It has been concluded that sand flies feed on plants, making it difficult for plants to grow in sandy soils.

The pests are not only found in sandy soils, however, but we are talking about the sand here. Pests eat the stems, leaves, and other parts of plants to survive. If you plan to plant in sandy soils, be ready to deal with these sand mites.

Can Plants Grow in the Beach Sand?

When people say plants can grow in sand, they mostly talk about desert sand. This is because the beach sand has a higher quantity of salt because of the ocean; only a handful of plants grow in the beach sand.

Beach sand is not considered to be an ideal place for plants to grow due to its lack of basic minerals, and it does not support water retention.

But yes, plants like American Beachgrass, Beach Bur, Beach Saltbush, Pampas Grass, and others grow in beach sands. 

Because they are designed to endure a lack of basic necessities, otherwise, it is better to use desert sand to plant and vegetation some certain plants.

Plant Growing in Sand

Can Sandy Soil Sustain Plant Growth?

Only those plants that need relatively less water or, in other words, are hydrophobic, grow pretty well in the sand, and are sustained in sandy soil. 

This is because the roots of the hydrophobic plant find a suitable place between the spaces of the sand.

Because of poor water retention ability, plants’ growth is affected by the soil’s rapid drying. The thing about plants is that they need a lot of water to maintain their healthy growth, and when they are deprived of it, the plants start to die.

If you are using sandy soil, you will have to plant only those hydrophobic plants that don’t need much water. 

Keep in mind that the sand-specific plants do not provide any beautification to your garden; you can pretty much guess that.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Sandy Soils:

Like any other soil, sandy soil has its advantages and disadvantages. For instance, sandy soil is easy to till compared to rocky soil. But on the other hand, sandy soil allows for better drainage and water penetration than clay soils. 

Sandy soils are more prone to erosion than clay soils. In addition, sandy soils need more fertilizer than clay soils because sandy soils do not retain as much organic matter as clay soils do. Here are a few other advantages and disadvantages of sandy soil. 

Advantages:

You may have heard that over-watering the plants is as dangerous as under-watering them. Regular clay soils have high water retention capability, and water stays in clay soil for long, comparatively. Therefore, there is always a doubt of over-watering in clay-soil plants.

Things are different in sandy soils, as they have pretty poor retention capability, and water doesn’t stay in the sand for long. So, you can easily water them for as long as you want, without the fear of over-watering.

You can easily add needed fertilizers or chemicals in the sand because sands can be easily dug up compared to clay soils due to lighter and relatively less dense sand.

Because the sand has large spaces between its particles, it becomes easier for plant roots to expand further into the ground. The sand takes the point here.

Disadvantages:

The widely known disadvantage of sandy soils is that they don’t possess a lot of minerals and essential nutrients. Moreover, the sand does not retain water, making them unnecessary for many plant species.

You can add all the fertilizing chemicals you want, but not all of them would properly work in the sand due to its composition. The large spaces among the particles let the nitrogen, potassium, sulfur, and H2O slip away, causing several deficiencies.

Due to the lack of moisture, it is pretty easy to warm sandy soils, especially in the summer and spring seasons. These sudden and unbalanced changes in the soil temperature negatively affect the plants and their healthy growth.

Conclusion:

Yes, many want to know which species of plants grow in sand. This is because they are generally hydrophobic and need fewer essential nutrients. But one thing to consider is that sandy soils need more care than clay soils.

They will need more water, more fertilizers, and extra care. So, you must have basic knowledge regarding sand-specific plants and how you can plant them in your gardens. That’s it for today, folks. Thank you.

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