Gardening in Sandy Soil
Gardening in sand is quite a challenge but “I have met the enemy and he is mine.” It’s taken me years to figure out exactly what will grow and what won’t grow in sand. I’ve lost a lot of plants but I’ve learned a lot too. Anything that says it needs rich loamy soil is not for me. Keep moist is definitely not a what you want to describe a plant you buy. Drought tolerant is always a good thing. Thrives on neglect is a good phrase to look for too. I have a lot of shade which presents yet another problem for growing anything really colorful, but that too can happen with careful planning. No matter what you grow or where you grow it it is always necessary to enrich your soil. Peat moss, mulch, leaves, any of those will do and of course doing this with sand is a good idea too. You don’t really have to go overboard but it does help keep your plants wet longer and provides nourishment. The only fertilizer I use is Miracle Gro and it has always done well for me. In the summer every two weeks or so I water everything with Miracle Gro.
I have found many plants that do well in sand from Hostas to Sweet William. The list is actually endless.
Early spring flowers include crocus, daffodils, grape hyacinth snow bells. They all come back year after year. Tulips are another story. The first year they bloom beautifully but after that only leaves come up, no tulips! I’ve looked around the neighborhood and never see tulips so my educated guess is they don’t do well in sand. Azaleas and Rhododendrons do well too. They are lovely in the spring, loaded with flowers from top to bottom. The really nice thing about them is they require minimum care. A lovely spring flower is Columbine. The flowering season for Columbine is short (tho longer than the ones already mentioned) but they are so lovely and need little care though they do prefer partial shade. The dainty two toned flowers are really very pretty. They should be divided every two to three year to keep them healthy. They don’t seem to need much more care than that. Of course occasional watering isn’t a bad idea.
Coral Bells seem to really love the sand so I’ve planted several varieties. They don’t flower for long but their colorful leaves add a nice touch to any garden. I have red leaved, yellow leaved and green leaved. They spread and seem to grow healthier every year with almost no care. I find myself digging them up because the ‘clumps’ become too big for their space. As earlier mentioned, Hostas are a good choice. They too have a short flowering period but the flowers are nice and lily-like. Flowers are usually white but some can be lavender or violet. Most people don’t plant Hostas for the flowers though, they plant them for their attractive leaves. Depending on the variety and whether or not you divide them, they can grow quite large and make a nice focal point in the garden. They are easy to divide so you can get many plants from one well established plant. They are usually green but also come in variations such as green with white, green with yellow, there are also some with yellow leaves. Cat mint is also a great plant for sand (and your cat may like it too.) This plant actually does thrive on neglect. If you fertilize it too much it will wither. Its leaves are a soft color and the tiny lavender flowers make it an attractive plant. Occasional watering is necessary for any plant including cat mint, but that’s about it. Just let it go and watch it grow! Cranesbill geranium thrive too, they are a perennial geranium and don’t mind light shade. They don’t look like a typical geranium but they are called geraniums and are in the family. If dead-headed they will bloom the entire season and spread everywhere. They are like a tiny bush and the flowers, either bright pink or blue, are tiny and all over the bush. Speaking of spreading, Spiderwort likes sand so much it is totally invasive. It grows everywhere, whether you want it or not. The little purple flowers are dainty and close late in the day, but having it grow everywhere gets to be difficult to deal with, and when you try to get them out they are really tough. Their roots are thick and very tenacious. Unless you want a plant that will totally take over your garden, stay away from Spiderwort. If you cut it back after blooming you can get a second bloom. It’s a good idea to cut them back as they tend to get top heavy and look unattractive.
Lilies will also do well in sand but again, they have a short blooming period. Easter lilies don’t seem to do as well as Daylilies. I have had so many Daylilies (they self-propagate too) that I’ve given plants to my entire family and many friends. Daylilies are the orange lilies you see blooming on the side of the road in August – if you live in New York anyway. They are own root so when you want to divide them you have to cut the roots that attach two plants together. They’re really tough and very adaptable. There are many varieties of daylily on the market that grow different heights and have different bloom times and they’ll grow in sun or shade though they do better in sun.
Sedum is another plant that really thrives in sand, again , almost to the point of being invasive, but its bright green color adds a nice touch. I believe mine are invasive because they are the ‘creeping’ variety. There are many varieties and colors of sedum. They flower late summer to fall for a short time except for Autumn Sedum sometimes called Autumn Joy. They start to grow flower heads in mid-summer and by late summer they have huge pink flowers that gradually turn maroon in the fall. They are easy to propagate and divide to spread anywhere you want them. They do prefer sun though they will grow in shade. They became ‘leggier’ if grown in shade.
Echinacea is also a daisy, commonly called coneflower. They do very well in sand and have a long blooming period, most likely because they were prairies flowers. They come in many colors and grow quite tall. Hydrangea do well in sand too. However, as in any soil if you want blue ones you need to add aluminum sulfate unless you are fortunate enough to already have it in your soil. If you don’t want blue, no problem, they will be pink. Russian Sage does okay. It grows and flowers but I’ve seen it bigger and better in other soils. Black eyed Susans seem to thrive in sandy soil. They bloom prolifically and spread like weeds. They too are self-rooting and spread with no encouragement. They are a favorite in the garden and begin their bloom in late summer. Gladiolus like sand too. I have mine planted near my foundation and contrary to popular belief, they come back every year. I did plant them further out in my yard one year and they didn’t come back. You should take the bulbs up in the fall and hold them over till the next growing season unless you have them planted like I do in a very sheltered spot. Of course there’s no guarantee they’ll come back. I have the same luck with Morning Glory. They are not supposed to come back but they do every year and they multiply as well. I have to pull them out of my flower garden because they choke everything else out. They were blue once upon a time but came up pink the second year and have remained pink. Yarrow does well in sand. It looks delicate but is far from it. Yarrow also comes in many colors. Lavender can hold its own in sand. It has grey green leaves that add a nice touch not to mention the smell! Thought not a true flower but a ground cover, Periwinkle thrive in sand. The flowers appear in early spring but the leaves are green year round and it loves to spread.
Speaking of pink, I have a small pink flower that can be grown at the beach! It is called Sea Pink but also known as Thrift. Needless to say it does very well in the sand and is also good in a rock garden. It blooms in early summer with tiny bright pink flowers, however, instead of leaves it grows in short clumps of grass-like leaves which make it attractive in the front of tall flowers. Lots of sun for Sea Pink! Little blue balloon flowers (also called Japanese bellflower) like sand too. They are very different and add a nice touch. It gets its balloon name from the way its flowers appear. Before they open they look like little blue balloons. Although they are supposed to like moist soil, I’ve had mine for three years and they come back and bloom every year. Sun to partial shade will keep them happy. Sweet William does well too. They come back year after year, though they aren’t supposed to either. They are supposed to be biennials but I believe if you let some of the flowers die on the plant they will re-seed themselves. They are like tiny carnations being in the dianthus family, and if dead-headed will bloom all summer long and prefer sun.
So far I’ve only talked about perennials. It’s nice to have lots so you don’t have to plant every year, but annuals can be more colorful and bloom longer filling in the times your perennials aren’t blooming yet. I have found impatiens do very well in sand, but of course prefer light shade to sun. Morning sun is fine but the hot afternoon sun will do them in. Marigolds are a garden staple that can be grown anywhere in any soil. No garden is complete without them and if you have tomato plants put marigolds around the bottom to keep the cut worms away. There are tons more annuals that will do well in sand, it’s just a matter of reading the label. I hope I have given you some insight into growing flowers in your sandy garden.
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