Can Plants Grow in Sand?
While pure sand is not an ideal medium for growing plants, it can be used to successfully grow a number of different plant species. I remember going to my grandparents' homes during holidays and summers, where the soil was a very deep, loose sand. They both lived in the same county in Texas, and both had large gardens where they grew all of the vegetables that are common in gardens in rural Texas, including watermelons, tomatoes, potatoes, corn, pinto beans, and okra. These sandy gardens were very productive, but there are some practices good gardeners employ to successfully grow plants in these soils.
Several guidelines for growing plants in sandy soils are discussed below. A USDA-ARS chart is below to show the variable types of soils, depending on the amount of sand, silt, and clay.
Can You Grow Plants in Sand?
While most plants are not able to grow in pure sand, many plants can thrive when grown in sandy soil such as loam sand and sandy loam.
USDA-Soil Texture Triangle
What Types of Plants Grow in Sand?
If you are thinking of growing plants in sand, consider growing succulents like cacti, sedum, lamb's ears, purple coneflower, coreopsis, lavender, or euphorbia species. There are also sand-loving trees and grasses to consider.
These type of plants can withstand drying cycles easily and prefer a soil environment that does not retain excessive moisture. For these plants, growing them in a clay-type soil would likely end in their death.
Best Plants to Grow in Sandy Soil
- Bearded Iris (Iris germanica)
- Black Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia)
- Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
- Lavender (Lavandula angustifolia)
- Phlox (Phlox)
- Salvia (Salvia nemorosa)
- Sedum (Sedum)
Sand as a Plant Growth Medium
Sand has disadvantages as a growth medium, but luckily in nature, it usually doesn't exist in the pure state. There is usually at least some percentage of silt particles, which increases its ability to hold water and retain nutrients. Sand that is used for building purposes is washed to remove the smaller silt particles. A natural sand that has some silt and a little organic matter is best for growing plants. This type of soil is called either sandy loam or loamy sand, depending on the percentage of silt and sand.
Why Is Sandy Soil Bad for Growing Plants?
The issues with sandy soil are that the increased sand content makes it difficult for the soil to retain nutrients and water. The quartz crystals that make up sand are very fine, and they don't hold onto nutrients and water like regular soil does. Due to this, you have to be very careful when watering and using fertilizer.
Why Is Sandy Soil Good for Growing Plants
If you are careful and you understand the drawbacks, using a sandier soil can actually be very good for growing plants in. Since sandy soil is lighter and it doesn't compact, it is much easier to work with, and you will not have to worry about overwatering your plants like you would with regular soil.
Sand Is an Ideal Medium for Hydroponics
Although many different types of media can be used to grow plants in hydroponics culture, sand is one of the cheapest materials. It is easy to recharge with nutrients, and it can be washed easily. Some use a mixture of pea gravel and sand as a growth medium. You have to be careful though with what type of sand you have. In some regions, it may be more common to have a calcareous (calcium-based) sand particle. In that case, the calcium ions in this sand can rob copper from nutrient solutions, which is an essential micronutrient. With silica-based sands, micronutrient absorption is not a problem.
Hydroponics often use drip irrigation as a watering method to keep the sand moist. These watering solutions contain both macro and micronutrients to provide a constant availability of all of the minerals necessary for plant growth.
Sand Hydroponic System
How Sand Affects Plant Growth
The sand content of your soil can have a huge impact on how your plants do. The important thing to keep in mind is how sandy your soil is and what type of plant you want to grow in it. Just because the soil is on the sandy side, it does not mean you can't grow anything there. Many plants do well in sandy soil, and they may do poorly in a soil that contains lots of dirt.
For a plant to be healthy it requires room for growth, ample nutrients, and water. So long as you have the right balance of those three things, you can have lots of success in growing plants in sandy soil.
Pros and Cons of Growing Plants in Sand
Little chance of over-watering
Does not hold onto nutrients or water as well as normal soil
Easy to dig up and add fertilizer to
Certain fertilizers will not work
Easier for the roots of the plant to grow
More prone to severe temperature changes
When to Amend Sandy Soil
Amending sandy soil is necessary in some cases to support plant growth. If you have an acidic (low pH) sandy soil and you wish to grow a plant that prefers a more alkaline (high pH) environment, adding lime is necessary. On the other hand, if you have an alkaline sandy soil and you want to grow a plant that prefers a neutral or acidic pH, an amendment with sulfur would be necessary. Have your soil tested to determine its pH by a lab or do it yourself if you have the means.
If you wish to grow plants that need more soil moisture, adding organic matter will help in that regard. Peat is a good addition as well as compost. Sometimes the battle for getting a plant established is the biggest obstacle. Once the plant has established a significant root system, pampering the plant with amendments and frequent watering may not be necessary. But, it pays to do your homework first as to what needs each of the plants has before you plant.
1. Drought-tolerant plant list. Royal Horticultural Society.
2. Nutrient solutions for hydroponics in a greenhouse. Texas A&M University.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
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© 2012 Randy McLaughlin