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Can Plants Grow in Sand?

Updated on August 01, 2012

About the author: Randy McLaughlin has a PhD. in Plant Pathology from the University of Wisconsin, has published many research articles and has practiced his craft at Texas A&M, Rutgers University and the USDA-Agricultural Research Service.

USDA-Soil Texture Triangle

Pure sand soils can be found, but most sandy soils have a mixture of silt (smaller particles) and sometimes clay.
Pure sand soils can be found, but most sandy soils have a mixture of silt (smaller particles) and sometimes clay. | Source

Can plants grow in sand? You bet! 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 show to the right to show the variable types of soils, depending on the amount of sand, silt and clay. For a view of the relative sizes of these particles see a diagram in my article on how to water plants.

Sand As A Plant Growth Medium

Sand has disadvantages as a growth medium, like the inability to retain water and nutrients. 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 a sandy loam or a loamy sand, depending on the percentage of silt and 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. An extensive list of drought-tolerant plants, including trees, vines, shrubs and container plants, are found on the Royal Horticultural Society site (listed as a reference below). These type of plants can withstand drying cycles easily and prefer a soil environment that does not retain excessive moisture. For these plants, growth in a clay-type soil would likely end in their death.

Sedum is a plant that withstands drying and it likes soils that are neutral to slightly alkaline (pH 6.8-7.8).  So if you have an acidic soil, add a little lime before you plant and amend the soil annually.
Sedum is a plant that withstands drying and it likes soils that are neutral to slightly alkaline (pH 6.8-7.8). So if you have an acidic soil, add a little lime before you plant and amend the soil annually. | Source

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 using these instructions.

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.

Sand Hydroponic System

Hydroponic systems pump a dilute nutrient solution on a regular schedule to maintain optimal growth conditions.  Sand is one type of media that is used in these systems.
Hydroponic systems pump a dilute nutrient solution on a regular schedule to maintain optimal growth conditions. Sand is one type of media that is used in these systems. | Source

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.

References

1. Drought-tolerant plant list. Royal Horticultural Society.

2. Nutrient solutions for hydroponics in a greenhouse. Texas A&M University.

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    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

      Pavlo Badovskyi 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Interesting, but in my region none grows on sand. Why, if we have a rich soil. Is it used just to develop new technologies of plants growing and new scientific experiments or it really grows better on sand?

    • Randy M. profile image
      Author

      Randy McLaughlin 4 years ago from Liberia, Costa Rica

      Pavlo, it may help to know more about the sand in your region. Is it accompanied by high levels of salt? In that case, very few plants have the ability to grow in it. Irrigation can also decrease the ability of a sandy soil to support growth by increasing salinity of the soil, depending on the type of irrigation water used. This is happening in many regions of southern California.

      I also don't quite understand the phrasing of the last part of your question.

    • mactavers profile image

      mactavers 4 years ago

      Great Hub, I live in Northern Arizona and we enjoy a great variety of natural plants and flowers that grow year around.

    • Randy M. profile image
      Author

      Randy McLaughlin 4 years ago from Liberia, Costa Rica

      Thanks mactavers, native species are adapted to the dry cycles and can be grown around one's home where one is practicing xeriscaping. I have lived in Central Washington where they get around 9 inches of rain per year and have always enjoyed roaming the rocky hills and mountains seeing the different species that bloom in this desert-like environment. Some are quite beautiful and they have different bloom cycles.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image

      Pavlo Badovskyi 4 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Sorry I really asked not well. You describe which plants grow on sand well. Why you plant them in a sand not in a normal soil? Do you have a soil that mainly sandy and you have no other option as to grow on sand or you plant them on sand just to make an experiment which one survives better?

      I can not say about chemical content of our sand. But sandy soil here is a bad soil. Those who have it start growing strawberries on their land because other cultures do not like such soil at all. :)

    • Randy M. profile image
      Author

      Randy McLaughlin 4 years ago from Liberia, Costa Rica

      Pavlo - as I mentioned in the article some plants require soils with excellent drainage in order to protect the roots from harm due to lack of oxygen and/or due to microorganisms that can cause root infection and decay. These are plants that are adapted to sandy soils, so if you plant them in a soil that has a significant amount of clay in it (which retains water better), they are unlikely to survive.

      My article is a response to a question in Hub Answers that asked this same exact question, so it is directed towards answering it specifically. I suppose the the person asking the question (melbel) has a sandy soil and wants to know how best to take advantage of its characteristics to grow plants.

      It is true that sandy soils do require a lot of attention regarding both irrigation and nutrient addition, and it is better to have soils that have more silt and some clay content for both water and nutrient retention. However, you have to work with what you have where you are.

      Regarding your soil, you could send it to a lab for testing. Testing procedures can be found all over the Internet. This may be too technical, but sandy soils are considered moderately saline if they have more that 0.3 deciSiemens of conductivity per meter. There may also be toxic minerals in the soil that inhibit healthy plant growth. If salinity is a problem consider your source of irrigation water as a potential problem - its conductivity can also be measured. If the soil is saline, then adding calcium sulfate, or gypsum, as an amendment helps remove the sodium ions and wash it through the soil profile.

    • garage-remotes profile image

      Rob Reel 4 years ago from Los Angeles, California

      The same is actually quite true for plants in the aquarium, too. For certain varieties, it may be necessary to add a bit of laterite under the sand layer. This is very well known in the aquarist communities, so I'm glad to see that you're educating a broader audience. Voted up!

    • Rui Carreira profile image

      Rui Carreira 4 years ago from Torres Novas

      Curious Hub my friend from Costa Rica ;)

      This is why I'm voting interesting and up!

    • The Dirt Farmer profile image

      Jill Spencer 4 years ago from United States

      An enjoyable read, Randy! Hadn't seen a sand-hydroponics set-up before. Voted up & interesting.

    • Randy M. profile image
      Author

      Randy McLaughlin 4 years ago from Liberia, Costa Rica

      Garage-remotes, thanks for the additional information about aquarium plants - this is good information. Rui and Dirt Farmer, thanks for stopping by voting up!

    • furniturez profile image

      furniturez 4 years ago from Washington

      Had no idea sand was a viable environment for plants - how do I vote this up??

    • Randy M. profile image
      Author

      Randy McLaughlin 4 years ago from Liberia, Costa Rica

      furniturez - the thumbs up symbol is at the end of the article, along with the other rating categories. So, it is below the References section. I am happy you found the article useful.

    • LongTimeMother profile image

      LongTimeMother 4 years ago from Australia

      Years ago I took a job in Western Australia because it had fabulous hot weather, lovely beaches, and I'd never been there. I couldn't believe that people were growing gardens in such sandy soil. I had never considered growing roses in sand, yet lots of people did.

      Took me a while, but I finally became brave enough to try to establish a vegetable garden in my yard. With lots of compost and mulch, I ended up with one of the best gardens I've grown anywhere. Keeping the water up was the main issue, but I installed automatic reticulation and that took care of the watering problem. :)

      Now that I live off the grid and collect all my own rainwater, I am glad I don't live in an area with sandy soil. Water storage would be a huge issue and expense in regions like Western Australia.

      Interesting hub, thanks. Voted up.

    • profile image

      random 3 years ago

      thanks!this helped with a project

    • profile image

      tina 22 months ago

      I live in needles, ca. And im trying to grow various vegetables. Any advice on how to get the best results?

    • MG Seltzer profile image

      MG Seltzer 21 months ago from South Portland, Maine

      I never heard of "sand hydrponics" but your title has intrigued me. I have bookmarked this to come back later today to read. The article looks great.

    • profile image

      Danial 14 months ago

      Cute guys are you big like me

    • profile image

      James Dickerson 14 months ago

      Anybody

    • profile image

      gaurav 7 months ago

      sir, i have land near big river. some time it comes on my lands. and sneeeze all the sand. and put the sand. thts why . now my lands is just like a sandy lands with 8 foot sand . so is there any seed. which grew upin sand . and hold the presure of water.

    • profile image

      Sunshine 6 months ago

      Can I grow plants with sand from the beach and artificial sand? Because I'm doing my experiment so I need some ideas. Thank you

    • profile image

      james 6 months ago

      can plants grow in sand

    • profile image

      Kevin 5 months ago

      where can I buy sand loam in philadelphia

    • profile image

      blueblood 4 months ago

      how can i grow plants in sands in just 5 months?

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