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Can Plants Grow in Sand?

Randy has a Ph.D. in Plant Pathology from U. of Wisconsin and practices his craft at universities and USDA-Agricultural Research Service.

Yes, you can in fact grow plants in sand and sandy soil. Read on to find out how!

Yes, you can in fact grow plants in sand and sandy soil. Read on to find out how!

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.

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.

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

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.

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

ProsCons

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.

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.

References

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.

© 2012 Randy McLaughlin

Comments

Randy on January 28, 2020:

This Article I Read Made Me Get A 98 On Science!!!

L M Reid from Ireland on October 29, 2019:

A very useful article thank you

Richard M. Boyce on June 22, 2019:

Excellent review of the Science of Sand.

Kendra Jackson on March 09, 2019:

cool

erin mcmullen on November 04, 2018:

nice

Elizabeth Hollister on October 14, 2018:

Very good!!

Beulah on February 18, 2018:

What happens when you plant a bean or maize seed in white sand for building houses? Pls reply...

fjc on February 16, 2018:

what if it was black sand?

Tammy James on October 20, 2017:

Love the website

Anonymous on September 28, 2017:

I know who you are and where you live

Vntnse01 on August 28, 2017:

I live in Connecticut and I recently bought a venus fly trap, and I would like to transplant it to a bigger container. It's my understanding that I need to use 50/50 mix of Peat and concrete sand, does beach sand have the same nutritional value as concrete sand? Can I use beach sand if it's available?

Bella on June 09, 2017:

Hi, I am from Australia and I had to conduct a experiment to see which soil is more beneficial so I choose sand, potting mix and garden bed soil. Surprisingly sand was the better one. Can you tell me why?

blueblood on November 23, 2016:

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

Kevin on October 26, 2016:

where can I buy sand loam in philadelphia

james on September 20, 2016:

can plants grow in sand

Sunshine on September 02, 2016:

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

gaurav on August 08, 2016:

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.

James Dickerson on January 26, 2016:

Anybody

Danial on January 26, 2016:

Cute guys are you big like me

MG Seltzer from South Portland, Maine on July 02, 2015:

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.

tina on May 17, 2015:

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

random on October 21, 2013:

thanks!this helped with a project

LongTimeMother from Australia on March 01, 2013:

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.

Randy McLaughlin (author) from Liberia, Costa Rica on August 09, 2012:

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.

furniturez from Washington on August 08, 2012:

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

Randy McLaughlin (author) from Liberia, Costa Rica on August 07, 2012:

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

Jill Spencer from United States on August 07, 2012:

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

Rui Carreira from Torres Novas on August 07, 2012:

Curious Hub my friend from Costa Rica ;)

This is why I'm voting interesting and up!

Rob Reel from Los Angeles, California on August 02, 2012:

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!

Randy McLaughlin (author) from Liberia, Costa Rica on August 01, 2012:

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.

Pavlo Badovskyi from Kyiv, Ukraine on August 01, 2012:

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 McLaughlin (author) from Liberia, Costa Rica on August 01, 2012:

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.

mactavers on August 01, 2012:

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

Randy McLaughlin (author) from Liberia, Costa Rica on August 01, 2012:

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.

Pavlo Badovskyi from Kyiv, Ukraine on August 01, 2012:

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?