Sandy soils drain very quickly and hold little in the way of plant nutrients. Plants suitable for very sandy soils need to prefer dry and infertile conditions.
What to look for
- Very dry soil – even in winter or after periods of rain
- Rough or “gritty” appearance
- Plants wilting
Do you have a sandy soil?
Sand is an important mineral constituent of all good soils, along with clay and silt. But when it is the major constituent, the soil is called a sandy soil; sandy soils have a high proportion of sand and little or no clay. Also known as “light” soils, sandy soils drain very quickly after rain – even torrential downpours – or watering. Because water drains so quickly, and sandy soils hold and tend to contain very little humus or organic matter, it takes the majority of plant nutrients with it. This means that sandy soils tend to be infertile and low in plant nutrients.
It may be obvious that you have a light sandy soil, in that you can see particles of sand, and even stones, and it feels gritty when rubbed between the fingers. The soil always dries out quickly, especially in summer and during periods of warm weather.
How do you tell if you have a sandy soil? Take some in your hand.
- Sandy soils feel rough and gritty
- Hold a handful of soil and squeeze it firmly. A sandy soil won’t hold its shape or simply crumbles away
What’s good about sandy soils?
Sandy soils are easy to cultivate and work even after periods of very wet weather. They drain very quickly, so waterlogging is rarely a problem – unless the garden has a high water table. They warm up quickly in spring, which means you can start sowing earlier in the year.
What’s bad about sandy soils?
Because they drain so well, and often contain very little in the way of organic matter, they dry out very quickly – especially during hot or windy weather and during warm summers. The lack of organic matter, and fast drainage, means they are low in plant nutrients, which are quickly washed out by rain or watering. Sandy soils are often very acidic, sometimes too acidic for some plants.
Unless you spend time and effort improving the soil with lots of bulky organic matter and/or on watering and feeding, choose plants that will grow well in dry and infertile soils. But even these may struggle while they’re establishing or during prolonged periods of hot, dry weather.
The following are particularly suitable for sandy soils.
Acer campestre, A. negundo, A. platanoides