Sandy soil is found in every part of the country, presenting challenging soil conditions to gardeners. Though it is widespread in coastal and desert areas, sandy soil occurs in pockets almost everywhere, zapping the strength from plants with its innately dry and infertile character.
Moisture drains quickly through the large pore spaces between the particles of sand when it rains, leaving plants dry again within a day or two. Worse, the water leaches nutrients out of the soil as it drains way; sand particles don't form the tight chemical bonds to nutrient molecules that clay does.
If you're not sure whether your soil classifies as sandy or not, there is a simple test that can tell you. Collect of golf ball size sample of your soil, get it wet, and squeeze it in the palm of your hand. If it squishes into flat patty, you have plenty of clay in your soil and can skip the rest of this article. If it crumbles in your hand, you have sandy soil and should read on.
The upshot of sandy soil is that plants that require good drainage will have that need taken care of. The key is to take steps that they also have the water and nutrients they need.
- Organic matter is the magic ingredient that makes sandy soil moist and fertile — work compost into the soil to a depth of at least six inches (the more, the merrier) and cover the soil around the plants with 2 to 6 inches of mulch (more for big plants, less for small plants)
- Don't plant on mounds — in sandy landscapes you can go against conventional planting wisdom and plant in a slight depression with the root ball just below the soil line
- After planting, build up a donut-shaped ring of soil around the plant — this little berm will fill up with water when it rains making sure that extra moisture goes to the roots rather than running off
- Or, you can take the easy route and work with species that enjoy growing in sandy soil — cacti, palms and succulents are a few examples.