You want to grow plants in your garden, but your soil does not seem suitable for it. There seems to be too much clay in the soil. But you found out that adding sand to garden soil might help.
You should add sand to garden soil if it contains a lot of clay. Add it in a 1:1 ratio, use the correct type of sand, and add enough organic matter to the mix. Improper addition of sand to clay soil will create a concrete-like mixture unsuitable for plants.
In this post, I’ll help you understand the benefits and drawbacks of adding sand to garden soil. I’ll give tips on what kind of sand you should use. And when you should use such sand for your garden.
Let’s take a look.
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What garden soil do you have?
The ideal garden soil should be:
- Rich in nutrients, organic materials, and beneficial microorganisms
- Well aerated
- Feature good drainage while still retaining a small amount of moisture.
- Friable (crumbly) with moderate shape-retention
The three most common soil types are sandy, clay, and sandy loam. The three types of soil differ from each other regarding their texture, water retention, aeration, and compactness.
The primary difficulties with growing plants in sandy soil are the rapid drainage and poor nutrient profile of sandy soil; plants cannot thrive because of a lack of water and nutrients.
Clay exists at the opposite end of the spectrum to sandy soil. Plants often die of thirst in sandy soil but drown or suffocate in clay because of poor drainage and aeration.
Loam is the Mary Poppins of soil types, i.e., it’s practically perfect in every way. This soil is a delight to gardeners, and even individuals with the “black thumbs of death” (i.e., opposite of green thumbs) will be able to grow a prize-winning garden in loamy soil.
Loam is well aerated, friable but still holds an approximate shape, is rich in nutrients and organic material, and retains a moderate amount of moisture while allowing the excess water to drain away.
Benefits of adding sand to garden soil
The goal of soil modification is to replicate the performance of loamy soil. Gardeners will often add sand to clay soil to break up the densely packed clay and thus achieve a soil profile that is midway between the two extreme soil types:
- Create optimal aeration by preventing the clay particles from being too closely packed
- Utilize clay soil’s water retention and sandy soil’s drainage to create the perfect balance between drainage and moisture retention.
- Improve the nutrient profile of sandy soil by incorporating the nutrients from clay
- Incorporate the friable sand with the shape-holding clay to achieve the perfect level of “crumbliness” and shape-retention.
Drawbacks of adding sand to garden soil
The arguments for adding sand to soil are convincing until you consider the drawbacks – it is like everything in life; it is easy to buy into an idea if you only hear one side of it!
The two most significant drawbacks to adding sand to clay soil are:
- The formation of a perfect concrete mixture
The Expense Of Adding Sand To Your Garden Soil
Sand is only effective at changing the profile of clay soil if sufficient quantities are added. The ideal ratio of sand to clay is 1:1. For every cubic meter of clay, you need to add a cubic meter of sand.
The amount of sand required to change the soil structure of a standard yard is significant, and the associated price can give you heart palpitations!
Better Drainage Or The Perfect Concrete Mix?
The theory of how sand improves drainage in water-logged clay is sound, but, in practice, it is often disastrous!
The fine particles of clay are like the fine dust of concrete powder, while the horticultural sand is the equivalent of building sand. When water is added to the mixture, the clay particles migrate into the spaces between the sand particles, where they form densely packed supports to the “structural” sand particle.
Once the water drains away, we are left with an impenetrable mass of concrete that is worse than pure sand or pure clay.
How Do You Improve Clay Drainage Without Getting Concrete?
Vast quantities of organic matter need to be mixed into the sand-clay mixture to prevent turning your garden into a concrete slab. The large particulates of organic matter are irregularly shaped and thus help avoid clay soil clumping.
Introducing organic matter to clay soil improves the soil’s nutrient profile and biodiversity. Soil with sustainable biodiversity is more fertile, richer, and better aerated.
During the first year, the organic material should be dug into the clay-sand mixture and sufficient quantities added to achieve a 1:1 ratio of organic matter to sand-clay mixture.
What kind of sand do you mix with soil?
Typically, horticultural sand is the preferred type of sand to “break up” and improve drainage in clay soil. Horticultural sand comprises various sized particles:
- Medium-sized particles: 9 x 10 -3 inches to 2 x 10 -3 inches
- Coarse particles: 19 x 10 -3 inches to 4 x 10 -2 inches
- Very coarse particles: 4 x 10 -2 inches to 2 x 10 -1 inches
Horticultural sand comprises crushed granite, quartz, and sandstone; this sand goes by many names, including sharp sand, coarse sand, and quartz sand.
Coarse builder’s sand is a viable alternative if you cannot find horticultural sand for sale in your area.
When should I use sand in my garden?
Sand should never add to sandy soil or loamy soil. Adding sand to loamy soil is counterproductive, as it negatively impacts the performance of the loamy soil’s characteristics.
Many wise gardeners have stated that fighting nature is a losing battle. Their advice to aspiring gardeners is to design their gardens around the natural soil and climate, i.e., choose plants that can live in clay soil.
However, if you are determined to get your perfect garden and don’t mind the time or expense, it will take to achieve it, adding sand and organic matter to clay soil can help you achieve your dreams.
The best time to add sand to your garden soil is BEFORE you’ve planted any plants. The sand needs to be worked into the clay, as does the organic matter. Once the soil mixture meets your specifications, you need to add a topsoil layer complete with plant-friendly worms.
You are now ready to plant your dream garden!
Where to buy coarse sand for gardening?
We can purchase smaller quantities from an online store such as Amazon. If you want large quantities for the garden, it’s best to check with a local nursery or garden center. You may get coarse sand from most home depots and retailers selling building materials.
Here are some of my favorite container gardening tools
Thank you for reading this post. I hope it helps you with your gardening needs. I’ve listed some tools below that can help you with container gardening. These are affiliate links so I’ll earn a commission if you use them.
Gardening Gloves – I find the Pine Tree Tools Bamboo Gardening Gloves really good for both men and women. It’s made from bamboo so helps absorb perspiration. They are also comfortable and fit very well.
Containers – You know picking the right container is crucial for your container gardening. I’ve written a detailed post on the best containers you can choose from. If you’re happy with a plastic container, you can check out the Bloem Saturn Planter.
Watering Can – This is a must-have tool when you’re growing plants in pots or grow bags. It helps to water the potting soil without splashing on the foliage. The Kensington Watering Can is stylish, strong, and can provide precision when watering potted plants.
Trowel – Garden Guru Trowel is my favorite because it’s durable and comfortable to use. My gardening friends really love having a trowel because they use it for digging soil, mixing fertilizer, moving seeds, leveling out the soil, mixing compost or mulch, and also dividing tubers
Bypass Pruner – I really like the Corona Bypass Pruner because it’s durable and gives a clean cut that helps plants recover faster. If you’re looking for something cheap, get the Fiskars Bypass Pruner that is really good as well.
To see an extensive list of the best container gardening tools gardeners recommend, check out this resource that I made for you.