Sandy soil is literally soil that’s made up of mainly sand particles. On the positive side, sandy soils are free draining and easy to dig. On the other hand, they can also be hard to wet, hard to keep moist (as sand dries out quickly) and a challenge to enrich with organic matter such as compost and manure.
Sandy soils tend to be low in nutrients and are readily leached of added fertilisers. They are naturally low in organic matter and may be alkaline in soil pH. Although they are easy to dig, holes may collapse, especially when the soil is dry.
If you are unsure about whether your soil is sandy or not, there is a simple soil test you can do using a sample of soil from your garden. Click to find out how to do the one-step test for soil type.
As a quick guide, a handful of moist sandy soil can’t be squeezed into a ball or rolled into a sausage shape as it just falls apart. The more loamy the sandy soil, the better it can be shaped.
Plants for sandy soil
Although sandy soils may sound like a challenge, there are many plants adapted to grow in them and these are a good starting point when planning a garden. Sand-loving plants include natives from coastal and inland areas, along with Mediterranean and desert plants. Lawns also grow well on sandy soils provided they are well watered.
While most productive plants require lots of additional nutrients and water to thrive in sand, carrots and native spinach, also known as Warrigal greens, grow well in sandy soil.
Ornamental native plants for sandy soil include banksias (especially coast banksia), tea trees (Leptospermum and Melaleuca spp.), wattles, cushion bush (Leucophyta brownii), coastal rosemary (Westringia fruticosa), eremophilla, dianella, kangaroo paw, flannel flowers, mesembryanthemum, hardenbergia (Hardenbergia violacea) and golden guinea vine (Hibbertia scandens). Also growing well in these conditions are lavender, rosemary and many succulents, such as ice plants and silver foliage plants such as artemisia.
Improving sandy soil
Longer term, sandy soil can be modified into sandy loam by constantly adding organic material such as compost, rotted manure and mulch. To do this, work organic matter into soil prior to planting and regularly spread organic mulch and manure over the soil surface to replenish organic matter.
Alternatively create raised beds or planting mounds on top of sandy soil using organic garden mix and compost. These can be used to grow a range of plants, particularly productive plants such as fruit trees and vegetables.
To make it easier for new plantings to survive in sandy soil, line the planting hole with several sheets of wet newspaper. This technique slows water loss for the new plant but eventually breaks down as the plant begins to get established in its new home. Water all new plantings in sandy soils regularly to ensure the roots don't dry out.
As sandy soils can be water repellent, it may also be necessary to apply a soil-wetting agent such as Wettasoil from time to time to encourage water to soak in.