How Do You Farm On Sandy Soil?

Are you wondering, “how do you farm on sandy soil?” The truth is, this isn’t always an easy question to answer. However, there are tips you can incorporate into your gardening and farming strategies to make sandy soil easier to deal with. 

Types of Soil

Types of Soil

Before diving into the question of how to farm on sandy soil, it’s important to first understand what sandy soil actually is.

As a natural resource, soil can loosely be categorized into many different soil types. Each of these types has different characteristics with various limitations and benefits.

Clay soil is the heaviest type of soil. Since the particles in clay soil are large, they hold a high amount of water.

It becomes compact easily and drains slowly. It can be a difficult soil type to work with for this reason, especially when you consider that it cracks when it becomes dry.

Silt soil is light and retains moisture easily. It has medium-sized particles that can easily become compacted and can wash away in heavy rainfall.

Loam is often considered the ideal soil type as it is a mixture of sand, clay, and silt. This kind of soil is fertile and easy to work with, offering excellent drainage.

Last but not least, sandy soil. Sandy soil tends to be warm, dry, and light. It is low in nutrients and high in acidity, draining water quickly.

It is relatively easy to work with and also warms up faster in the spring. That said, sandy soil also dries out and loses nutrients faster. 

You may also encounter chalk or peat soil, though these aren’t as common as loam, silt, sand, and clay. 

Is Sandy Soil Easy to Cultivate?

Sandy soil tends to be relatively easy to work with. It drains quickly and is light, meaning it won’t turn into a heavy, sodden mess when you try to plant into it.

Because it drains quickly, though, you’re going to need to pay special attention to your irrigation to make sure your plants don’t dry out. 

Not only that, but sand warms up quickly in the springtime. 

It doesn’t hold as many nutrients as you might like, so you may find yourself having to fertilize more often. 

How to Turn Sandy Soil Into Good Soil?

If you’re sick of feeling as though you live on a beach and want to stop having to water your garden constantly, there are a few tips you can try to improve your sandy soil.

First, perform a soil test. Although you might think your soil is pure sand, there’s a good chance that it actually contains a combination of soil types.

To figure this out, pick up a handful of soil. Wet it, then attempt to roll it into a ball. Sandy soil will crumble and fall completely apart.

Clay soil will clump together, while silty soil will appear almost soapy. Loam will be somewhere in between. 

This helpful video will show you another simple test you can do for your soil: 

If you’re still not sure, feel free to take a sample over to your local cooperative extension. They will often test your soil for you for free (or for minimal expense). Then you’ll have zero guesswork involved! 

Once you know what kind of soil you have, you can work to improve it.

The name of the game here is organic matter.

Adding lots of organic matter can improve any kind of soil – regardless of whether that soil is sand, silt, clay, or anything in between. 

Both compost and manure are great choices. Not only will they add nutrients to the soil but they can also increase the pH of acidic sandy soils. 

Organic matter will improve soil structure and its ability to hold water. You’ll need to add organic matter frequently – ideally at a  ratio of at least two five-gallon buckets of organic matter per square yard each year.

You can also apply organic matter as a mulch, which will not only improve the soil as it breaks down but can also limit erosion. 

You won’t notice much improvement after the first year or perhaps even after the second. After doing this for several growing seasons, however, you’ll likely discover that your sandy soil is no longer sandy. 

What to Farm in Sandy Soil: A Few Sand-Loving Crops to Try

If you’d rather work with the soil you have rather than try to change it (or worse, try to work against it!) There are a few plants you can try to grow.

Certain plants prefer the conditions offered by sandy soil. They might like growing in sand because they don’t like having wet feet or they prefer soils that are not overly fertile.

Some good plants to consider growing in sand include:

  • Tulips
  • Sun roses
  • Tree mallow
  • Hibiscus
  • Carrots
  • Potatoes
  • Parsnips
  • Lettuce
  • Corn
  • Strawberries
  • Squash
  • Peppers
  • Collard greens
  • Tomatoes 

Root crops, especially, do quite well in sandy soil. That’s because the loose, airy soil makes it easy for these plants to extend their roots deep into the soil.

They don’t become misshapen or craggy, as is often the case when they are grown in heavier soils, like clay.

Just keep in mind that some plants may like the looser conditions of sand but will still need supplemental watering and nutrients.

Potatoes, for instance, tend to be thirsty, so up your watering regimen a bit when growing tubers in the sand. 

Gardening in Sandy Soil: Other Tips

Gardening in Sandy Soil

There are a few other tips you can follow when you’re gardening in sandy soil.

One is to consider planting in raised beds. By growing in raised beds, you don’t have to worry about the quality or texture of the soil at all, since you’ll be planting several inches above the actual soil line and adding new soil of your own. 

Building and then filling new raised beds with soil can be costly and time-consuming, but worth it if you don’t have the time to commit to improving your sandy soil over time with organic matter.

You may also want to install a drip irrigation system for your garden. This will allow you to water your plants more frequently and to do so where it counts – at the roots – rather than watering the leaves. 

Be sure to follow proper spacing when planting your vegetables and flowers, too. It is already tough for plants to get the water and nutrients they need in sandy soil – don’t make it more difficult for them by making them compete with each other!

Finally, remember to fertilize your plants often. Avoid using synthetic fertilizers whenever possible, as these only make it harder for soil structure to improve.

Use organic matter, like compost or manure. It will provide your plants with the nutrients they need while also improving soil structure over time. 

Is Sandy Soil Best for Farming?

Sandy soil isn’t the best for farming, but as long as you follow the tips we gave you above, it’s not the worst, either.

The truth is that there is no “worst” soil for farming. There are some soils, like sand and clay, that can certainly be more challenging to work with. 

However, once you know the best practices for improving and working with the soil you have, it will be much easier for you to grow crops – no matter where you might be!

Plus, gardening in warm, sandy soil will make you feel as though you’re on the beach. So kick off your shoes and enjoy the experience – there’s got to be something to love about sandy soil, right?

Frequently Asked Questions

how do you farm on sandy soil Frequently Asked Questions

Is all sandy soil bad for gardening?

Not necessarily. There are three different types of sandy soil:

  • Loamy sand contains quite a bit of silt, so it is able to retain nutrients and moisture better than pure sand. This kind of sandy soil can actually be good for growing many different kinds of plants.
  • Sandy loam contains a fair amount of clay and retains quite a bit of water and nutrients. Plants that require soil with good water retention capabilities can do well in this soil.
  • Clayey sand contains more clay than sand, so it has very strong water and nutrient retention capabilities. Plants that like very moist conditions (e.g. pond side plants) can do well in this soil.

How can you tell if soil is sandy?

The simplest way to tell if you have sandy soil is to feel it. When you rub it between your fingertips, sandy soil will feel gritty. Very sandy soil will also fail to hold together when it is wet. Clayey soil feels smooth when wet and will hold together easily when you squeeze it into a clump.

When would you want to add sand to soil?

If you are planting cacti, succulents, euphorbia or other plants that thrive on sharply draining soil mixtures, you would actually want to amend the soil with coarse sand, and perhaps even some pea gravel. These components increase drainage capabilities.

How do you know what amendments to add to sandy soil?

In addition to accurately identifying the type of sandy soil you have, you must consider the type of drainage you have in your gardening plot and the types of soil and nutrients that will work best with the plants you hope to raise.

How does sandy soil affect plant growth?

Because water tends to run through sandy soil quickly (carrying nutrients with it) and is not retained, plants may suffer from lack of water and nutrients if soil is too sandy. On the upside, plants in sandy soil are less likely to suffer from root rot, and the open airiness of sandy soil may promote good root growth if you are able to adjust your watering habits to accommodate your plants.

Can having sandy soil make it possible to plant earlier in the springtime?

Yes, because sandy soil actually warms up earlier when the weather starts to warm in the spring. This can, indeed, make it possible to start seeds and seedlings outdoors under appropriate cover when spring arrives. For this reason, if you have sandy soil, you may wish to set aside an area for starting plants in the spring and amend your established garden areas.

Do you have to till soil amendments into sandy soil?

It is possible to improve sandy soil gradually by simply keeping it well mulched with a layer of organic compost topped off with a layer of coarse bark. As this mixture breaks down, continue adding to it. In the springtime, you may wish to turn the layer of compost and mulch into the soil and then top it off with more. This will enrich your soil, help retain moisture and keep plant roots cool in the summer. In the later fall, you may wish to add another couple of layers to protect plant roots against freezing during the winter months.

Will mulching with compost and bark provide enough nutrients to my sandy soil?

Depending on they types of plants you have, the steady breakdown of compost and bark on the surface of the soil may provide your plants with enough nutrients. For example, if you have a cactus, succulent and/or euphorbia garden, your mulch will provide just the right amount of gradual nourishment all year round. If you are trying to grow fruiting or flowering plants or veggies, you’ll need to fertilize as well.

What’s the best way to water sandy soil?

The best way of watering all soil, generally speaking, is soak-and-dry watering. Water deeply, occasionally, rather than providing light, frequent waterings. In the garden, use soaker hoses to give your plants a deep, complete watering once or twice a week (depending on the weather and your observations of your plants’ needs). For container plants, always water the soil surface (not the plants’ leaves). Allow water to run through the drainage holes in the container. Allow the top few inches of soil to dry before providing another thorough watering. For potted plants, bottom watering is usually best. Place the pot in a container of lukewarm water and allow it to sit for 10-15 minutes. Remove it and allow excess water to drain off. Repeat when the top couple of inches of soil feel dry.

How should soaker hoses be positioned on sandy soil?

Water will not move laterally in sandy soil. It will just run straight down, so be sure to place your soaker hoses directly over your plants’ root zones.

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