Sand Gardening For Dummies
March 2, 2010 4:58 PM   Subscribe

I am trying to create a garden on an extremely sandy soil. I am going to bring a foot worth of quality soil from outside. What would be my best bet? Raised beds? Wide Rows?

Great Mefi gardeners hello!

When I mean sandy, I mean as in an almost pure 100% river sand. No organic matter to speak of. Thin layer of weeds that are easily pulled because of the sand. Digging down shows even more uniform pure sand (3 feet deep).

I am going to bring 12 inch worth of soil. Mulch it real nice with 2-3 inch layer.
My first thought was building raised beds. I did it in the past with great success and wanted to replicate. But aren't raised beds biggest advantage is the supreme drainage it offers? I already have more than enough "natural" drainage from the sand, and I am concern that combined with raised beds the soil will dry extremely fast and require an insane amount of water input.

I was thinking:

A. Burying half of the soil and creating 6 inch underground and 6 inch above ground.
B. Burying all of it underground, and creating a small edge above ground for the layer of mulch.
C. Doing ordinary wide rows.

Gardening in Texas, growing zone 8. Going to put a cover crop around the garden and in the pathways to prevent erosion, thinking about sowing dutch clover.

What would you do in my situation?
Other methods I should consider?
A foot deep of quality soil will give me a good start or will be still lacking considering the pure sand underneath it?
General words of advice regarding extreme sand gardening?

Thank you in advance and happy gardening!
posted by Sentus to Home & Garden (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Raised beds. You can tailor your soil and watering and fertilizer/composting to what you are growing. (I actually like raised beds marked off in little squares because I've been following the square foot gardening approach for years. Don't buy anything from the site: there's lots of info on the web, e.g. here.) Your sandy soil should provide great drainage for raised beds.
posted by bearwife at 5:18 PM on March 2, 2010

I grow vegetables in raised beds over very sandy soil -- ridiculously close to pure fine sand in many areas of the yard, stuff that used to support not much more than a few scrubby weeds. It's working out fine.

You may wish to reconsider buying soil as such. Most commercial topsoil that I've found is actually just compost mixed with sand. Since I had plenty of sand, I went straight for the pure compost and saved paying delivery charges on sand. The compost holds moisture, which helps a lot. You can mix it with your own sand (no need to be perfect with this) and hold some back for topdressing anything fussy.

I've tried a bunch of different approaches -- forking it in, sheet composting, double-digging -- and to be honest it doesn't seem to make that much difference, certainly not after a year or two.

If you're starting a new garden, be prepared to amend that soil again and again over the first few years. After working on my garden for about six years, the dirt's just now starting to look really good to me; it took a few years just to get a decent worm population going. Those commercial composts often are very woody and need a fair bit of time to break down fully, and you may see a lot more shrinkage than you'd expect.

Are you growing vegetables? Carrots grow beautifully in sandy soils. Onions, on the other hand, are a royal pain.
posted by sculpin at 5:44 PM on March 2, 2010

The antidote to sand is clay. If you fill raised beds with of a mix of decent compost and non-clumping clay (kaolin) cat litter, and add earthworms, you won't go too far wrong; by the time the earthworms have ground the cat little grains to powder, they will also have mixed in about the right amount of sand. If the cat litter has already been pre-loaded with valuable high-nitrogen fertilizer in the form of cat pee, so much the better. You may even have neighbours who would be happy for you to take it off their hands.
posted by flabdablet at 6:08 PM on March 2, 2010 [1 favorite]

Guh. cat little litter grains.
posted by flabdablet at 6:09 PM on March 2, 2010

Compost. Lots and lots. Also consider things like humates. I've used Terra Tonic (I'm in TX, too), and found it to be a pretty good soil-builder. Bear in mind that there's really no short-term solution. Think years, not months.
posted by Gilbert at 8:20 PM on March 2, 2010

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