Use compost to improve the fertility and water retention of sandy soils.

The Properties of Sandy Soils

by Maggie Fry

Sandy soils have a light texture and loose structure, which cause them to drain quickly and not hold water well. This can lead to low fertility, but with the addition of some compost, manure or leaf mold, sandy soil can grow a satisfactory garden. This type of soil is dries quickly and is easy to work.

1. Soil Texture

The size of the particles that make up soil determine its texture. Sand particles are large and surrounded by air pockets, which provides plenty of open spaces for water to move through. When you pour water onto sandy soil, the water doesn't pool on the surface, but soaks right in. This is a real advantage in damp weather, but can be a problem during a dry spell. Water drains so quickly through sandy soil that it washes away most of the nutrients. Adding organic matter, such as compost, manure, leaf mold or some clay soil, before planting can help increase water retention.

2. Soil Structure

The way soil holds together is determined by its structure. Sandy soil has a loose structure with large pore spaces, which allows for easy movement of roots through the soil. But sandy soil doesn't hold together well and needs to be amended with organic matter to give it better structure. The ideal garden soil, often described as having "a crumb-like structure," is created from a combination of large sand particles, smaller loam or clay particles and organic matter for fertility.

3. Soil pH

The optimal soil pH level for most vegetables and flowers is between 6 and 6.5, with a pH of 7.0 being neutral. Test the pH of your soil using a test kit, which you can buy at garden centers or home improvement stores. An advantage of sandy soil is that pH level is more easily changed than in heavier soils, such as clay.

4. Advantages of Sandy Soil

Sandy soil has its good points. It is easy to dig and can be worked earlier in the spring than other soil types. It is not as susceptible to frost heave as clay soils. This is a condition where the soil is lifted up when the water inside the soil freezes, and it can push plants out of the ground. With the addition of some organic matter, the light texture and open structure of sandy soil is good for growing many varieties of vegetables and flowers, and is well suited to annual root crops, especially potatoes (Solanum tuberosum).

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