Many flowers and plants grow well in sandy soil. This type of soil, in contrast to clayey or loamy soil, contains about 45 to 60 percent medium- to coarse sand particles, which are tiny fragments of rock and hard minerals. While a moderate amount of sand improves the soil’s drainage and aeration, too much sand results in a growth medium that doesn’t retain moisture and offers few nutrients. Sandy soil feels gritty when you squeeze a small ball of it when moist.
Consistently Moist Sandy Soils
Certain flowers and plants prefer consistently moist, sandy soils. For butterfly-attracting, summer flowers try the perennial dotted beebalm “Fantasy” (Monarda punctata “Fantasy”), featuring yellow flowers in early to midsummer, and the shrub sweet pepperbush “Rosea” (Clethra alnifolia “Rosea”), has pink flowers in mid- to late summer, in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 8. The perennial southern blue flag “Purple Fan” (Iris virginica “Purple Fan”) bears lavender-blue flowers in late spring and grows in USDA zones 5 through 9. All three plants for consistently moist, sandy soils have fragrant blossoms.
Well-Drained Sandy Loams
Sandy loams are fertile soils containing about 60 percent sand, 10 percent clay and 30 percent silt. The perennial candelabrum sage (Salvia candelabrum) puts out fragrant, violet-blue flowers in mid- to late summer in USDA zones 8 through 10. The perennial sea lavender (Limonium platyphyllum) puts out lavender-blue flowers in mid-summer in USDA zones 3 through 9. The shrub New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus) grows fragrant, humming-bird attracting flowers in mid-spring to midsummer in USDA zones 4 through 8.
Poor, Sandy Soil
Most plants won’t grow in the nutritionally deficient environment of poor, sandy soil, but certain plants thrive under these difficult conditions. Adam’s needle (Yucca filamentosa) is an evergreen with creamy white flowers in USDA zones 5 through 10. Tickseed (Coreopsis tripteris) has yellow butterfly-attracting flowers in USDA zones 3 through 8. Both perennials for poor sandy soil are native to the U.S. and have butterfly-attracting blossoms in the summer. Extremely hardy, the shrub common bearberry “Massachusetts” (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi “Massachusetts”) displays pale pink flowers, followed by nontoxic berries that attract birds, in USDA zones 2 through 6.
Dry, Sandy Soil
Dry, sandy soil contains coarse particles and doesn’t retain enough moisture for most plants to grow. Luckily, some plants perform their best under these challenging circumstances. The perennial blazing star (Liatris cylindracea) displays rose-purple flowers in USDA zones 4 through 7 that attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Shrubby St. John’s wort (Hypericum prolificum) is a shrub with yellow flowers in USDA zones 3 through 8. Both of these plants for sandy soil have summer flowers. The perennial ground cover snow-in-summer (Cerastium tomentosum) displays white flowers in late spring in USDA zones 3 through 7. (Res 2,3,4)