Many gardeners consider the use of coarse sand—or, as it’s more commonly known, builders sand—as a beneficial addition to their garden soil. It can be used in many different ways, and it’s an inexpensive way to improve the quality of very heavy soils. However, it’s good to know that you should only use coarse sand in certain circumstances.
Coarse sand for gardening is often used as a cheap and simple means to create better soil drainage and improve soil texture. It is also an excellent additive to use if you’re growing new plants since it’s lightweight enough to allow young roots to spread easily.
This article will discuss all the things you need to know about coarse sand for gardening, including what it is best used for, its benefits, and where it comes from. We’ll also talk about the differences between coarse sand and other types of sand, situations in which you shouldn’t use it, and whether or not it is considered a renewable resource.
Things You Should Know Before Using Coarse Sand
Coarse sand is a lightweight material that can be used to lighten up the soil and create better drainage capacity. It’s popular for gardeners and landscapers everywhere, and it’s also a good addition to the garden if you’re on a budget.
However, coarse sand should never be used as a substitute for soil or organic materials since it doesn’t have any useful properties, such as nutrients or microorganisms, that are necessary for plant growth.
Sandy soil is a good option for you if your soil is very dense and doesn’t allow for good drainage or aeration.
Before you use it, it’s good to know how it should be used and why it shouldn’t be used for certain applications:
1. It Is Best Used to Prepare Soil for Planting
Since the material is very lightweight, if you have a relatively dense soil structure, builders sand can penetrate the soil particles and create a better texture for roots to dive deep. Young roots, in particular, will have a rather difficult time spreading deep into very heavy soil structures, so sand will give them a boost and allow them to penetrate deep.
One of the reasons many gardeners apply coarse sand in the soil before planting is because it gives the soil time to reorganize its structure and create better channels to “breathe.” That way, when you finally plant your seeds, the soil is in an ideal condition to support growth over the long term.
Coarse sand is named as such because it doesn’t just have lots of very fine particles like the sand you would typically find in a sandbox. Instead, it contains a mixture of small, medium, and large particles that can help to distribute air channels throughout the soil effectively.
You can use coarse sand along with peat moss and some organic materials to create the perfect growing environment for very young seedlings.
Using It for Seedlings
You can use coarse sand to prepare the soil for planting by using it in conjunction with organic materials and a little bit of peat moss. The organic matter will give the young seedlings the nutritional boost they need to get a good start in life, and the peat moss will help to create a natural, bouncy environment for the seeds to grow.
The sand is helpful in this scenario because adequate drainage is essential for young seedlings in the early stages of growth. The coarse sand will allow the roots to grow strong and have good access to water and oxygen.
2. Sand Doesn’t Contain Any Nutrients
While it is often considered a vital part of many gardens, coarse sand doesn’t contain anything beneficial by itself. Unlike organic materials such as compost, it doesn’t support natural growth through the dispensing of nutrients throughout the soil – instead, it just alters the texture and density of the soil.
Additionally, coarse sand tends to be very porous in nature, so it doesn’t retain moisture very well. While it allows moisture to drain through the soil (which can be very beneficial for plants that love dry soils or soil that is very rich in clay), it doesn’t sustain any of that moisture for future use.
To make coarse sand more valuable, it’s usually best to use it in conjunction with organic materials to offer your plants those all-important nutrients. Doing this will help your soil’s drainage while the organic matter sustains some moisture and nutrients for slow release.
3. It Is Good for Improving Soil Drainage
While many types of soil naturally contain excellent drainage characteristics – such as loamy soil – clay-based soil might need a bit of help with this.
Clay soil tends to be super dense, so not much air can pass through to the roots. Plant roots need oxygen to thrive, so if the ground is too thick to let any oxygen through, the roots will likely die.
In order to accommodate this need, coarse sand can be used in clay-based soil to promote the structure and create little aeration passageways through which moisture, nutrients, and oxygen can pass through. It also means your plants will be able to secrete carbon dioxide sufficiently to ensure they don’t suffocate.
4. You’ll Find Different Varieties in Every Area
You might think that builders sand is typically the same in most places—it usually comes in a big bag, and it looks the same—and you wouldn’t be alone in thinking this. However, sand isn’t usually transported too far because large amounts are so heavy. This means that whatever coarse sand you find in your local store is probably from your local area.
Sand is a formation of deposits that have been created over time, and, depending on the region, can have varying characteristics. Coarse sand is usually a changeable mixture of sandstone, limestone, granite, and quartz – and will invariably be a different mixture in every area.
5. It’s Not the Same as Sandbox or Beach Sand
I know what you’re thinking: can I use the sand from my kids’ play area in my garden? Absolutely not! Coarse sand is completely different from the sand you’ll find in a sandbox and is also different from the sand you would typically find on the beach.
Sandbox sand usually consists of very fine sand particles. This type of sand has been strained to remove all sharp rocks and other debris, making it the perfect addition to a child’s play area. However, this type of sand has no use in garden soil and is too fine to adequately improve the soil’s drainage structure.
Similarly, you can’t use beach sand in your garden. Beach sand contains high amounts of salt from the ocean, which can effectively kill off your roots and remove all the natural nutrients in the soil. In all cases, it’s much better to use coarse sand over sandbox or beach sand.
Additionally, you shouldn’t be using sand from a riverbed in your garden soil, either. It’s typically not the right consistency to help your soil structure, and you’ll likely just be wasting your time.
Try to stick to good old coarse sand for your gardening needs!
6. It Has Many Benefits
So we know that coarse sand can help the soil with its aeration and drainage capacity.
However, it also has a few other little-known benefits:
Coarse sand doesn’t clump due to the variety of particle sizes in the mixture. This means that if it rains a lot, it will maintain its consistency and can still continue to provide the soil with a good drainage system. If you live in an area where it rains almost daily, this can be one of its most helpful attributes.
Coarse sand is very versatile and can be mixed with a wide variety of ingredients to create the perfect soil balance. You can add organic materials, fertilizers, peat moss, and vermiculite to your heart’s content, and it won’t affect the overall quality or consistency of the sand.
Sand tends to retain heat very well. This means that, when applied to your soil in the warmer months, the ground becomes warmer faster. This process can help young roots along in the first stages of growth since higher soil temperatures have been known to promote root generation.
Sandy soil is much easier to weed. If you find yourself constantly pulling out weeds from your soil, the whole process can be made much easier with coarse sand. Since sand alters the structure of the soil, it effectively stops strong weeds from growing deep in the soil – making it much easier to pull them out.
Easy to Source
Coarse sand is easy to source. You can find coarse sand at pretty much any local DIY store, gardening store, or nursery. It’s inexpensive and comes in big bags, so you can easily buy it in bulk without worrying about the cost.
No Expiration Date
Sand also doesn’t go bad. This means you can use the sand you buy for many years since it doesn’t degrade over time. If you’ve applied the sand into your soil, the environment will maintain its density and texture since the sand won’t mold or go rancid in the soil.
7. Use It for Both Indoor and Outdoor Gardening
Due to its versatility, coarse sand can be used in many different applications. You can use it outside in naturally-occurring garden soil and raised beds if you have very dense soil. Indoors, it can be used in potted plants—if the plant likes a drier soil environment—and in seed starters.
However, it’s good to note that most potting soils are created with the plants’ precise needs in mind, so you probably won’t need to use sand if you’ve bought special-purpose potting soil for your indoor plants.
If you’ve got very large indoor plants that tend to keel over when they grow very tall, coarse sand is a good way to keep them embedded in the pot. Since the sand is typically heavier than other soil additives, such as compost, you’ll find that it will hold roots well.
How Much Should You Mix in Soil?
One of the downsides to using coarse sand is that you’ll probably need quite a lot of it to make a real difference in your soil. However, coarse sand usually comes in big bags, so if you’ve bought a few bags for your gardening needs, you should be ready to go.
If you have very clay-based soil, you’ll need to add a fair amount of builders sand to effectively change the texture of the soil. For every 12 inches (30 cm) of clay-based soil, you’ll need about 8 inches (20 cm) of sand to create the ideal environment for drainage and aeration.
If you’re using coarse sand along with other soil components, such as organic materials, you’ll need to mix this before you add it to the soil. You can start by mixing 1 part sand with 1 part compost for the best results. Once you’ve added this to your clay-based soil, give it a few days of light watering before you begin planting.
When Not to Use Coarse Sand for Gardening
While coarse sand is often considered an excellent soil amendment, it can also prove to be difficult at times – especially if you’ve added it to soil that already consists of good drainage properties.
You could be making your life more difficult in the following scenarios:
Used in Small Amounts
If you’re planning to use coarse sand in small amounts in your garden, it’s usually best to refrain from using it altogether. Coarse sand is typically only useful in large quantities, so it’s better to forgo it entirely in favor of a different material if your soil isn’t too clayey.
In Areas With Natural Grasslands
If you live in an area that is part of natural grasslands, you shouldn’t be using coarse sand at all. If you do this, the soil will be so dense it will become completely unusable.
In a Hot & Dry Area
If you live in an area where the weather gets extremely arid and there isn’t a lot of frequent rainfall, you might want to refrain from using coarse sand altogether.
This is because coarse sand will naturally drain water from your soil. So unless you’re watering it manually every day, any rain that hits the soil won’t be retained enough to provide benefit to the plants.
Without Nutritional Supplements
If you don’t use any nutritional supplements in your soil, such as organic materials or fertilizers, you shouldn’t use coarse sand. Since sand doesn’t contain any valuable nutrients for your plants, you’ll need to complement it by using something that does contain nutrients and can support natural growth.
Alternatives for Gardening
If you’ve decided that coarse sand isn’t appropriate for your garden—such as the fact that you live in a very dry region—then there are plenty of alternatives that can help your soil reach its full drainage potential.
Many gardeners prefer to use compost by itself to promote drainage. The only difficulty with using compost alone is that the process is much longer, and it will take time for the organic matter to break down in the soil. While it’s not particularly time efficient, however, it is an all-natural way to alter the structure of the soil for the better.
Compost also adds essential nutrients to your soil which will help your plants grow big and strong. It’s an excellent way to provide a comprehensive solution to poorly-drained soil, and it’s also inexpensive – you can easily make it yourself at home, and it hardly costs a thing!
Is Sand a Renewable Resource?
Unfortunately, coarse sand is not actually considered a renewable resource. Since it is typically mined in natural areas such as coastlines and riverbeds, the harvesting process can damage the area and destroy habitats for wildlife.
The sheer amount of sand being mined every year is phenomenal since we use it for so many different applications, concrete being the biggest sand consumer.
In fact, we mine so much sand worldwide that we’re using it twice as fast as natural areas can create it. Commercial sand use will likely peter out in a few years since natural alternatives that don’t impact the environment will need to replace it. If we continue to use our natural resources in such a drastic way, we’ll end up with nothing left.
If you’re a stickler for using renewable resources in your garden, it’s usually best to stick to natural amendments such as compost.
Coarse sand is an excellent soil amendment for very dense soil, such as clay-based soils. It improves the structure and texture of the soil by pushing apart the soil particles and creating enough space for aeration and drainage. If you live in an area that gets too much rainfall, coarse sand can be an excellent way to ensure your soil beds aren’t completely waterlogged.
You can use coarse sand indoors and outdoors, and it’s very inexpensive to buy. You can buy it in bulk from many local stores, and it will likely last you a long time.