Imagine the feeling of walking on a sandy beach; you feel the heat of the sand, the unevenness of your steps, and the cold blow of the wind. When you think from this perspective, it seems crazy that plants could survive under these conditions. While we know plants can grow on the beach, does it mean that we could grow vegetables in sand?
It is possible to grow vegetables in the sand, but the types of vegetables that can be grown are somewhat limited. Growing vegetables in sand requires plants that are able to survive in quickly draining soil with low amounts of nutrients. This is a challenge for many plants, though some do work.
The ability to grow vegetables in the sand is a skill that pleases many gardeners but is not easily obtained. This is because successfully growing these vegetables takes lots of work and knowledge. Read on to learn more about the qualities of soil, why sand isn’t ideal for most vegetables, what plants you can grow in sand, and tips for growing these particular plants.
Ideal Qualities of Soil for Plant Life
Everyone, at one point or another, has interacted with some sort of soil. Be it soil with a lot of roots, soil with rocks, thick soil, or sandy soil, most people have some sort of general knowledge regarding soil. What many people don’t understand, however, is that different soils have different qualities that make them either better suited or worse suited for hosting plant life.
Plants, in their ability to produce energy, rely on a process called photosynthesis. In this process, plants absorb carbon dioxide and water in order to make sugar for the plants to “eat.” This occurs largely in the leaves and roots of the plant.
In the roots, oxygen, water, and a number of nutrients plants need to function properly are absorbed and distributed throughout the plant. In essence, the roots are like the vessels of the plant. However, for the roots to be successful in this absorption of nutrients, they require the soil to contain certain qualities.
Generally speaking, these qualities are the ability of soil to do the following:
- Hold and drain water
- Create nutrients
- Have a low number of organisms (i.e., weeds) competing for space and nutrients
- Have sufficient depth
If the soil lacks one or more of these qualities, the diversity of plant life in that soil might be limited.
Finally, the sediments that soil is made from will impact these qualities. Soil typically includes clay, silt, loam, and sand. If the soil is predominated by one kind of sediment, it will absorb this sediment’s qualities.
For example, soil that is rich in clay often takes more time to absorb water, but when the water is absorbed, the clay can hold large amounts of water.
Sandy Soil and Plant Growth
Now that we understand how soil quality impacts plant growth, we need to take a deeper look at the qualities of sandy soil.
Sand is simply stone that has broken down into incredibly small particles over time. As a rock moves through the water, or as water moves over stone, more and more erodes, making small sand particles.
This means that, unlike clay, individual sand particles don’t really absorb anything. Some particles just sit between other sand particles.
As a result, sandy soil is often incredibly low in nutrients. Most nutrients found in soil are made from organic material like leaves or other organisms that have died and been broken down by small bacteria in the soil.
In the case of sandy soil, since not much grows in it, there are often few microorganisms to break down organic material. Additionally, when exposed to high amounts of water, these nutrients tend to wash away with the water.
Sandy soil also tends to drain moisture pretty quickly. Because sand is made up of individual rock particles, water can easily navigate through the small holes between particles.
This means that no matter how much water is applied to the soil, the water will not sit in the sand and will drain out of the soil. This is helpful as it prevents issues with overwatering, but can also cause difficulties for plants that need lots of water.
Finally, sandy soil is able to change in temperature rapidly. Sandy soil will warm faster than other types of soil, meaning it can support life earlier in the growing season. However, this also means that it can become extremely hot, killing off sensitive plant life.
Vegetables That Tolerate Dry and Acidic Soil Do Best
After understanding the qualities of sandy soil, we can now look at which types of vegetables are suitable for growing in this type of soil.
The vegetables that will grow well in sandy soil are those that can tolerate dry and acidic soil and often require easily-draining soil.
Let’s take a look at a few categories of these sand-friendly vegetables.
Root and Tuber Vegetables
Some of the most successful vegetables when growing in sand are the ones whose edible parts typically grow underground. These vegetables require a deep base for their roots, and something sandy provides much more space easily than other soils.
Additionally, since these plants need room to grow, they can’t survive in soil that holds water for too long. Though they need plenty of water, the soil can’t be waterlogged. Otherwise, the fleshy tubers will rot.
Examples of these vegetables include carrots, radishes, potatoes, and onions.
While the idea of there being specific “warm weather vegetables” might seem somewhat confusing, it makes sense when you think about it critically. Some vegetables, for example, young corn and melons, need soil that is warm, light, and airy because their native environments are super warm. Since sand absorbs heat well, plants that need very warm conditions can grow well in sandy soil.
Some warm-weather vegetables like pumpkins will also grow well in sandy soil because of the substrate’s warmth and fast-draining quality. However, you’ll need to add enough organic matter to provide their nutritional needs.
Dry Soil Vegetables
There are certain vegetables that prefer to grow in soil that drains very quickly. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they like their soil completely dry, but the soil definitely can’t be waterlogged.
Examples of plants that enjoy these conditions are lettuce and beans, though the sand might need to be amended to add more nutrients.
Tips for Growing Plants in Sandy Soil
Now that we understand which vegetables can survive in sandy soil, it is important to understand what other conditions must be present in order for these plants to survive and even thrive.
Below are some helpful tips to consider when growing plants in sandy soil:
Don’t Overlook Their Watering Needs
Though these plants can tolerate dry soil, this doesn’t mean they don’t need water. If you decide to grow regular vegetables in sandy soil, it is imperative that you water the soil frequently. Otherwise, these plants won’t get the moisture they need and will eventually dry up and die.
Add Plenty of Nutrients to the Soil
Whether this is compost, manure, fertilizer, or some other kind of nutrients, plain sandy soil rarely has the nutrients to keep your plants alive. While this will definitely help prevent weeds from growing, it is an issue that needs to be addressed.
Compost can help soil store water for longer and adds essential nutrients for your plants, so this is often a welcome addition to sandy soil.
Keep Animals Away
Make sure the soil is protected from critters that might want to disturb your plants’ growth. Since sand moves fairly easily, sandy soil can easily be disturbed by animals, making it harder for your plants to establish strong roots.
As such, it is often advisable to set up a fence or other physical barriers for your vegetables to keep out insects and animals.
When it comes to growing vegetables, sandy soil can be an accommodating home for certain varieties of plants. If you are looking to grow plants that thrive in dry soil, warm soil, or those that grow below ground, sandy soil might be the perfect type of sediment for you.
Still, when using sandy soil, be sure to provide plenty of nutrients and water for your plants. This is because sandy soil often lacks high amounts of nutrients. It also drains very quickly. Hence, if you want your vegetables to grow successfully in this soil, you need to be proactive!