If you live in a coastal area you might be tempted to use the free sand that you find on the beach nearby. But is the beach sand really suitable for growing plants in your garden?
Beach sand can be used for gardening provided that amendments are added to the soil, such as organic matter, compost, peat, bio-fertilizers, biochar, and inorganic materials. This can be done by mulching to make the soil more fertile so it provides enough essential nutrients for the plants to grow.
Being a gardener you must know that good-quality soil is essential for growing healthy and productive plants, fruits, herbs, and vegetables. I am going to shed a light on whether beach sand can really be used for gardening, or if it’s going to destroy your crops, so keep on reading to learn more.
Improving Beach Sand for Sustainable Growth and Production in Gardens
As beach sand is rich in content of quartz or silicon dioxide, pure beach sand cannot provide good space for water and oxygen movement. Moreover, there is quick downward movement or leaching of water and applied fertilizers through sandy soil.
Thus, natural and pure beach sand is not a great option for sustainable gardening as it will mean an unnecessary waste of added water and nutritional contents in plants.
Various plants have different requirements for moisture and nutrients at different growth, developmental, and reproductive stages.
While beach sand cannot support good water retention and ionic exchange capacities for nutrients, the bioavailability and uptake of added water and essential nutrients will last only for a short period.
As a result, the quality of sandy soil must be enhanced with organic and inorganic material to improve its water holding capacity, oxygen movement, ionic exchange capacities, and biological activities.
Beach sand has high salt content that directly hinders the growth and development of plants. However, the salts and dissolved solids can be washed away from root zones and the upper layer of soil by heavy irrigation.
In this way, the interaction between salts and plant roots will be significantly reduced and some plant species can grow well in these conditions. I will go over plants and vegetables that can grow in amended sandy soils later in this post.
This leaching process not only removes the salts but also causes leaching of essential nutrients and minerals, so beach sand requires more care and management than the loamy, clayey, or other types of soils.
However, some salt-tolerant and xerophytes can be grown in the areas that have a significant proportion of beach sand in the composition of the soil.
Soil type has a direct effect on the growth and development of plants, and the survival potential of gardens or, in fact, any agricultural lands. If soil quality is not good in a particular area, it can be improved by various physical, chemical, and biological management factors.
Each soil type has its specific characteristics, and beach sand also has different salt content and composition, depending on prevalent climate conditions, geology, parent material, and time scale.
Therefore, beach sand should be properly tested to examine its characteristics. It is very important to determine and follow the right management practices according to soil characteristics.
As I’ve mentioned before, the nature and characteristics of soil are greatly dependent on parent material, geology, and climate. Any incorrect application or improper utilization of fertilizers can adversely affect the plant seed development and plant growth.
Requirements for any soil modification and fertilizers significantly depend on the pH, and physical, chemical, and biological health, and structure of the soil type.
Soil testing is a valuable method for gardeners as it directly affects the economics and efficiency of production.
Soil is a complex mixture and it’s very sensitive to external management conditions and environmental factors. Therefore, gardeners should rely only on tested and approved agricultural extension services, and soil and water testing labs.
Soil testing helps to reveal total nutrient content, cation exchange capacity (CEC), anion exchange capacity, exchangeable acidity, soil pH, organic matter content, soil density, microbial activities, soil type, and water holding capacity.
So, based on soil testing results, right management practices can be followed to maximize plant growth and development.
The Addition of Soil Amendments
What Are Soil Amendments?
Soil amendments are materials added to the soil to meet the natural demands of plant species for their healthy development. As many types of soil are unsuited for plants to thrive in gardens, the soil needs amending to improve its physical and chemical properties so plants can have an optimum environment for growth.
The fertility and productivity status of beach sand can be greatly improved by the addition of compost, organic matter, peat, bio-fertilizers, and biochar.
The addition of biochar is useful to improve sandy soils for a longer time, as it decomposes slowly. However, compost, bio-fertilizers, and peat are excellent choices to get immediate results that will also help to improve soil fertility and moisture retention during the whole season.
Gardeners must add the required and optimal level of organic matter to avoid any implications on plant growth and development.
The addition of organic matter helps to improve cation exchange capacity and anion exchange capacity of the soil, thus, soil used for gardening can easily hold and exchange nutrients.
What’s more, organic matter provides good habitat to the soil microbiota, mesofauna, and macrofauna. The activities of microbes and other biological organisms release beneficial secretions that in turn improve soil structure and support favorable plant growth.
Usually, the compost is made by using food waste, grass clippings, fallen twigs, branches, leaves, stalks, straw, hay, or wood.
The decomposition of plant materials and food waste releases enough nutrients to support plant growth, and gardeners can enjoy healthy and nutritionally rich vegetables and fruits from their garden.
The addition of organic matter is a multi-purpose treatment for gardens, and it can improve any type of soil. Composting is a must approach for sandy soils to avoid the wastage of resources.
The rate of organic matter decomposition is greatly dependent on the weather conditions as warmer climates cause quick decomposition of organic matter.
Thus, gardeners should properly test the nutritional status of their soil before the next application of compost or organic matter.
Initially, 2 buckets of organic matter will be enough for an area of 1 square yard (0.83 square meter). The application of extra quantity of organic matter is strongly discouraged in the gardens and planters as it may interfere with the normal life cycle of growing plants.
The addition of organic matter does not only help to provide good drainage, moisture, and essential nutrients but is also helpful to protect the garden from harsh external conditions and erosion hazards.
Mulching to Modify Beach Sand for Gardening Use
What Is Mulching in Gardening?
Mulching is a process of spreading out nutrients over bare soil or covering the ground around plants with organic matter to make the soil more fertile. Mulching and cultivation of green manures is essential to manage the loss of nutrients, enrich soil structure, and improve biological activities like drainage.
Here are a few reasons to use mulch:
🌿 Leguminous crops such as clovers, vetches, and rye assist in adding nitrogen to the soil by the action of nitrogen-fixing bacteria.
🌿 Some clayey soil can also be added to amend soil structure and to make it a more wet and sticky medium.
🌿 Adding eggshells and compost is also important to increase calcium levels in the soil.
🌿 Beach sand can be made a drought-resistant soil by deeply digging the ground and by properly mixing the organic matter content up to the depth of 50-70 inches (20-27cm).
🌿 Addition of vermiculite, coconut coir, and sphagnum peat moss is also a good way to improve the fertility and water holding capacity of the soil.
Growing Cover Crops in the Garden
Cover crops add good organic matter content to the soil and help to suppress weeds, pests, and plant diseases. These plants can also be added to the soil after cutting to add good organic matter to the soil.
Common cover crops for soil covering in summer include buckwheat, pearl millet, and cowpeas. Meanwhile, winter cover crops include crimson clover, mustard, and hairy vetch.
Cover crops are usually grown in the flowerbeds and can be incorporated into the soil at the flowering stage.
Furthermore, cover crops help the soil from erosion and compaction. They also help manage soil quality, fertility, and moisture, as well as biodiversity and wildlife in the agroecosystem.
Plants and Vegetables That Can Grow Well in Beach Sand
If you live in a coastal area or close to the beach, you might find that gardening is a challenging task as there’s more leaching and salt levels in the sand. However, certain plants and vegetables can flourish in these rough conditions as well.
So gardeners must plant only manageable and compatible vegetables to get maximum return and to reduce the chances of crop failure. Proper digging and compost addition are also recommended to support good growth and production of vegetables and other plants.
Freshwater should also be applied at least 1 week before transplantation of seedlings to allow salt percolation at a level to protect roots from adverse effects of salt.
Besides, you should select plants according to the specific conditions in your ecological zone. Cultivating salt-tolerant varieties is a good approach to protect seeds, seedlings, and plants from salt damage.
Moreover, seeds can be planted in any tray, and one-month-old seedlings can be transplanted to the flowerbeds or pots. In this way, the plants can tolerate salt stress and will produce healthy yield.
The most common plants and vegetables that grow in sandy soils are:
🌿 Root vegetables are superstars for sandy soils and can give high yield when grown in well-managed beach soils. The roots of these vegetables are motivated by thirst, and vegetables that have taproots (such as parsnips, carrots, or beetroot) can perfectly shift around to get enough moisture lying a few inches below the soil surface.
🌿 Some other veggies and fruits can also thrive well in the amended beach sand. Squash, tomatoes, melon, and peppers can grow well in sandy soils provided that they are regularly watered and have a sufficient amount of light.
🌿 Amended beach sand is especially useful to grow collards and lettuce because the sand gets warmed and dried quickly, and thus is suitable to grow tender crops.
🌿 Acidic beach sandy soil is well-suited to grow potatoes as it prevents the development of potato scab.
🌿 Lavender and other Mediterranean herbs also grow well in the dry and light soil. These herbs usually do not require any amendment in the sandy soil but the addition of soil amendments is a good approach for the beach sand due to high quartz content.
🌿 There are various salt-tolerant vegetables such as spinach, asparagus, kale, peas, broccoli, or cabbage, among others, but they must be planted in the amended soil to get good produce.
In general, coastal areas have cooler temperatures, humid air, and mild climate, so the growing season of different vegetables can be significantly extended to enjoy fresh, safe, and nutritionally rich food for a longer period of time.
To create a truly beautiful garden in the coastal area, a great option would be to grow plants that don’t require much maintenance. Check out my post where I list the 21 easy-to-grow, low-maintenance garden plants.