Cat Litter as Possible Soil Amendment for Sand?

iam3killerbs(7 NC Sandhills)June 27, 2009

As I am dealing with my pure-sand soil during this stretch where it hasn't rained for over a week and, unless we catch a lucky, isolated storm or a tropical storm pops up, it won't rain for at least another week I have been wondering if using cat litter as a soil amendment when I work the beds would help.

I'm thinking about the really CHEAP, ordinary, unscented type of litter. Its so good at absorbing fluid I thought it might help with both moisture retention and the "waterproof" issue I've mentioned before.

Obviously, as I work, more organic material into the soil over time things will improve, but even the beds that are 50-50 purchased soil and purchased compost have that waterproof issue. The bone-dry organic material in the upper layers lets water run through just as fast as the sand does.

Anyone ever try to slow down the excessive drainage in sand by using cat litter?

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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

To get enough in your soil to make any difference would be far too expensive and organic matter is more readily available and for much less cost. Tree Leaves, which are one of the best types of organic matter to add to soil, are usually available free every fall.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2009 at 7:08AM
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iam3killerbs(7 NC Sandhills)

Yes, leaves will be available this fall. Cat litter is available this week. And, as I said, the water runs right through the beds that are 50-50 purchased soil and purchased compost. The purchased soil is the same as the native soil -- fine, white sand.

The question is, would cat little help NOW with the issue of having to buy a lot of town water every couple days?

    Bookmark   June 28, 2009 at 12:35PM
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Dan Staley

If you want to spend the amount of money necessary on cat litter for it to make a difference, feel free. kimmmsr gave you a cheaper alternative.

Dan

    Bookmark   June 28, 2009 at 12:59PM
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iam3killerbs(7 NC Sandhills)

Its not cheaper to wait for November (note my zone and state) without any crop yield in the areas I'd be planting in July/Aug if the use of cat litter now would result in getting more than that investment's worth of vegetables to be harvested before November.

I know what cat litter costs. What I don't know is it if will or will not work.

I'm entirely open to suggestions for more effective, lower-cost options to amend my PURE SAND soil so that it will both absorb and hold water (see thread linked below), rather than have water run off the surface or drain through it.

But its simply not helpful to dismiss out of hand what is available now (IF it is something that might actually work), in favor of something that will not be available for nearly half a year.

Here is a link that might be useful: Waterproof soil

    Bookmark   June 28, 2009 at 2:07PM
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Dan Staley

Most decent nurseries and landscape supply places will have compost.

Dan

    Bookmark   June 28, 2009 at 4:50PM
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lazy_gardens

iam3killerbs - Kitty litter won't help much - it will brick up.

Look into "Zeba" soil additives. It's a biodegradable corn starch product that soaks up water and hands it back.

http://www.zeba.com/

They have some for farm or nursery that you spread on and rake in.

I've used the root dip and it worked as promised.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2009 at 4:51PM
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treelover(z8b SoCtrlTX)

I put a little cat litter out back one time and it ended up as a disgusting gooey mess--very difficult to combine with soil. It might have worked better if I'd mixed it up with the soil before it got rained on.

Why don't you take a little litter and mix it up with your soil/sand, water it and see what you get...

    Bookmark   June 28, 2009 at 4:54PM
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ptilda(3/4)

Cat litter doesn't blend well. And if you want to try, you will want to be sure that the soil is completely dry first. An alternative to leaves (in addition to the litter?) is cardboard and newspaper/shredded bills (after they are paid, of course). You can work this into the soil a bit if it's cut up quite small, or lay on top of the soil in between plants to form a bit of a mulch (cut down on weeds & hold water/reduce evaporation), and will quickly break down into soil amendments.

I just had a friend send me photos of her "sandbox garden", where she took plants, in the plastic pots they came in from the nursery, sunk them straight into the sand & they grew beautifully. Might think about that as well.

Either way, if you do add kittie litter, be sure you're also adding other stuff, or it's going to defeat the purpose. I think it would be worth a try to pour some bags of cheap litter, cover with some manure or compost, and then mulch well. I'd give it a try. I would be interested to hear how it goes!

    Bookmark   June 30, 2009 at 4:50AM
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gardenlen(s/e qld aust)

have you considered raised beds at all? they work well in all soil types.

and then use heaps of hay type mulch around the plants.

len

Here is a link that might be useful: lens garden page

    Bookmark   June 30, 2009 at 3:23PM
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zeuspaul(9b SoCal)

I add all of my used cheap clay kitty litter to my soil. First it goes into a big pile. I find many roots from adjacent plants in the pile. It seems to attract and hold water. Some cheap kitty litter turns to mush. Some brands retain the original shape.

Good soil is a mixture of sand, silt, clay and organic matter. If you just have sand then the addition of clay should be of benefit.

I pay a little more than two bucks a bag for kitty litter. An equal amount of composted steer manure costs me a buck. However kitty litter has longer lasting effects and it's free for me the second time around.

Zeuspaul

    Bookmark   June 30, 2009 at 3:33PM
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iam3killerbs(7 NC Sandhills)

I've got a vacant bed right now that's waiting out the worst of the blistering heat before receiving the second crop of bush beans. I think I'll try adding cat litter to that one and see how the moisture-holding capacity of the identical bed beside it.

@len,
While raised beds have their advantages under some circumstances, they cost money to build, they cost money to fill (it costs about $20 to buy a bed's worth of 50-50 soil no better than what I have and compost that is half big wood chips), and they dry out too fast in the blistering heat which is my summer.

The only reason that bed I mentioned is vacant is that its one of the raised beds we tried and I had to move the surviving chard and dill because I couldn't keep it moist enough to grow. Right now, after two weeks without rain its dust-dry to below ground level.

If I had soggy, clay soil I'd be all over the raised bed idea. But with the soil I have its like trying to garden in a child's sandbox -- which is why I'm asking about the cat litter as a potential way to get some water-holding capacity into it.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2009 at 4:41PM
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terran(zone10/Sunset20 CA)

There is an old saw that reads

Add clay to sand
Money in hand

Add sand to clay
Throw money away

I do not recall where I read it. I figure that it would take far more sand to amend a clay soil, so that is the reason that it is considered spendthrift.

Terran

    Bookmark   June 30, 2009 at 5:45PM
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tulsacityfarmer(6)

Well, I have pure sand and I added organic material for years and with the hot temps(breaks down faster in high temps, been in the 100's here for weeks, unusual for this time of year)I had poor results.I knew that clay holds lots of nutrients, that sand dose not.I bought 50lbs bags of pure clay no additives cat litter (Benoite?)I sprinkled it over my beds and added my organic material,and tilled it in.After a couple years of this I'm happy,Go for it,but till it in dry!

    Bookmark   July 1, 2009 at 11:26PM
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Kimmsr(4a/5b-MI)

Tree leaves may be available in your area now, where did all those leaves that people rake and bag every fall go to? Around here those leaf dumps are available to people that want to use those leaves at times, especially since it is beginning to dawn on our leaders that these dumps are a source of pollution they will need to pay to have cleaned up.
Purchasing enough kitty litter, and it depends on if you buy the clay based or the corn cob based stuff, to make much difference will be very expsensive since you will need close to 20 percent by volume to make enough difference to be worthwhile. You could also spend a lot of money on Bentonite, a clay, to add but again that will mean at a minumum 20 percent, by volume, to make enough difference to be worthwhile.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2009 at 7:23AM
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iam3killerbs(7 NC Sandhills)

The county yard waste facility does not separate leaves from branches.

I *could* get the leaves from them. But it would be at least 50% coarse wood chips, which are worse than useless since they both use nitrogen as they decay AND hold even larger air spaces in the soil than the unadulterated sand.

They don't even call the stuff compost. They call it mulch and mulching paths is all its good for. The pine straw that I have in great abundance is far superior as a mulch for trees and landscape plantings and even in parts of the garden. But its just as useless as a soil amendment since resinous, 8-12-inch pine needles don't decompose any faster than coarse wood chips.

When I lived in Massachusetts I had leaves in overwhelming abundance and they worked splendidly in the sandy soil (technically unsorted glacial till), I had there.

This sand here is far different geologically being closer to washed-quartz play-sand than to the richer glacial till, ecologically with few deciduous trees, and climatologically with months on end of hot, humid weather burns organic material out of the soil with tremendous speed -- after 3 months I can barely detect any difference between the sections of garden where DH tilled in an inch of compost (all we had), and the fresh areas.

Which is why I was inquiring about adding clay via cat litter because what worked in other places I've lived is either unavailable or less effective here. :-)

    Bookmark   July 2, 2009 at 2:36PM
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terrene(5b MA)

I've got 2 cats, and use the plain old unscented no-additives clay cat litter. I've been disposing of the used litter in the wild areas of the yard(s) for over 20 years. I throw it out of the cat box so that it spreads out over the ground. It doesn't clump up in a gooey mess and it seems to disappear over time, especially in the fall when a layer of leaves covers over the clay.

Since the soil in this yard is sandy loam and well-drained, I always figured adding some clay would be a good thing. Plus it keeps the used litter out of the waste stream. If you have cats, and you're buying it anyway, it's not costing any additional $$.

I would go ahead a give it a try as a soil amendment, mixing it well with the sand and as much other compost and organic matter as you can gather.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2009 at 10:31PM
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dchall_san_antonio(8 San Antonio)

No rain in over a week, huh. Pardon me if I'm not overly sympathetic. We're nine inches behind since January and in January we were 15 inches behind for 2008. We will be entering stage 3 water rationing this week and won't be able to water except once a week every other week.

But if you have plain, clay, kitty litter (used or unused), you can do what you want to do. If the litter has any baking soda in it, you will essentially kill all the beneficial fungi that might try to grow in your sand. If it has "crystals" of whatever, I would keep it out of the soil. Keep it pure and simple as possible.

The best thing for your sand is roots. Can you grow Dutch white clover in the sand? If so that is a great plant for putting lots of organic matter into your soil. Mix it with any grass that will grow and you will start to build the sand into a nice mix. It will always be sand but it will at least hold some water. Bentonite clay is good and if that is what your kitty litter is, that should help.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2009 at 10:44AM
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