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pure sand for soil

Posted by paula_b_gardener 5a (Uxbridge, ON) (My Page) on
Sun, Jun 1, 14 at 17:27

I won't even call it sandy soil because there isn't anything else in it but sand. This is my first time on this forum and I need help to amend my sand so that I can grow a garden. We have already stripped the 'grass' which was mostly weeds anyway.

The area I live in has several sand pits that are excavated, there isn't anything but sand here. My home is a raised bungalow and all of my other beds are on the 'regular' ground level and this lot used to be part of a farm so the soil is decent. The problem is at the front of the house where the builder dumped sand to raise the level at the front.

I know that I should amend it with organic material but are there other materials as well? When bark is composting it takes nitrogen so I should avoid that, yes? Should I order triple mix? peat? manure?

Thank you in advance for any advice.
Paula


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: pure sand for soil

If you're looking for a simple answer, add compost only as this will provide a means to both improve water retention while at the same time, greatly increase fertlity and root growth.

You could do this with little or no fertilizer inputs, and still have outstanding results.

Do this each year for seveal years, and the soil will cumulatively improve year after year. It works in clay soil, sandy soil, and all soils in between.

Beyond that, suggestions can get more and more complex, with various input suggestions, but this simple method is hard to beat.

M


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  • Posted by hoovb z9 Southern CA (My Page) on
    Sun, Jun 1, 14 at 21:53

Yes, just compost, but you will likely need to fertilize somewhat more, and more often than those who garden in clay or loam or silt, because sand contains no nutrients (NPK) or micronutrients to speak of. On the plus side, great drainage!


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What type of compost do you suggest? How much should I put on the soil to start with? How deep down should I dig?

Thanks M


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Paula, I've been helping a friend garden on the outer banks, two lots from the ocean, so the soil is pretty much sand. When I first posted here about it, folks said to add as much organic matter as we could. (We've used sea weed and manure, and some compost, mostly just laid on top and allowed to rot in.) They also said to add double the recommended dosage of a balanced fertilizer.

The results have been that it gets appreciably better each year (on year three now). You could also gravitate toward things that grow well in sand, like melons, asparagus, sweet potatoes, carrots, until your ammendments really take hold and start changing it.

You could just add whatever organic matter you have available this year, and also start making compost (start a pile or a bin) and by this fall have your own compost to add.


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I have the same issue here in Central Florida. Adding organic matter on a regular basis (semi-annually) can't be beat. Compost is a great foundation.

I recommend spending the money on the best compost you can buy in your area. I've tried pinching pennies on cheaper compost and the results were disastrous!!

Manure (chicken or diary cow), chopped leaves, lime, blood & bone meal, wood ashes and azomite will assure proper nutrient levels. Add generous amounts of worm castings to maintain excellent soil biology...

Mulch always! Use leaves, straw, grass clippings...but keep it thick and water well....

Do this on a consistent basis and in a couple of years you will be the envy of your neighbors.


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Thanks everyone, I appreciate the responses. The rest of the soil in the yard is wonderful, definitely loam. When I clench it, it holds it shape but can easily be broken apart. It is only the front yard where to builder used sand to fill that is the problem.

There aren't any worms, and it doesn't hold its shape when squeezed but simply runs out when I unclench my fist - sand, sand, sand.

Today, my husband removed the sod and I dug some of the 'regular' soil to make an extra parking space and I transferred the loam (after sifting out the maple roots) to the garden in the sand. Because I sifted it, I could see what each shovelful was made up of and every one of them had at least one worm, usually two and sometimes three.

My next step will be to add the compost - I read online that 2-3 inches on top is good. I intend to dig the loam and the compost together and I think the top couple of inches of sand will be in each shovelful.

Incidentally I have a red worm compost so I have worm castings, and our township gives away free compost every year. The township collects kitchen waste and has a huge plant that makes compost and then gives it back to the residents. I use it every year on my other gardens and it is good stuff.

What about egg shells - is that beneficial, or not worth the effort? The garden will be used for my hostas, I need extra space as right now I have to keep some of them in pots.


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RE: pure sand for soil

oopsie...

This post was edited by cold_weather_is_evil on Tue, Jun 3, 14 at 14:43


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lol we post 9 seconds apart. The answer is in my post above.


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Add organic matter which includes compost, manures, and vegetative waste. That is all I have added to the Lake Michigan beach sand I garden in. Avoid working in to the soil high carbon materials such as bark or wood chips since those could cause a temporary deficiency of Nitrogen.
Peat moss is a non renewable resource that adds no nutrients to the soil, there are other, much better, materials to use. Tree leaves, garden waste, kitchen waste are all things that can be used and will add nutrients.


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Thanks so much. I knew about the nitrogen, I have tree leaves left over from last year that I kept and I have compost from the township, so all I need is manure. I will buy some manure - is one sort better than another?


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RE: pure sand for soil

  • Posted by nil13 z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Wa (My Page) on
    Mon, Jun 2, 14 at 16:06

Be careful how much organic matter you incorporate into the soil. Good soil generally has about 10% OM, but if you listen to the recommendations of some people you will end up with levels much greater than that. The problem just isn't manure although that is the most obvious one.

Here is a link that might be useful: Compost overdose (PDF)


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  • Posted by nil13 z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Wa (My Page) on
    Mon, Jun 2, 14 at 16:11

Here's more information on water quality issues and compost overdose. Mainly it is about the hazards of manure but all organic matter is fertilizer and should be managed as such.

Here is a link that might be useful: Water quality issues with organic matter amendments (PDF)


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I did a soil test and the ph is 8. The other three were very weak - the water was virtually clear in both Nitrogen and Phosphorous and there was colour enough to make it to the first level in potassium.

The first picture is of the test results and the second is my attempt to capture an image of the 'soil'.
Soil Test Results front photo IMG_4421.jpg
Front sand photo IMG_4423.jpg


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  • Posted by glib 5.5 (My Page) on
    Mon, Jun 2, 14 at 20:02

This is the one case where you can not overdose on organic matter. I had a pure sand 2 acres, and in the beds, it took one foot of organic matter to make two inches of top loam. I used wood chips, leaves, some manure, some clippings, all of which were free. I now garden in clay as I had to move and sure, if I were to dump one foot of manure on this soil the result would not be good.

Look at the back of beach dunes, where long grasses have grown for many years, and see how much OM has been deposited there. Also, I would go straight for hugelkultur, if you can find the materials. Hostas are not particularly suitable for sand, having wood under there will anchor their roots and give them a little mycorrhizae to work with. They are originally woodland plants and are sensitive to such things.


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In the current issue of Fine Gardening magazine Jeff Gillman, PhD in soil science, replies to a writer about this mycorrhiza being added to soil and states that the research does not support the hype.
Myco or fungi and rhiza or roots are combined to form mycorrhizal which refers to a relationship some fungi form with plants and does not refer to any specific fungi. Since the fungi that form this relationship with an Oak tree will not do that with a tomato plant you need the right fungi. Get the soil into a good healthy condition and they will be there.


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  • Posted by nil13 z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Wa (My Page) on
    Tue, Jun 3, 14 at 11:24

I never had a post removed for simply calling a statement hogwash. Did it degenerate furthur or are the moderators getting uptight?


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RE: pure sand for soil

Paula. some questions and thoughts:

1) Did you say what you actually want to grow here? If so I may have missed it.

2) How deep is that sand? If it's surface fill is it possible to remove it and replace wtih different soil? If it's too deep for that, can you remove a few inches and bring in some finer soil? Then add compost and till it all up together.

3) I don't think you can add too much compost at this stage, several inches would be fine for the first year at least. Sand not only doesn't have much nutrients of its own, it also lacks ion exchange sites to hold soluble nutrients that come from compost or fertilizer. Note, 10% compost (about an inch tilled into a foot of soil, for example) is not the same as 10% organic matter. Compost is partly water (often up to half) and partly minerals ('ash' in lab analysis), so a pound of compost may only have 1/3 lb of OM. Finally, the compost will decompose further in the process of becoming humus in the soil, and will continue to decompose and disappear, even faster in sand. So you can add a lot of compost and not get close to 10% OM in your soil in the end.

4) If your pH is 8, do not add any lime or wood ash! You might want to verify that it's a correct value though. Home test kits are notorious...


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  • Posted by nil13 z21 L.A., CA (Mt. Wa (My Page) on
    Tue, Jun 3, 14 at 13:57

That's accurate. It's 10% by weight which works out to about 30% by volume.


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Thank you again for your insightful comments. I do believe that organic matter is the key and that means compost - I will try to avoid wood due to its use of nitrogen.

I mentioned what I wanted to do with the sandy area at the bottom of this post...Posted by paula_b_gardener 5a (Uxbridge, ON) (My Page) on Sun, Jun 1, 14 at 23:33
Hostas and conifers and they like humus, lots of it.

What I did the past couple of days is: removed some sand and added better soil from elsewhere in the garden, approx 2 inches. The transported soil that I refer to is from a spot that we are excavating for an additional parking space. I did a test on this soil, too and although it is better, it isn't great.

Next I put 2-3" of manure from cattle and finally on top of that I added 2-3" of compost from the township which is made up of kitchen waste, leaves, etc.

My plan is to essentially leave it as is until next spring when I will repeat the application of manure and compost and then plant. This year I will simply sink the pots and keep them watered.

I will not mix it at this point (is this correct?) as it will draw the worms there? This step I am unsure of because there aren't any worms in the 'sand soil' - not one. The soil that I brought over had at least one, usually two and sometimes three per shovelful. I know this because I sifted every shovelful to ensure there were no weeds, but I kept the worms and the small stones. Yes, it is a lot of work but I find it very relaxing - gardening is my 'thing'.

The sand is very deep, I only went down two feet during the test, I believe it is the entire raised portion of the front yard. There are two beds going in - one on either side. The one that I have treated is the small one, the other one is at least double the size which means purchasing more supplies.

How do I verify the soil test?

This final paragraph, I diverge explaining what I did to put a bed in the same area five years ago...

There is currently a bed that I 'installed' five summers ago when I moved to this home. What I did there was transport great soil from my previous home and built it up. It is under a maple so I thought I would just make soil specifically for my plants. Well, I am sure that most of you know, as I do now, that the maple roots came up into the wonderful soil and tried to strangle my hostas! Last year I removed the poor struggling hostas and planted them in pots and put reversed spin out bags on the outside to deter the maple roots. This season the hostas have returned and they look better than ever.


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nil13 - that is crazy. There weren't any comments afterwards.


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I might have similar soil. My remediation is to use ridiculous amounts of composted manure, and it seems to work. It's a long term thing, but mind you the climate here is extreme. Egg shells, being a long term form of calcium, are useful, but so are many other things. I don't use calcium except for having egg shells in my garbage tub as this is the land of caliche. Just an opinion here, but nitrogen deficiency rising from the addition of organic matter is largely BS.

>> I never had a post removed ... Did it degenerate furthur or are the moderators getting uptight?

There are moderators? Most of the rudeness isn't intentionally insulting and it's often just not typing carefully enough for low-feedback dialog.


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  • Posted by glib 5.5 (My Page) on
    Wed, Jun 4, 14 at 12:59

Kim, what you say about michorrhyzae is only half true. Some species are tree specific (e.g., truffles), some depend on trees (e.g. morels and boleti) but some are very general and will do fine with tomatoes, oaks, grass, and onions (virtually all glomus varieties). I harvest my michorryzae from a large leaf heap sitting under hickory and oak trees, although in the past I have also collected leaf litter under yew shrubs. There is also ivy and other understory plants in the area. There is no doubt that they make a difference. I also use the fine soil under the heap to start plants in spring and summer, and also to make shoots indoors.


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I think I would till in all that compost and manure and added soil right now, and let it incubate till next year. If the worms are deep down where it's damp, you want to get the organic matter close to them so they'll come up into it. If the sand is so deep there aren't any, they may come in with the compost or manure (egg cases) and will hatch and do their thing. If you till you will also find out this summer what the texture is going to be. I'm not a big tilling advocate but when remediating poor soil to the extent you are here, sometimes nature can use a hand. I wouldn't go really deep, 6"-12" is plenty.


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toxcrusadr - I have read that adding gypsum is very helpful in virtually all areas of 'soil wellness', including increasing acidity as my ph is between 7 and 8.
Thoughts anyone?


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Tomorrow I am having 1 cubic yard of premium compost delivered; hopefully that will do the trick!


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The hype about the benefits of gypsum in soils is just that. Most everyone that touts the benefits of gypsum in soils have a vested interest in selling you some. Perhaps this link will help.

Here is a link that might be useful: Myths about gypsum and soils


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Gypsum is good if your soil needs calcium but the pH is already high enough so you can't use lime. It's also good for improving the texture of heavy clay soils. I haven't worked in sand but I'm not aware of any reason to buy it for your situation.

I missed answering one of your earlier questions: how to verify a soil test. The most accurate way is to submit a sample to your local ag extension lab. In addition to pH you would also get NPK, organic matter and other minerals like Ca, Mg, Fe etc. Sometimes the various analyses come in packages so you can pick and choose. It's not terribly expensive, where I live it's in the $20 range. But you're doing the right things and if your plants grow, it's not essential. Just something to keep in mind.


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Still waiting for the compost to arrive - I could have used the day to move it! Oh well, it will arrive eventually.

I googled 'ag extension lab' but I didn't find an equivalent here in Canada, I will have to do a bit more research.


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AgCanada does not do soil testing. I am not sure if they even provide a list of labs that do.


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Oopsie, didn't realize you were in Canada! Sorry bout that. You're on your own on that. Any gardening clubs around? Nurseries or garden stores you could ask?

My answer above about gypsum may not have been very clear on the pH issue. Upon rereading I see your pH is 7-8. Gypsum will not change the pH, so it's primarily used when Ca is needed but pH is already fairly high. Your pH is high but we don't know whether there is any need for Ca. The texture of sodic clays benefits from gypsum, but you obviously don't have clay, sodic or not. I would invest in compost instead, it has plenty of soluble Ca for your needs.


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  • Posted by glib 5.5 (My Page) on
    Fri, Jun 6, 14 at 13:16

Very very seldom a soil has high pH and is low in calcium. In fact I never heard of such a case.


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Hi,

The compost arrived at 5:30pm yesterday and he dumped it on the side of the road and it spread halfway across! So I was thankful that it was a cold day because I had to shovel and haul it up the little hill right away.

Here is an 'after' pic, I think it is about 6" deep and a rototiller was used to mix it with the sand. The white bits are crushed oyster shells - apparently good to add calcium. The quality of the compost was very good, so I was pleased.


 photo IMG_4634.jpg
 photo IMG_4636.jpg


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I don't think you should add calcium to a sandy soil. It will only increase the PH and you want to bring it down.


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I totally disagree with the pdf posted above. Some people just don't like compost, and if they have a PHD they like to be bossy. I would only believe a back to back study one half of the yard with only a little compost and the other with a lot of compost and she which grows better. Of course some plants like California natives don't like compost. It does matter what you are trying to grow. I have seen that pdf before, "the case against compost", but it is not backed up by any studies. Some people find compost too messy and object to it therefore. I have heard people say, they like the dirt not to be so dirty. They would like gardening in pure sand because it's cleaner.


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What should I add to bring the ph down?


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Well peat moss good, but that is expensive. I make compost with starbucks grounds, and bagged wood. Also gypsum raises the PH, unless you have a very salty soil.
"Gypsum Increases the pH of Acidic Soils" I disliked that some compost I was buying has Gypsum, and also if you do buy peat moss it sometimes has ph adjustors like lime, to make it less acid. You want to avoid lime at all costs. Just more organic matter compost made from things like leaves and food scraps and shreaded woods and lots of free coffee ground from starbucks are good for lowering the PH. Most sandy soil have a PH of 7, but plants like a PH of 6.5 or 6, somewhere around that range. Some plants like blueberries like it even more acid then that.


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I try to avoid peat moss because it is a non renewable resource.

So compost it is. I live in the country - no Starbucks.


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I agree and Peat Moss is somewhat renewable, but it is so over priced. It will grow back it just takes a long time to grow back. There must be a coffee shop or café that can save coffee grounds? I would not be able to make much compost without them. I have all sand myself in san Francisco, due to my area used to be basically a sand dune. I could not imagine composting without coffee. It takes too long one get only tiny amounts of it, and not big massive amounts I need.


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The nearest Starbucks for me is 25 miles away and the restaurants that do exist between here and there will not hold out coffee grounds because of all the problems with meeting the health departments requirements. For those that do not pass by a Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts, or other coffee shoppe that might save coffee grounds a special trip there (with gas at $4.00 per gallon) may well be cost prohibitive.
Coffee grounds are not a magic elixir but are one part of the organic matter needed by soil.


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Paula: Are you sure you actually need the pH to come down? I may be forgetting something from earlier in the thread about what you're growing. Compost will tend to bring pH toward neutral so if yours is a bit over 7 it should bring it down a bit. Unless you know it's seriously too high for the plants, don't worry about it.

We seem to have three opinions on gypsum and pH expressed in this thread: it increases pH, decreases pH or has no effect on pH. Let me reiterate that chemically, calcium sulfate alone has a netural pH. Soil, of course, is a complex system and all the ions floating around together in the soil pore water (and sorbed to surfaces) will interact in complex ways when the system is perturbed. Apparently in certain soils, the net result can be an increase or decrease in pH as the gypsum reacts with the various soluble salts and the soil itself. Generally it should be assumed to be neutral unless you have very specific situations with your soil.


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Thank you toxcrusadr. I will also be growing grass on the parts that aren't garden. I have added the compost to the garden but I wish that I had ordered more than one yard now that it is spread and mixed with the sand.

I think I will order more today and that should double the amount in the bed and the rest can be used for the area that is to be sodded.


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