What Vegetables Grow Best in Sandy Soil?
Did you hear the story of the happy vegetable farmers around the Lake Michigan sandy area who were getting an amazing crop yield, and yet they weren’t irrigating their farms that often? Long story short, there was a thin layer of clay and silt soils beneath their vegetables that retained water for the roots to sip from whenever they needed to.
Sounds great! But, does that really mean that there are vegetables that can grow in sandy soil?
Well, the Lake Michigan farmers were just a lucky bunch. Not everyone who wants to grow vegetables on sandy soil is as fortunate to have a water-retaining medium underneath the sand or has the know-how of growing vegetables on a sandy patch. But the good news is, there are vegetables that grow in sandy soil regardless.
Growing Vegetables in Sandy Soil
Unfortunately, most of the literature and studies online talk about growing vegetables in loam soils. It is as if the authors think that we all live in one corner of the earth with these fertile, water retaining loam soils.
According to an expert opinion, if the vegetable of your choice cannot do well in a certain area, just forget about it and choose another vegetable. In other words, you need to get the right plant for the right place.
Even though it does not retain moisture and could heat up to incredibly high temperatures that could scorch vegetable roots, there are still some vegetables that can grow in sandy soil.
Moreover, there are ways to amend the sandy soil to make it conducive for vegetable plants.
10 Vegetables that Grow in Sandy Soil
Do you fancy those large fleshy beefsteak tomatoes? Did you know that they could be grown in fine sandy soils?
Well, the truth is that tomatoes are not that fussy about the type of soil that you grow them in as long as they receive enough water, air, and warmth.
In his book that explores the use of different soil types in New Jersey Jay Allan Bonesteel pointed out that tomatoes would do well in fine sand.
We all know that carrots have taproots that grow downwards, and this taproot is what we eat. Now sandy soil is the easiest type of soil to penetrate.
You will need to apply animal manure before the carrot is planted since studies have shown that the use of fresh, unfermented manure, while the carrot plant is still growing might impair the roots’ shape.
You do not want to produce irregularly shaped carrots for personal use or for sale, do you?
If you’re looking for a sweeter and a spiced flavor alternative to carrots, you can consider parsnips, which also thrive in sandy soils
Just like carrots, radishes grow downwards. They, therefore, do well in sandy loam soils. You will, however, need to properly irrigate the area since they take in lots of water.
In fact, hot weather with low moisture has been shown to cause the radishes to get bitter and make the roots crack.
Mulching also needs to be done to conserve soil moisture as well as improve soil fertility.
Weeding needs to be done regularly since radishes do not compete well with weeds.
This is another excellent root vegetable to grow in sandy soil. Besides facilitating the growth of the potato’s fibrous root system, sandy soil is also acidic.
Potatoes are more susceptible to scab, a soil-borne disease that leads to an ugly tissue formation. The high acidity levels inhibit the spread of this disease.
Have you ever had a burger filled with green, juicy lettuces and wondered whether you could plant your own lettuces in your sandy soil?
Well, the good news is that lettuces can do well in light sandy soils. Just make sure that the soil next to the roots is well aerated, and your lettuce is going to do great.
Trickle irrigation would be your best bet because lettuces need a lot of water for their growth.
Cucumbers do great in well-drained soil profiles, so sandy soil would do. Just make sure to irrigate the area well.
Leeks are alliums and belong in the same category as onions and garlic. They grow for 120 to 150 days and do well at a pH of about 6 to 7.
They do well in sandy loam soils where the soil is not too light to be blown right into the leaves.
Rotate with other plants that are not susceptible to bean seed fly.
Control the weeds in your garden since leeks are so weak and can’t compete with weeds for water or nutrients from the soil.
You will need enough soil moisture for leeks, so adopt good trickle irrigation; otherwise, the plant will start showing signs of bolting.
On the other hand, too much water could cause fungal diseases, and as such, you need to maintain just a sufficient supply of water to the plant.
Leeks need nitrogen fertilizer application but do not overdo it as it could lead to the crop becoming too weak that it is easily affected by pests and diseases.
#9. Collard Greens
Collard greens are also leafy vegetables that can handle the harsh conditions of the sandy soil well. Collard greens are best planted during spring since sandy soil warms up faster than loamy or clay soil. And be sure to water regularly, especially during the summer season
Asparagus is best grown from the crowns and in trenches, and it thrives in well-drained soil. You can also amend the soil with rock phosphate or bone meal at least twice a week for better yields.
For more yields and fewer disease occurrences, I would recommend the Jersey Giant varieties.
Advantages of Growing Vegetables in Sandy Soil
Though many gardeners detest sandy soil, it is not as bad as most people think. In fact, it has some benefits that you can take advantage of.
One of the advantages of sandy soil is that it is easy to till. You do not need to spend a lot of time hand hoeing it. No, the soil is easy to turn around, so you can dig or weed it in just a few days.
Sandy soils are well aerated, which the vegetable roots need. The soil also dries and warms up quickly after a wet season.
Sandy soil responds speedily to chemical fertilizer application. It is not like clay or loam soils that might take ages before you see the full effect.
Unfortunately, the saying “easy come and easy go” perfectly describes sandy soil’s fertility; it is lost speedily and easily as it gets washed down the soil by heavy rains or extreme irrigation.
That being said, unlike clay soil, sandy soil is not injured when you harvest during a wet condition.
With clay soil, any use of heavy machinery causes the soil to become more compact, which could deteriorate air aeration. Fortunately, the same cannot be said about sandy soil.
How to Know if You Have Sandy Soil
Before making any amends to a soil type that you suspect to be sandy, you need to make sure that it is indeed sandy.
Why? Because there are other soil types such as sandy loam, silty, peaty, and chalky that people often confuse to be sandy when they are not.
To accurately determine if your soil is indeed sandy, you will need to do a simple soil texture test.
Soil texture is an important aspect to look into because it influences how much water is retained, water movement speed through the soil, and how easy it is to till the soil.
You can determine if you have sandy soil with this simple test:
- Put some of the soil in your palm
- Add five drops of water to your soil sample.
- Press the wetted soil with your thumb and forefinger to form a long ribbon.
- If the ribbon formed cannot go further than 15mm, you have sandy soil, which you can amend using the following methods.
How to Amend Sandy Soil for Vegetable Gardening
Sandy soil doesn’t hold water. As soon as water hits the surface, it percolates down, draining away.
You therefore have to adopt a good irrigation strategy that provides water to the plant while at the same time not wasting water.
Trickle irrigation is a good strategy that you could use. As the name suggests, water is trickled down slowly directly to the plant roots whenever the plant needs it.
Sandy soil is lacking in nutrients that vegetables need to do well. You will need to apply green manure regularly to improve soil fertility.
Manure will also introduce microorganisms that aid in further weathering the sandy soil.
Since your sandy soil is infertile and does not retain fertility for long, you will need to apply fertilizers regularly to your vegetables.
A study published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations showed that fertilizers improve organic carbon content, soil pH, and cation exchange capacity in sandy soils.
Mulching has been found to improve water retention in sandy soils as well as increase the number of microorganisms.
In his book on the role of mulching in pest control and agricultural sustainability, author Khawar Jabran says that mulch is beneficial in water conservation.
If you go with mulch from dead, dry plants, you are likely to see an improvement in soil fertility as well as an increase in soil microorganisms.
Black plastic mulch has also been found to improve cucumber biomass. Eventually, the yield saw an uptick compared to when there was no mulching involved.
Add Clay Soil
While sandy soil has a coarse, gritty texture, is well aerated, and does not hold water, the converse can be said about clay soil. It is compact, has fine particles, poor aeration, and holds water for long.
Adding clay soil to your sandy soil would significantly improve your soil profile since the newly formed soil would have all the qualities of the two soils.
That being said, you should tread with caution because, in some cases, mixing both soils could lead to a concrete-like substance.
To avoid this, add small amounts of clay soil, and follow up with lots of organic manure.
Use a Heavy Roller to Compact the Soil
Sandy soil has large particles that would take a long time to break were you to rely on hand hoeing only.
Frequent use of a heavy roller has been found to improve compacting as it breaks the large pieces and presses them together.
Cover crops can help to reduce erosion as well as enrich the soil. They can increase soil moisture by as much as 10%
You can either plant summer or fall cover crops. Cover plants may include winter wheat, clovers, hairy vetch, fava beans, or timothy hays.
The roots of the cover crops roots help amend the soil. And later, you may incorporate the cover crops into the soil to act as organic materials.
Mini reservoirs are nothing but impermeable U shaped membranes buried under the crop surface. They can be used to cure the poor retention property that is found in sandy soils.
How deep you bury the membrane depends on whether your vegetables have tap roots or fibrous roots. For example, for a carrot, which has a tap root, you would have to dig deeper to place the membrane.
The introduction of micro reservoirs was a concept that was introduced by Alvin Smucker, a professor emeritus at Michigan University, as he sought to improve agricultural output in Sub-Saharan Africa, whose land is mostly made up of sandy soil.
This practice of having a membrane beneath sandy soil is now popularly known as subsurface water retention technology (SWRT). It has been found to be very useful in improving the storage of water around the root zone of a plant.
Having poor soil, such as sandy soil, shouldn’t be an excuse for not growing vegetables. As we’ve discussed, there are several vegetables you can grow in sandy soil. You can also amend the soil to improve its water retention ability as well as its fertility.