Gardening in Sandy and Acidic Soils
“Love the place you live” is a great adage when you have the perfect gardening conditions. But, when you live in an area with sandy and acidic soils, it becomes a little more challenging. Some simple steps can be taken to improve your garden soils or you could even adapt and plant species which prefer well-drained, acidic soils
Consider amending your soils to increase organic matter, water infrequently but deeply, correct your soil pH and select plants that prefer this type of soil are strategies to garden successfully in sandy and acidic soils.
Drainage and Watering: Sandy soils certainly don’t have drainage problems! The large particles of sandy soils allow for great drainage but allow nutrients to move out the soil. Since water soaks in rapidly, it also evaporates more quickly. Sandy soil also becomes hot near the surface. The large particles and resulting large pore space allow vegetables to develop extensive root systems, but they still may not be able to get enough water and nutrients from the sand.
When watering sandy soils, it is best to water less frequently but for longer in duration. Water being deep in the soil profile will then force roots to grow down into the soil thereby increasing plants ability to survive during drought conditions.
Nutrients and pH: Because sandy soils allow water to flow through easily, often nutrients are washed away. Another concern is low soil pH, meaning you have acidic soil. Taking a soil sample every two years and following the recommended application of lime and fertilizer, is the recommended practice. By doing so, you can stay ahead of acidic soil and low nutrient availability. By adding organic matter to the soil, it can improve both water and nutrients holding ability. Be sure to consider applying 2” to 4” of mulch. Mulch not only helps to moderate soil temperature and minimizes weeds but over time will also add nutrients to the soil.
Plant selection: One way to work with the soil you have is to plant things that will grow well in your native soils. Many root crops and other plants will do well including, but not limited to azaleas and rhododendrons, cacti, carrots, radishes, garlic, strawberries, blueberries, hostas, peppers, tomatoes, daylilies, iris, beets, parsnips, lettuce, new potatoes, and certain bean varieties. For a list of trees and shrubs visit Trees and shrubs that will grow well in acidic soil from Virginia Tech. Be certain any plant you chose grows in your USDA Hardiness zone and your location provides correct amount of sunlight or shade.
Remember, sandy acidic soils can produce beautiful plants! Follow these simple steps for successful gardening.