Top 5 Plants for Sandy Soil

By Bonnie Grant | December 2, 2017
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by Bonnie Grant
December 2, 2017

Garden areas with sandy soil can be tricky places in which to plant. Sandy soil drains quickly, often too quickly for many plants, leaving them high and dry most of the time. It also doesn’t retain nutrients well and has the potential to erode. Securing soil and enriching the area with the appropriate plants is a win-win proposition. The problem is finding specimens that will thrive in such conditions. Fortunately, there are many plants other than the classic succulents and cacti that will perform well in sandy regions of the garden. Here are the top 5 plants for sandy soil areas.

1. Ground cover plants. One of the best ways to secure soil in erosion prone areas is with ground covers. These need to be chosen with care and an eye to moisture needs, exposure and adaptability to occasionally dry conditions. Once established, these plants can thrive but a little babying will be necessary at first.

  • Many of the Sedum species will spread quickly and enjoy the attributes of a sandy area. Stonecrop and creeping sedum are prolific at establishing themselves in broader areas over time and they enjoy the nature of a sandy soil. These plants do need full sun for the best growth, however.
  • Moss phlox is another sun lover which doesn’t mind the low nutrient content of sand and is drought tolerant once established.
  • In partially shaded areas, the tough and tenacious English ivy is your plant. It will not only survive but thrive and give you a lovely, elegant carpeted green effect over time.

2. Trees and shrubs. Sandy soils can be improved over time with the addition of compost and other organic material, but the easiest solution is to choose plants that seem to like the existing soil condition. If you are a lazy gardener like me, you will take option B and select plants that are naturally adapted to such soils.

For dimensional impact choose trees like:

Shrubs and bushes help fill in the lower spaces of the sandy garden area. Adding those that flower or fruit extend the appeal through several seasons. Useful specimens might be:

3. Perennial plants. Perennials are a no brainer. Bushy perennials with foliage that fill in open spaces enhance the total effect of the sandy garden. Spurge is a unique plant with funky foliage and surprisingly attractive flowers. Other foliage or flowering perennials for sandy conditions include:

4. Herb plants. Many herbs produce pleasing flowers and attract bees and other pollinators. And most are naturally adaptive to low nutrient, sandy soils. The following herbs will add aromatic appeal with low maintenance beauty:

5. Ornamental grasses. If your sandy area seems like a seaside dune, treat it as such. Grasses and ornamental grass-like plants will mimic the ocean landscape without all the fuss of other types of plants.

Numerous other ornamental and native grasses can fill in around the dune landscape with sensory ambiance and rustling vibrancy every time the wind passes through the garden.

As you can see, there are many choices from which to start in a sandy garden situation. Creating dimension or simply a certain texture to a sandy area is as easy as selecting plants that thrive in this type of soil. Remember that many plants will require a little TLC while establishing but each of these plants will stand alone once they are mature and have spread their roots out a bit. In time, your sandy area will be peppered with architectural appeal and colorful notes, in an area that was once a blight on the landscape.

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  • Janet
    Comment added July 25, 2021Reply

    Iwe live in Northern Wisconsin. We are trying to put a gazebo on our lake side property which is all sand and lots of pine trees. In order for us to be allowed to put up a gazebo we have to add to the natural shoreline on our property. The places we have to plant or under pine trees with sandy soil. Is there any suggestions for this? Any help and suggestions would be appreciated

    Comment added May 28, 2021Reply

    I found the information given very useful and helpful thank you

  • Charlene
    Comment added April 16, 2021Reply

    Thank you for interesting articles on groundcovers. I have a ruined back yard, now mostly sand.4

  • Terry McDonald
    Comment added December 2, 2017Reply

    Please don't recommend English Ivy. It's considered a noxious weed in many areas and the target plant as it destroys trees and other landscape plants.

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