What to grow on extreme sandy soil?

Discussion in 'General Gardening Discussion' started by Sian in Belgium, Aug 6, 2019.

  1. Sian in Belgium

    Sian in Belgium Total Gardener

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    i was so tempted when looking at all the online suppliers, as recommended, and then remembered how many plants fail here.:sad:

    I dug out my “Tough plants for tough places” book, and was disheartened.
    :noidea:

    What do I have? Exposed heathland is the nearest description.
    The lower half of the garden is sandy soil, probably around 50%+ sand.

    The upper half of the garden is extremely sandy soil, probably nearer 80%+ sand.
    586D0E58-E214-4225-ABCF-39808D78A78B.jpeg
    (an example of the topsoil from the upper half of the garden. The pits you can see are formed by some beetle or spider (not sure, I was discussing the wildlife in Dutch with a naturalist) that lives in the bottom of the natural sand funnel, ambushing unsuspecting creatures as they fall down.)

    The garden faces south west, and has a slope of around 10%, with steeper areas.
    It is exposed and quite windswept, with the nearest windbreak being a wood 500 metres in the opposite side of the small valley. We are at the top of the slope/valley.

    I have tried so many things, but so many fail.
    Fruit trees die, 5 years after planting, they simply can’t take any more.
    Lavenders fail 50% of the time, even if watered in their first year. Hubby bought me some french marigolds - dead by June! The dogwoods have just about held out over a couple of years, but they are in the best soil in the upper half of the garden.
    Yes, I improve the soil as much as I can, but if the plants need this to survive, they can sometimes fail when their roots hit the native conditions...

    Rosemary just about copes, as do most herbs if the soil is heavily improved with compost before planting. Feeling a little despairing right now, and wondering if anyone has any inspiration for me?

    The reference book went on about what grows naturally...

    Well, in the upper half of the garden, I mow more sheep’s sorrel, a sort of scabious, and rough hawkbit, than grass, frequently having to pull broom plants out, as they out-compete the struggling grass.99DD4BAB-CE36-4A98-9D03-0EDBA01EE2A3.jpeg

    868754D7-08D8-44D6-8198-3D3457AB939A.jpeg

    On the lower half of the garden, I get less of the scabious, but lots of yarrow, and wild violets in the spring. A few dandelions can grow, if in the shade of the house, and near enough to the septic tank outflow. I will occasionally have a mole in the lower half... (very little eating for them in the upper half!). In wet summers, we can have white clover, but haven’t had any for a few years now.1C51F691-856B-4EB8-AA8D-471BC5371623.jpeg

    Wondering if anyone else struggles with similar conditions, and has found a wonder plant or two that can cope?
     
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    • Clare G

      Clare G Super Gardener

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      Mmm - not something I have had to deal with, I am on clay here which has its own challenges of course!

      I wonder however if you might find any inspiration in Derek Jarman's beach garden at Dungeness? Here's an article about it: Gardens: planting on the edge in Derek Jarman's garden

      That's shingle rather than sand, of course. And you aren't by the sea either. But he too could only work with the toughest of plants, and ended up creating something truly beautiful, and special!
       
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      • Sian in Belgium

        Sian in Belgium Total Gardener

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        firstly, thank you @Clare G !

        Right, I've pulled myself together, and got out there to cut the grass and the meadow "paths". One good thing about yarrow growing well in the lower half is that, as I leave it for the insects, cutting the grass is much quicker come August!

        OK, time to push to the back of my mind all the fruit trees that have died since we came here (both established trees, and ones that we have planted). Shake that thought away, have a sip of a cuppa, and think positive!

        What does well here? AKA - If I'm weeding, what am I mainly pulling out?
        All over the garden, the main weed is sheeps sorrel. An advantage of very sandy soil is that I can often get the filament connections between the runners, as well as the plantlets.
        Lychnis coronaria is basing its world take-over bid in this small corner of Belgium, it seems! In a quieter way, Campanula persificola seems to be slowly spreading.
        In the not-so-dry areas, persicaria grows if left unchecked, as does both a false wild strawberry, and a true wild strawberry.

        In the lower half, in the places where the soil is better (off-runs from the rainwater tank, the septic tank, and building materials from the house) I am also pulling out forget-me-not (they do their thing before the dryness of summer sets in), foxgloves (they will follow in the wake of the Lychnis, I fear - but I love them too!), various hybrids between wild violets and cultivated forms. Other weeds? Yarrow, of course. Giant mullein. Rapeseed. Wild marjoram. Chives. Bronze fennel.

        In the top half, some bronze fennel, sphagnum moss from the lawn, a large-leaved stonecrop. That strange small scabious is also spreading all over the "grass" area - our young neighbours said they had it in their garden too. (Just wait til next year, when the foxgloves get flowering there!! I threw a few flower-stems over the fence, before they bought the then-derelict plot).

        Larger plants that try to establish - a bird cherry, broom, hop, and hazel, lots and lots of hazel!

        What seems to cope?
        the Campanulas; Elephants ears; lavenders, if they manage to survive the first year; aquilegia (we have only an intense purple, which is a delight!). Mint grows well throughout the herb garden, apart from in the retaining planter it's supposed to be in. The sage is needing to be hacked back regularly, and the tarragon is a forest - or at least one of the two plants is...

        Hopefully that might help you "get the picture"...!
         
        Last edited: Aug 6, 2019
      • pete

        pete Growing a bit of this and a bit of that....

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        MMmm, easy to say I know, but those of us with clay soil have to improve it to get things growing, so only just saying, but maybe an influx of humus rich stuff might be the answer.

        I know in the end we dont really change the soil we have, but soil improvement should actually be an ongoing thing in most gardens, some good old compost or manure would help, I think.
        Maybe if you just concentrated on small areas at a time.:smile:
         
      • Perki

        Perki Super Gardener

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        I am on clay / loam here with high rainfall so not my domain, I think @ARMANDII has sandy soil though ?

        Could try / consider some of these perennials - Salvias - Euphorbia - sedums / other succulents - Achillea - some kniphofia - Eryngiums - Nepeta - Echinops - verbena B bit tender - Pervoskia - stachys Byzantina - guara maybe to tender - agastaches - armenia - bulbs - lots of grasses should grow - phlomis ?
         
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        • Redwing

          Redwing Wild Gardener

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          Nearly all of my gardening life has been on clay so I'm just a little envious of those with light land. We made a Mediterranean style garden after digging out the clay and filling it with sharp sand and manure and put in some drainage. This is the extent of my experience of gardening on sand; it's really just a sandy bed but the drainage means the underlying clay never gets sodden. Among the things that are growing well are Sea thrift which is so cheerful in June, California Poppies which I'm hoping will self seed, Sea Holly is a good one and it interestingly has blue stems. Sedums, Verbena bonariensis, pinks, some geraniums and thyme seem happy. Shrubs are some you've listed like Rosemary and Lavender are doing well as is Myrtle.
           
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            Last edited: Aug 6, 2019
          • Loofah

            Loofah Well used member

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            Make a heathland? More endangered than rainforest apparently! We have several heaths near me that in the last few years have had 90% of the trees removed by the council to rejuvenate the heathland... Most people were a bit touchy about that.

            Anyhoo, look at this - https://www.bhg.com
             
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            • Verdun

              Verdun Passionate gardener

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              Warm sandy loam here :)

              A lot has already been mentioned but Osteospermum would do well.....check out the hardiest of them, viz., Cannington Roy, Tresco Purple and eklonis.
              Helianthemums and cistus..both nicknamed sun roses.
              Artemisia, santolina, thymus Silver Posie, Euryops pectinata, Senecio Greyii/sunshine, all silver or silver grey
              Erigeron, aubretia, yellow allysum, spreading campanula, Arabis, armerias/thrift
              Pittosporums....Tom Thumb, Irene Patterson with delightful coloured foliage. Olearias, the daisy bushes, buddleias, heathers...esp the carneas. Escallonias do well here with little water as do pines....and there are some wonderful dwarf ones like Winter Gold. Euonymus too. Hebes. I find hollies too, once they have found their feet, do well in dry soil.
              Grasses like festucas and helictotrichon and stipas
              Anthemis Mrs Buxton, linarias, penstemons, eryngiums, echinaceas, euphorbias to thrive in dry soils as do the Linums
              Phormiums establish well in such conditions too as do the similar astelias and libertias :)
              All are grown here
               
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              • Sian in Belgium

                Sian in Belgium Total Gardener

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                Thank you all for your replies. Yes, I know that quick-draining soil might be appealing when you have claggy clay. I grew up with Hereford red clay, so I do understand!

                I’ve tried to answer your comments...
                Please don't think I’m dismissing your suggestions - but I have tried so many different plants over the years...
                I put about 4 cubic metres of compost, plus around 50 x 40l sacks of horse manure on the garden each year....
                I try to concentrate it on plants which are struggling, and any new plantings. I have been here for 7 years now, and try to add/reclaim only a small amount of new beds each year.


                Some of those I have tried, with mixed success. Perovskia and Eryngiums are on my list of “next to try” - good to have confirmation!

                I can see that you’ve created a free-draining bed, but the difference between that and pure sand, going down metres (ok, I’ve only gone down 1.5 metres, but it is pure sand!)... California poppies find it too dry, too hot. Sea holly I will try, geranium sanguinium does cope, once established. Thrift has failed on every attempt so far. Thyme can cope, if nurtured well in the first year... Myrtle - hmmm, hadn’t thought of that one!

                Osteospermum struggles. I have managed to keep one of the hardy ones over a winter, once, but I’ve only had one flower this 2nd year. I just can’t get the plants through the first year?
                I’ve lost 2 cistus- they’re not cheap, so wasn’t sure if I was pushing my luck?
                I’ve lost some penstemon, but managed to keep one through one winter, to flower this year.


                I will google the rest of the plants, and see if I can source some....
                 
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                  Last edited: Aug 7, 2019
                • ARMANDII

                  ARMANDII Low Flying Administrator Staff Member

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                  I do, Perki. My garden and House sits of 350-400' of pure coarse sand with a old, disused, Roman Sand Quarry that sits only 25-30 yards away from my front door.

                  I've looked through the recommendations of plants for the harsh conditions of your garden, Sian, and I confess I can only pick out one or two that might have a slight chance with your garden soil being as bad as it is, South facing, wind swept, and with a slope. What seems to like/able to grow in your hard conditions presented by the soil and site is, at present, Herbs. :dunno:
                  I'm no expert, but I know you to be an experienced and knowledgeable gardener with a desire to grow other things than desert plants and weeds. That means you have put a lot of effort and money into growing the plants you wanted, over the years, and yet despite your experience have been frustrated with the results, which means a long term plan of converting the soil into something viable if you want to grow the things you have tried to grow before.


                  "Long distance"! gardening is fraught with difficulties, the main not be able to see the garden and it's soil and site with our own eyes, doing so might narrow the list of recommended plants dramatically.
                  So, I don't think I can recommend any plants with certainty until things change in the garden.
                  I can only see a long term plan of first improving the soil by adding compost, horse and/or cow manure in really large quantities before you can start to grow something like what you would like to grow.
                  You probably also need something to break the winds down to a reasonable degree, be that fences or tough trees/Shrubs or anything that will give some form of shelter while the soil is being improved with the really large amounts of compost etc. All of this takes time and effort and just a bag of compost will not solve the problem.
                  For my part when trying to improve the disaster of my new build House garden, back in the 80's, with compressed clay, builders rubbish etc I recognised that it would take time and huge amounts of top soil, compost, Horse and Cow manure over what passed for soil at the time.
                  Once I removed all the builders rubbish, compressed clay, plastic sheeting etc, I found out about the sand, and, after a little local research, about the depth of the soil/sand and the history of the area. I obviously knew about the Roman Sand Quarry as it was/is outside my front door.
                  I first dropped 98 tons of quality top soil into the garden........which gave me about a depth of half an inch:wallbanging:. So I had another 250 ton of good top soil put on which gave me just over a inch and a half of soil, (and then 350-400' of pure sand). I have more than eight Stables in my area giving free black, Horse manure/compost away and several farmers who helped me out with trailers of cow manure tipping it over what was then a fence only 3' high from the back lane. But that didn't give me a instant garden as it took time, obviously, for it to break down. The thing was that I recognised that it was a long term plan and so was determined to improve the soil first before spending money on good plants in hope. Despite, my tale of trying to improve the garden soil my impulse buying has left a trail of (I'm sure that fantastic plant will be okay) failures over the year:wallbanging::hate-shocked::dunno::heehee:

                  So, for what it's worth:dunno:, my somewhat dismal opinion is a long term plan to improve the soil first, even if only in sections, with the large amounts of compost/,manure, try to prove shelter of some kind, and after a season or two, start planting and cross your fingers as I do every year.:heehee:
                   
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                    Last edited: Aug 6, 2019
                  • NigelJ

                    NigelJ Total Gardener

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                    Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) will grow in sand, berries can be used for jelly and juice birds love them; although not everyones cup of tea. Brooms, gorse and tamarix are possibilities and the Desert Willow (Chilopsis linearis.) from the southern USA may be worth looking for, Chitalpa tashkentis is a hybrid of this and may be easier to find. Griselinia littoralis could gow there as well. I suspect the main problem with any of these will be establishment.
                     
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                    • Verdun

                      Verdun Passionate gardener

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                      You worked hard there ARMANDII :)
                       
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                      • strongylodon

                        strongylodon Old Member

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                        I sympathise Sian, I am on sand being a 100 metres or so from a heathland and bog area. I can't keep anything damp, even the sparrows can have a dust bath in February!
                        Callistemons Grevilleas and Salvias do well but mosty other plants struggle unless heavily dressed or mulched.
                         
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                        • ARMANDII

                          ARMANDII Low Flying Administrator Staff Member

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                          Not alone:dunno:, Verdun, my Wife was the inspiration, brains, determination, with an artist's eye for colour and the long term vision of what the garden could be. The garden, in it's present state, is built in her memory although she would probably tell me off for my crowding plants shoulder to shoulder!! Like you, I have a passion for plants, and we probably both smile and feel a glow of satisfaction when looking at the garden:heehee::coffee:
                           
                        • Verdun

                          Verdun Passionate gardener

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                          Indeed ARMANDII :)
                           
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