By Matt Gibson & Erin Marissa Russell
If you have a sandy soil type, you may have some trouble trying to grow certain herbs or other plants. You may have already tried to grow an assortment of plants and noticed that not many of them were successful even with plenty of watering and sunlight. Or maybe you’ve been putting off planting crops in your sandy soil beds because you were worried that they wouldn’t grow well due to the quality of soil in your area.
Well, sandy soil is not something that should keep you from gardening. You can always amend the soil with additives to improve the quality and change the soil type, adding in lots of organic materials, like well rotted compost and manure, is great for all soil types, and will improve your soil quality drastically.
Instead of trying to fight against the soil type that you were dealt, consider doing some research on what plants grow well in sandy soil types. There are a wide variety of plants to choose from when planning out your garden. Luckily, there are plants that are well suited to all of the different soil types you might find.
For sandy soil types, look for plants that like dry conditions, as sand is quickly draining, and does not have good moisture retention capability. Sandy soils are also usually very low in nutrients, as nutrients get washed away easily and quickly due to large pore spaces and fast drainage, so you should also look for plants that don’t need a lot of nutrients to grow and thrive. Fortunately, many plants that like dry conditions also don’t require tons of nutrients to perform their best.
Many perennial flowers enjoy a more sandy soil type. Succulents and cacti are also well suited to dry, sandy conditions. For those in areas with sandy soils who want to start an edible garden, there are a handful of mediterranean herbs that enjoy sandy soil conditions as well. The following herbs will grow well in sandy soil types without requiring major amendments to change the soil in especially sandy areas.
Hardy to USDA zones five through nine, thyme is a well known culinary herb with a pleasant clover-like aroma and flavor. Thyme is originally from the Mediterranean region, and is drought tolerant and well suited to sandy soil conditions.
Thyme is available in over fifty different varieties, some of which are grown as ornamental herbs, while others are cultivated for culinary purposes.
Fresh, or English thyme varieties are the thyme cultivars that are most commonly used in cooking. Culinarily, thyme is generally used as a flavoring agent for savory dishes. The flowers, leaves and oil made from the thyme plant have medicinal uses as well. The plant has been used to make herbal remedies to treat inflammation, bronchitis, hair loss, stomach pain, and many other conditions. Thyme plants are also pollinator friendly, so feel free to let a few of them flower to bring bees to your garden.
Thyme plants enjoy full sun and warm weather. Thyme doesn’t appreciate wet feet and will enjoy the fast draining conditions that sandy soils provide. Fertilize your thyme plants by amending your soil with a little bit of organic matter like compost, though just a little will go a long way, as thyme doesn’t require a nutrient-rich environment.
Instead of growing thyme from seeds, which can be next to impossible, purchase a small plant from a nursery or garden center, or take a stem cutting from an already established plant if you have a friend who grows thyme.
Get a head start by planting your cuttings six to ten weeks before last frost indoors and moving them outside after the soils reach 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Space thyme plants one to two feet apart. Give your thyme plants a deep drink of water only once the soil has completely dried out. Prune back your plants in the spring and summer. In cold climates, add a layer of mulch around your plants when the cold season begins. Divide or replace thyme plants every three to four years, replacing if they lose flavor or become too woody.
For more details, you can read our article on how to grow thyme.
Rosemary is an aromatic evergreen perennial herb that is hardy to USDA zones seven through eleven, which is cultivated for its sweet, resinous flavor and aroma. Rosemary is originally from the Mediterranean, and enjoys warm weather and slight humidity. Rosemary will adapt to dry and nutrient-poor soils, so it is a great choice for gardens with sandy soil conditions. Rosemary is used culinarily to season savory dishes, specifically poultry and lamb dishes, as well as soups and stews. Medicinally, rosemary is used to treat memory loss, indigestion, arthritis pain, and hair loss. Rosemary is also used in aromatherapy.
Plant rosemary seeds or (preferably) cuttings indoors eight to ten weeks before the last spring frost and move into the garden when the soils reach 70 degrees F. Plant in full sun in a well draining soil, and allow plenty of room for each plant to grow. Mature rosemary plants will reach sizes of four feet high and wide. Water rosemary evenly throughout the growing season but be careful not to overwater. Rosemary grows well in containers, which can be brought indoors during the winter. If you planted your rosemary in the ground, do not move it into a container, however, as it does not transplant well. Prune rosemary regularly. Take cuttings to replant the following spring, or, if you have your rosemary growing in pots, bring them indoors to overwinter.
For more details, you can read our article on how to grow rosemary.
Oregano is a perennial herb with a strong, zesty flavor that is used heavily in Italian cuisine. Oregano is well suited to sandy soil types, as it loves warm, dry conditions and does not need a rich substrate to thrive. Oregano is primarily cultivated for culinary use, but it has medicinal value as well, and is used to treat respiratory issues such as coughs, asthma, and bronchitis. It is also used for gastrointestinal issues, like heartburn, stomach pain, and bloating.
Plant oregano seeds or cutting in full sun and a well-draining soil anytime after the last spring frost. Space oregano plants eight to ten inches apart in your garden beds. Pinch back or trim lightly regularly once plants reach four inches tall to encourage bushier growth. Water only when the soil feels dry to the touch. Oregano plants will self-seed. Divide plants in late spring if you want to grow one indoors as well. Plant Greek oregano for cooking purposes and common oregano for decoration.
For more details, you can read our article on how to grow oregano.
Gardeners in USDA Hardiness Zones four through 11 can grow this evergreen member of the mint family in an indoor garden or outdoors, where it flourishes in sandy soil. You can use sage in the kitchen, where it’s a common ingredient in holiday stuffing, brown butter sauces for ravioli and pasta, and meat marinades. Sage also has a history of medicinal usage for stomach problems, to treat snake bites, and to clear the sinuses. In the garden, sage attracts beneficial insects like pollinators as well as hummingbirds. Most sage plants are native to the Mediterranean or Asia Minor, spreading to Europe during the Middle ages, with a few more types of sage coming from Central America.
To grow sage from seeds, start them out in a rich seed-starting mix and keep evenly moist in a sunny location. Thin the seedlings once they have their true leaves so that one or two of the strongest specimens remain in each five- or six-inch pot. Once the seedlings have grown to stand four inches high, begin providing them with liquid plant food, following the instructions for the plant food you’ve selected. Move them to the outdoor garden if you like once the danger of frost has passed. Once your sage plants are two years old, they’ll start to bloom, with small blue flowers that open at the ends of their branches. If you are growing sage for the leaves and would rather have more leaves than enjoy the flowers, pinch the flowers off when they appear to promote bushy branching. Sage plants are drought-tolerant but perform best with moderate levels of hydration in sunny locations that have well-draining soil, which is why they like sandy spots so much.
For more details, you can read our article on how to grow sage.
Historically, chamomile has been cultivated as a natural remedy full of antioxidants that promotes relaxation, treating conditions such as insomnia, stress, or anxiety and promoting healthy digestion. The flowers are pretty in tea, potpourri, or sachets, and they resemble tiny daisies. Either Roman or German chamomile can be grown for any of these purposes, and the two plants have very similar care preferences.
Roman chamomile is sometimes called Russian or English chamomile. It’s an evergreen perennial that creeps along low to the ground with fine, feathery foliage. German chamomile stands higher off the ground, with flowers atop stems that grow a foot or two in height, and it grows as a self-seeding annual. The German variety is more commonly grown for oils or tea, although you can make tea from the Roman type as well. The vertical growth pattern of German chamomile will give gardeners with small spaces more bang for their buck, though the Roman variety is an attractive groundcover for those who have more room in their gardens. Either plant can be grown in USDA Hardiness Zones three through nine. For best results, grow chamomile in partial shade (though it will tolerate full sun). This drought tolerant plant does not need much watering unless conditions are dry, and it prefers dry soil the most.
For more details, you can read our article on how to grow chamomile.
Also called Achillea, yarrow has a long history of medicinal usage for purposes such as stopping the bleeding of wounds, reducing swelling, and relieving the pain of earaches, toothaches, or headaches. It is still called upon to treat hay fever, eczema, or upper respiratory conditions. There are more than 85 species of wild yarrow, with wild varieties that generally grow to around two or three feet high and produce white flowers, while garden yarrows are mounding plants that spread well and tend to grow between 18 and 24 inches tall. There are some garden yarrows that function as ground covers; these usually grow to no higher than a foot tall. In addition to yarrows with white blooms, you can find varieties that blossom from summer to fall in shades of coral, pink, purple, red, and yellow. Yarrow is often used in floral arrangements or as a dried flower.
Yarrow is a particularly adaptable plant that will be happy in alkaline soil that is not particularly rich or in more acidic, moist areas. It stands up well to conditions like drought, cold, or hot weather. Yarrow reproduces by seed as well as through the movement of underground rhizomes. It’s suited for gardens in USDA Hardiness zones three through 10. You can grow yarrow in partial shade, but it likes full sun the best. Adding compost to the soil before you plant yarrow will help promote good drainage. It needs plenty of water throughout its first summer while the plant is still developing its root system, but once established, yarrow may not need much hydration from the gardener (especially when it grows close to irrigated gardens or lawns). After the first birth of growth, you may prune yarrow to encourage dense and prolific branching. While the plants do not require fertilizer, you can boost their growth by applying fertilizer in early spring before they wake up and begin their growth period.
For more details, you can read our article on how to grow yarrow.
A small mediterranean herb garden is one of many ways in which you can take advantage of gardening in an area with sandy soils. The eight herbs listed above all enjoy dry soil conditions and low nutrient levels. If you want to expand your herb garden, you will need to amend a bed to do so, or create a raised bed, supplying new soil with a more loamy, humus-rich consistency. In addition to a raised bed or amending your sandy soils, you could also grow additional herbs in containers. Container herbs are especially convenient, as you can grow them indoors when the weather is too cold or too hot for their liking, and set the containers outside when the weather is right.