Sandy soils: plants for

Although easy to cultivate and work, light sandy soils dry out quickly and are low in nutrients. When gardening on sandy soil it is important to select plants that will be happy in dry, infertile soils, as other plants will depend on expensive and environmentally questionable heavy watering and feeding.

Introduction

Light sandy soils drain quickly after rain or watering, and are easy to cultivate and work. They warm up more quickly in spring than clay soils. On the downside, they dry out quickly and are low in plant nutrients, which are quickly washed out by rain. Sandy soils are often very acidic. Sandy soils benefit from plentiful applications of organic matter to improve moisture retention.

Practical considerations

To make the best of this soil type, follow the guidelines below; 

  • Sandy soils are best dug in late winter or early spring
  • Prepare planting sites thoroughly, incorporating good quantities (1-2 buckets per square metre) of moisture-retentive, well-rotted organic matter, such as farm manure, garden compost, leafmould or processed tree bark as the first year or two of establishment are critical to long term survival
  • When planting in spring, incorporate a slow-release fertilizer such as ‘Vitax Q4' or a controlled release material such as‘Osmocote’
  • Follow with a 5-8cm (2-3ins) deep mulch of bark or similar material to help reduce water loss. Apply a surface dressing of fertilizer in spring around autumn-planted plants before mulching
  • Water thoroughly and regularly during dry periods throughout the first growing season. With autumn planted evergreens and conifers, irrigation may be needed on occasion even during the winter months

Suitable plants

The following trees, conifers, shrubs, climbers, herbaceous perennials and ground covering plants offer some reliable, proven suggestions for sandy soils.

Where a genus is listed without mention of a particular species or cultivar, all species will be suitable. Cultivars of the species and hybrids listed below are similarly suitable and some of particular merit are included in the lists below.

Trees

Deciduous
Acer campestre AGM, A. negundo, A. platanoides AGM, A. saccharinum AGM, A. tataricum
Ailanthus altissima
AGM
Albizia julibrissin
Alnus cordata
AGM
Betula
Castanea sativa
AGM
Catalpa
Celtis occidentalis
Cercidiphyllum japonicum
AGM
Cercis siliquastrum AGM
Crataegus
Fraxinus ornus
AGM
Ginkgo
Gleditsia triacanthos
Koelreuteria paniculata
AGM
+ Laburnocytisus 'Adamii'
Laburnum anagyroides, L. × watereri ‘Vossii’ AGM
Liquidamber
Populus alba, P. tremula
AGM
Prunus
Robinia
Sorbus
Tilia tomentosa

Evergreen
Eucalyptus
Ilex
Quercus ilex
AGM

Conifers

Araucaria araucana
Cedrus deodara
AGM
Chamaecyparis
× Cupressocyparis leylandii
Cupressus arizonica, C. macrocarpa
(young plants tender in cold areas)
Juniperus
Pinus

Sequoiadendron giganteum AGM
Taxus baccata AGM, T. × media ‘Hicksii’ AGM

For the full list see the RHS Find a Plant.

Shrubs

Deciduous
Abutilon
Amelanchier lamarckii
AGM
Artemisia
Atriplex halimus
Ballota pseudodictamnus
AGM
Berberis
Buddleja alternifolia
AGM, B. davidii
Caragana arborescens
Caryopteris × clandonensis
Ceratostigma willmottianum
AGM
Chaenomeles
Colutea arborescens
Cotinus coggygria
AGM
Cotoneaster
Cytisus
Forsythia
Fuchsia
(hardy kinds)
Gaultheria mucronata,
Genista
Hedysarum multijugum
Helianthemum
Hibiscus syriacus
Hippophae rhamnoides
AGM
Hypericum
Indigofera
Kerria japonica
Lavatera
Lespedeza
Lonicera
Ononis
Perovskia
‘Blue Spire’ AGM
Philadelphus
Physocarpus opulifolius
Poncirus trifoliata
Punica granatum
Rhamnus frangula
Ribes
Rosa pimpinellifolia, R. rugosa
Salix caprea
Sambucus
Spartium junceum
AGM
Spiraea
Stephanandra incisa
Symphoricarpos
Tamarix
Ulex europaeus
Viburnum
 
Evergreen
Abelia
Arbutus unedo
AGM
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Berberis
Brachyglottis
(Dunedin Group) ‘Sunshine’ AGM, B. monroi AGM
Calluna vulgaris (lime-hating)
Chamaerops humilis AGM (tender)
Choisya ternata AGM
Cistus
Convolvulus cneorum
AGM
Cordyline
Cotoneaster
(low growing species)
Elaeagnus
Escallonia
Euonymus
Erica
(lime hating)
Fargesia nitida AGM
Griselinia littoralis AGM (tender)
Halimiocistus sahucii AGM, × H. wintonensis AGM
Halimium lasianthum AGM, H. ocymoides AGM
Hebe
Helianthemum
Ilex
Lavandula
Mahonia
Olearia
Osmanthus × burkwoodii
AGM
Ozothamnus
Phlomis fruticosa
AGM
Photinia
Pittosporum
Pseudosasa japonica
AGM
Rhamnus alaternus
Rosmarinus
Ruta graveolens
Salvia officinalis
Sarcococca
Santolina
Skimmia
Viburnum
Vinca
Yucca

For the full list see the RHS Find a Plant.

Climbers, and shrubs suitable for wall side situations

Evergreen
Acacia dealbata AGM 
Callistemon
Ceanothus
Cotoneaster lacteus
AGM
Dendromecon rigida (lime-hating)
Eriobotrya japonica AGM (lime-hating)
Euonymus fortunei ‘Coloratus’, E. fortunei ‘Silver Queen’ AGM, E. fortunei ‘Variegatus’
Fremontodendron (lime-hating)
Garrya elliptica
Hedera colchica
AGM, H. helix, H. hibernica AGM
Lonicera japonica
Pyracantha
Trachelospermum

Deciduous
Argyrocytisus battandieri
Caragana arborescens
Chaenomeles speciosa , C. × superba
Cotoneaster horizontalis 
Eccremocarpus scaber (lime-hating)
Jasminum nudiflorum AGM, J. officinale AGM, J. × stephanense
Lagerstroemia indica  AGM
Lonicera periclymenum
Lycium barbarum , L. chinense
Passiflora caerulea
AGM
Robinia hispida AGM
Romneya coulteri AGM
Wisteria

For the full list see the RHS Find a Plant.

Herbaceous perennials

Acanthus
Achillea
Agapanthus
Agastache
Alcea
Alstroemeria
Amaryllis belladonna AGM
Amenanthele
Anaphalis
Anchusa
Anemone japonica
Anthemis
Armeria
Aurinia saxatilis
AGM
Baptisia australis AGM
Borago
Campanula carpatica
AGM, C. garganica AGM, C. portenschlagiana AGM, C. poscharskyana
Catananche caerulea
Centaurea
Centranthus
Coreopsis
Cortaderia
Crocosmia
Dianthus
Echinops
Erigeron
Eryngium
Euphorbia
Gaillardia
Gaura
Geranium
Glaucium
Gypsophila paniculata
Heliopsis
Hemerocallis
Heuchera
Hieracium
Hyssopus officinalis
Iberis
Iris
(bearded group), Iris foetidissima AGM
Inula helenium
Kniphofia
Lathyrus latifolius
AGM
Liatris spicata
Limonium
Linum
Liriope muscari
AGM
Lupinus
Malva
Marrubium vulgare
Miscanthus sinensis
AGM
Nepeta
Oenothera
Onopordum acanthium
Origanum vulgare
Papaver
Penstemon
Phormium
Polemonium
Rudbeckia
Salvia
Saponaria
Sedum
Solidago
Stachys
Stipa
Symphytum
Tanacetum parthenium, T. vulgare
Thymus
Verbena
Veronica prostrata
AGM
Zauschneria

For the full list see the RHS Find a Plant.

Ground-covering plants

Evergreen
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Calluna vulgaris
(lime-hating)
Cotoneaster conspicuus ‘Decorus’ AGM, C. dammeri, C. × suecicus ‘Skogholm’
Erica carnea
Euonymus fortunei
Hebe pinguifolia
‘Pagei’ AGM, H. rakaiensis AGM, H. vernicosa AGM
Helianthemum
H. × moserianum
AGM (semi-evergreen)
Juniperus communis, J. rigida subsp. conferta, J. horizontalis
Mahonia aquifolium
Salvia officinalis
Santolina chamaecyparissus

Vinca minor

Deciduous
Genista hispanica, G. pilosa, G. sagittalis
Cytisus × kewensis
AGM
Lonicera pileata
Stephanandra incisa
‘Crispa’

Herbaceous perennials
Dianthus ‘Musgrave’s Pink’, D. ‘Dad’s Favourite’, D. ‘Mrs Sinkins’
Geranium macrorrhizum, G. × riversleaianum ‘Russell Prichard’ AGM, Geranium ROZANNE 'Gerwat’ AGM
Hypericum cerastioides,
Iberis sempervirens

Liriope muscari AGM
Phlox douglasii, P. subulata
Potentilla alba, P. calabra
Sedum album
‘Coral Carpet’, S. ‘Ruby Glow’ AGMS. spathulifolium, S. spurium
Stachys byzantina
‘Silver Carpet’
Symphytum ‘Hidcote Blue’, S. ibericum
Veronica prostrata
AGM

For a full list see the RHS Find a Plant.

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