Dealing with sandy soils

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Dealing with sandy soils

Postby Shadowgirlau » Tue Apr 14, 2015 1:45 pm

Today it is relatively clear and it looks like the rain has left us for new areas. Maybe it has headed east?
Many of us inherit poor or very bad garden soil, the soil on my own property is sandy gravel with clay around a metre down. The soil here is water resistant and has no nutrients in it. It rained continuously all weekend yet when I went to plant some bulbs where I dug into it to do so, it was bone dry. We all know that ideally our soil should contain plenty of organic matter nutrients and water for plants to anchor them to the ground. Of course not all soils are the same and because much of Western Australia lies on ancient sand dunes, the soil is predominantly sand. Dealing with sandy soil can be tricky and to work with it can be very frustrating. I love the English cottage garden look but practicality needs to prevail as I'm dealing with sand and as I have discovered after many plant failures that trying to establish this style of garden is like pushing concrete up hill.

Sure sandy soil is well aerated and free draining and for the most part easy to dig unless like me you have a lot of gravel in it too, but on the down side if your soil is like mine then it also has no holding capacity which means it can't grab a hold of any of the nutrients you give it or hold on to moisture when it is watered or it rains either, damn!

The challenge to combat this for me has been to apply lots of surfactant based wetting agents and I seem to be constantly watering the garden with both a water wise liquid and dish liquid which help to break down the waxy coating that covers the sand and helps water to penetrate, This on its own isn't enough though and so I have had a continuous regime of adding organic matter to the soil in the form of sheep manure (just as well I have sheep), ground rock dust for mineral nutrients and trace elements, any compost I manage to produce ( a few shovel fulls in rotation around the garden) and mulch, lots of it. I like to use pea straw when I can get it, cover the garden with this and then sprinkle it with blood and bone to help it break down which it does quite quickly really and this also helps to feed the soil.

Well rotted manures and compost will I'm told help me to improve my soil faster in some respects as it will add to the soils ability to hold onto the water it receives but at the same time it will not add much in the way of nutrients to the sandy soils. I discovered at a garden seminar I attended up in Perth given by Peter Colman ( I think it was)? some years ago now, that when amending sandy soils you need to watch the salt levels of the soil because compost & manures contain high levels of salt that could build up too high which isn't a good thing either if your living in an area with increasing salinity in the soil. The way to combat this is to use mainly plant based compost and add sphagnum peat to it as this has the lowest levels of salt in it. Sphagnum peat is too expensive for me really which is why I rely mainly on the compost and pea straw with manures methods myself.

When we moved to this property 7 years ago the soil was very very poor, not a worm in sight anywhere at all, no frogs, didn't hold water, and only the weeds grew. Over the 7 years it has improved slowly. Still lacks some water holding ability but I now have frogs living in the garden and have found worms making their home here too so I must be doing something right.

When I first began to establish a garden here I added buckets and buckets of a product called Sand to Soils and I have to say that it doesn't seem to have made any difference really as in the end it seems to have been my continual rotation of adding compost and mulches to the soil along with manures that has made the most difference as the areas of the garden that have been treated with sand to soils are not as improved as those that have not and have been treated with the latter method.

My garden of my dreams remains what seems like a long way off to me due to my physical limitations though I am getting there slowly if I look back on the photos I have taken over these past few years.
Perseverance seems to be the word for me, I am going to work on improving the front of the garden this year as I aim to mass plant salvias along the driveway and develop a rose garden under planted with a few other shrubs. To this end I have been preparing the rose garden area with lots of well rotted manures and have planted a cover crop in the rose circle to add organic matter and increase the nitrogen in it.
Now to go and plan my planting guide

Happy Gardening :mrgreen:
Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans.
- John Lennon

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