If your soil feels gritty to the touch, you most likely have sandy soil. An easy way to tell is by rolling a ball of soil in your hands – sandy soil will crumble away easily.
Not sure what soil type you have? Find out how to test your soil type.
Sandy soil is free draining, easy to work and warms up quickly in spring. It also dries out rapidly and leaches nutrients when it rains, so it is vital to add plenty of added organic matter, such as well rotted manure or garden compost, to retain moisture and feed the plants.
Sandy soils are often acidic, so it's worth testing yours – find out how to test your soil pH.
As ever, it is best to choose the plants that suit your garden's conditions. Here are 10 plants that thrive in sandy soil.
Hardy geraniums (cranesbills) are versatile plants that look good in any type of planting scheme and do well in sun or shade. They flower for months on end in summer, in shades of pink, white, purple and blue, offering a long season of pollen and nectar for a number of pollinators, particularly bees.
All bulbs, including tulips, do well in sandy soils – they thrive in well-drained soil, as they are less inclined to rot. There are hundreds of tulips, in a wide range of colours, to choose from – browse our plant database for tulips to grow and read our tulip Grow Guide for practical growing advice.
Lavender thrives in well drained, poor soil so is perfect for a sandy soil. With its evergreen leaves and compact shape, it's the perfect plant for a sunny spot. Most varieties have purple flowers, but some cultivars come in dark blue, white or pink. They are extremely attractive to bees, butterflies and hoverflies.
Verbena bonariensis has tall stems topped with flattened heads of lavender-purple flowers for many months in summer. It's perfect for bringing height to an ornamental border and also works well in prairie-style planting schemes. It's a superb butterfly plant, rivalling even buddleja. Grow in a sunny spot.
Cistus (rock rose) are attractive, bushy, evergreen shrubs with white or pink flowers. They flower in late spring, bridging the gap between spring and summer. They're idea for growing in rock gardens and containers, and work well with other Mediterranean shrubs such as rosemary and lavender.
Helianthemum, also known as rock roses, are reliable, easy-going shrubby plants that can be guaranteed to put on a good show throughout early and mid summer. They are perfect for growing at the front of a mixed sunny border or rock garden. Grow in full sun. Plants may need protection during harsh winters.
Salvias (perennial sages) look wonderful in ornamental borders, producing summer-long displays of spiky, nectar-rich flowers. They come in a huge range of colours. For best results grow in a sunny, sheltered spot and deadhead spent blooms regularly to encourage flowers into mid-autumn.
With their elegant, long and evergreen leaves, phormiums (New Zealand flax) add an architectural touch to any garden. They make a good focal point in gravel gardens and large borders, and are well suited to seaside gardens because of their tolerance of salty winds. Grow in a sunny spot.
Achilleas (yarrow) have feathery foliage and striking flat, circular heads of flowers throughout the summer. They look good in all kinds of planting schemes, including cottage gardens and prairie schemes. They attract a wide range of pollinators, too. Grow in a sunny spot.
Alliums have pompon-shaped flowers on tall stems in spring and early summer and are a fantastic choice for a sunny border. They come mostly in shades of purple and look fabulous planted in drifts. Plant the bulbs in autumn – they should come back year after year.
Tips for improving sandy soil
- Adding organic matter helps to retain moisture and will release nutrients.
- Use garden compost, council green waste, manure or spent mushroom compost.
- Watch our video guide to the types of organic matter.
- Try to add around two bucketfuls per square metre to borders.
- Add four bucketfuls per square metre to areas where you intend to grow fruit or veg.
- You can dig the organic matter into the soil or spread it on the surface as a mulch.
- If you don't have enough organic matter, concentrate on one area at a time.
- Water newly planted plants in well, and continue while they establish.
- Mulch around newly planted plants to keep moisture in the soil.
- Spring is the best time to dig sandy soil.
More plants for sandy soil
- Alcea (hollyhock)
- Buddleja (butterfly bush)
- Crocosmia (montbretia)
- Dianthus (pinks)
- Echinops (globe thistle - pictured)
- Erigeron (Mexican daisy)
- Eryngium (wallflower)
- Hylotelephium (sedum)
- Kniphofia (red hot poker)
- Lupinus (lupin)
- Nepeta (catmint)
- Papaver (poppy)
- Stachys (lamb's ears)
- Mediterranean herbs