Builders sand? would sand from the pasture work?

cheerpeopleFebruary 24, 2006

I admit I am a frugal gardener.

My garden beds are made from rich corn country soil which is a bit too wet for some plants like lavendar, and in the spring. We get heavy rains but until the frost line thaws there is no where for the water to go. We are muddy in the spring. (Zone 5)

I have read several books and they recommend builders sand/ sharp sand, but Im not sure what that is exactly. I'm familiar with sand box sand and I understand that's NOT to be used.

We have a sandy hillside in the pasture that is nothing but sand. I'd like to amend with that sand to curb costs but I'm not sure if it's the "right" sand. It is nothing like gravel or decomposed granite. It must have something yummy in it as the cattle literally eat this sand(minerals?)

Speaking of gravel- that's another possiblily to amend the soil- but the gravel for the driveway comes by the truckload and is in fact crushed limestone which I'm afraid would be too big (popcorn size rocks) and effect the PH- make it too alkaline??

What do you think about amending with the sandhill sand or crushed limestone? I'd rather not make things worse...

Thx Karen

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leftwood(z4a MN)

You could use the crushed limestone, but ONLY if you are planting plants that like high pH - FOREVER. In most cases, it's not a good idea. But for an alpine garden, maybe. If your taking the limestone from the drive, is it contaminated with salt? Not good.

I don't know where you are so I don't know what kind of sand that hill is. If it was blown there, then it is too fine. If it is glacial, then maybe if particles are large enough.

You would need to add a LOT. Think of it logically. If there is still enough original mud for the sand to be suspended in, it's not going to do much good. But adding equal amounts of sand(or more) with the rich soil will be needed anyway for alpines.

As for the spring drainage, where does the water eventually go? If it is just goes down, then what lies underneath is your problem, not what is on top.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2006 at 2:43PM
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shrubs_n_bulbs(z8/9 UK)

I agree with what leftwood says. Improving the drainage of you soil will only work if the water has somewhere to drain to. You either need a slope, raised beds, or some more creative way of getting the water though the frost line.

The right sand isn't so important if you add enough of it. And "enough" is a lot. Decent drainage needs a minimum 50-60% sand, ideally 80% or more if you want really good drainage. Sharp sand can be more effective in smaller quantities, but once you get enough then almost any sand is helpful. Large proportions of sharp sand will bind together and be difficult to work, it will also form a crust after it rains. If the sand is all very fine then consider bringing in some larger grains like gravel, maybe 10%.

My garden soil is about 80% sand or gravel, and much of it is limestone. It isn't so bad really, most plants are fine, not the acid-lovers obviously, and heavy feeders aren't the best. Get to like Saxifrages! Tulips and crocus love it, Ceanothus, Sedums, Lavatera, there are many plants that thrive in a limestone soil. Even if you decide not to go that way, think about setting up one bed with limestone in it, just for plants that really like it.

    Bookmark   February 27, 2006 at 7:21AM
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I appreciate your thoughts Leftwood and Shrubs,

I am giving thought to using a raised bed.
I am currently doing a little soil test that involves putting several cups of dirt in a jar of, shaking, and seeing how the layers settle out
sand on bottom,
then silt/loam,
then clay on top.
So far I just have two layers!
I'm guessing it's the sand layer I am missing.

I'm wondering if I heavily amend with sand am I looking for an equal amount of each in a good soil sample or more like 2 parts sand/limestone, and one part of silt and one part clay.
What's the prefered mix for lavendar etc?

    Bookmark   February 27, 2006 at 2:27PM
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jspece(Josh - z4 IA)

If you need a non-lime gravel, go to your local feed/grain store and ask for chicken grit. It comes in different grades, so you should be able to find an appropriate size. I use it in my troughs as both an amendment and a mulch.

    Bookmark   February 28, 2006 at 11:35AM
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shrubs_n_bulbs(z8/9 UK)

No sand at all? Ouch! Actually you might have sand but don't notice a distinct layer. I prefer to calculate the layers by time instead of looking for the layers after it has all settled out, because sometimes you just get a continuous selection of particles with no obvious boundaries. After a few minutes, you will just see sand, after an hour or two the silt will have settled. Clay takes at least a day and sometimes several days to settle out of water. In my soil, the clay layer is the only distinct one, although there is an obvious difference between the coarse sand at the bottom and the fine silt with everything in between.

Lavendar will thrive in what you would think was almost pure limestone gravel. Add as much as you can. The results of your soil test will tell you what proportions to add. Two parts coarse material, and one part each of silt and clay, is a good loamy consistency, but a wide range of mixtures will give decent soil.

P.S. Make sure you get the right chicken grit. They'll probably know it as "hard grit". There are also grits with limestone, or even pure limestone like crushed shell, for laying hens. Landscaping limestone is often one of the cheapest aggregates around, but not in all areas of the country. Its under $10/ton in some places if you haul it yourself.

    Bookmark   March 1, 2006 at 11:20AM
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I put an inch of the sand from the hill in with my soil sample and then I had three layers with the sand going prompty to the bottom. So I must have no sand in my soil at all.

The layer that must be loam- has barely decernible particles for my 20/20 vision. the clay layer is smooth as silk.

The time elapsed- 8 hours- probably less but I was sleeping!

I priced the chicken grit- it is too pricey at $6.30 for a small bag (couple gallons)

If the landscapers lime gravel is as cheap as you say that would be the way to go. Perhaps 1 part gravel, 1 part hillside sand to 1 part soil?--in a raised bed???


    Bookmark   March 1, 2006 at 4:04PM
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I just opened a forum topic on the NARGS website and (The North America Rock Garden Society) and filtered all the topics they have about soil preparation for alpine rock gardens, and almost everybody is growing their plants in an almost 100% sand soil. That means 100% limestone sand! However, many also say that adding grit to the sand makes it much better because of the minerals that the grit slowly (throughout decades perhaps!!) provide to the plants. I was considering expanded shale as a grit material. However, they sell expanded shale for $65 per ton here in Dallas TX. But that does not mean that other types of gravel can be used! One thing you should be aware of though. Do not use pea gravel, especially as a mulch, because it does not provide for the right environment for the plants crown.

Good luck with your garden!!!

    Bookmark   June 2, 2011 at 9:18PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

Almost all plants in an Alpine garden needs a slope. Usually rocks are used to support the slope. Drainage is paramount, no matter how you achieve it. Adding sand to good loam or clay and you get stucco if you have no slope and it retains water. Free draining is the key. Build your berm as high as you are able.
Some alpine plants prefer limestone based soil and some prefer acid. Some don't care what the ph is.

I smear mud on rocks, plop some sedums on it, and walk away.
You can arrange the rocks as in a rock outcropping, dump gravel between them , squeeze a few plant in, and watch things grow. An alpine garden does not need plants wall to wall.

This next picture isn't meant to look good, but to show how sedums and succulents can be grown in even the most adverse conditions. Here they are growing on wood and rocks with just a minimum amount of soil. Friends come by and add or subtract stuff all the time. I'm not in charge. lol
Ignore the telephone booth. It's a joke. I'm still trying to find an appropriate place for it.

Here's another part of the garden that looks a little alpine. It needs a major makeover as I haven't touched it in about two years. Time constraints, you know. I have done nothing to the soil except give it a slope. It's good loam on the acid side.

Mike...on vacation

    Bookmark   June 5, 2011 at 3:04AM
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tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

Well Mike, stepping out the door to that view would be like being on vacation. But, I suppose, like most gardeners, there's always an issue that needs solving. Like, "Why can't you ever find a phone booth when you need one?" Good luck on your "Qwest" to find a spot for yours.


    Bookmark   June 16, 2011 at 7:26PM
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