amending soil

janice-2007February 13, 2007

Is it really possible to significantly alter soil in any large scale way? I am trying to garden in sandy soil, on a south facing embankment leading directly to a lake. There are several huge old oak trees adjacent to the area which undoubtedly have large, moisture-sucking root systems. To make matters worse the past few summers have been hot and dry. Over the past ten years I have added huge amounts of topsoil (black earth, three-in-one) and compost. Every spring I dig in bags of composted manure around the base of the plants and I mulch twice a year with chopped leaves. Yet every spring the beds seem to have reverted back to their original sandy soil and I feel like I'm starting all over again. My plants never "thrive and flourish" in spite of regular waterings. Many perennials I've tried never make it to their second season, and those that do seem to become smaller and weaker with each passing year before they disappear completely. Am I fighting a useless battle?

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yes it is possible. i've never done it with sandy soil-- usually i get clay. you don't say the size of your beds or the amounts you are adding.

over 12 years i've added about 20 cubic yards of top soil,
10 cubic yards of compost, 10 cubic yards of manure, 11 tons of sand and about 40 bales of peatmoss to my beds that are 4'x75' + 4'x25' + 2'x50' + 4'x15' which is about 600 sq feet total and now it is still clay-y but still much better than before. maybe you need to add more ammendments?

also what are you trying to grow? and do you water enough?

I also will added organic material in sand decompose faster that the same added to clay?

    Bookmark   February 13, 2007 at 1:38PM
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I am facing the same sandy situation. I can't even call it sandy soil - it is just sand. I believe that all the amendments just sink into the sand over the winter and we are left again with pure sand. On a small scale I have dug out the sand, placed landscape cloth in the hole, and filled it with soil and all the goodies (like composted weeds from the lake, leaves, moss and so on). This seems to work. On a large scale I would think you'd have to terrace the hill side so your amendments don't wash down to the lake, but likely you will have to stick to hardy plants native to the area and conditions. I'll be really glad to hear of alternatives from others, however!!

    Bookmark   February 15, 2007 at 1:44AM
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In my sand, I have attacked an area, a wheel barrel at a time, improving an area 2' x 40', (1) remove sand 2 feet deep into wheel barrel/ or onto tarp, (2) lined the area bottom and sides with newspaper 5 sheets thick (or just a skinny section), (3)put leaves/spent plants, etc in the bottom, (4)a layer of sand, (5)layer of manure or compost (6)sand (7) layer of leaves/plants/manure/compost, whatever I have, (8) top it off with sand and (9)wood mulch. Now it looked like a raised bed. peas and gourds did well there for several years. Now I noticed that the baby trees planted in the bed are giving too much shade. So the piece of cyclone fence will be pivoted around the other way in the sun, the soil will be improved in the same manner this spring. It is like lasagna gardening, but INTO the soil, otherwise it dries out too fast for me.
The good thing about sand is it drains well, great for lavendar and lilies.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2007 at 9:22AM
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stage_rat(5--Indiana Riviera)

That's discouraging that you've added so much, for so many years, and don't see a difference. I grew up with clay soil, and now live in an area built on top of sand dunes. This will be my 3rd spring in my house, and I've decided to buy some high-clay content soil from a little further south, in hopes of permanently altering my soil.

My family lived in the same house for 25 years, in an area with awful clay soil. The part of the yard that was the big sand play-area in my childhood eventually became the area that actually had decent soil. (But most peeple will never, ever believe that adding sand to clay helps. Maybe with some clay soils it really does make the concrete that they warn about. It was nice to read diggerb2's mention of adding sand) Since adding sand to clay worked, I figured that adding clay to sand would, too. Finding out that you've added topsoil as well as organic stuff makes me worry that this won't work out as well as I hope.

However, regarding "black earth:" someone I know who raises horses mentioned that his neighbor, another horse person, makes and sells "black earth" by using a front-end loader and mixing sand with the horse manure until it's all nice and rich and fluffy. I wonder if this is some of the stuff you bought--some nice organic matter that soon washes away, leaving more sand in your yard.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2007 at 12:26AM
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sheryl_ontario(Muncho Lake, BC z2)

I have read that what makes up good soil is a balanced mix of clay, sand and rotted matter (peat/manure) so adding clay and manure to sand should help.

Unfortunately there is no standard for "top soil". It could be anything, even from construction sites. It is also usually full of weed and grass seeds.

    Bookmark   March 3, 2007 at 5:43PM
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thorn_grower(Zone 5)

i have no 1st. hand experience with sandy soil. but that being said one of my best friends lives right on lake erie about 30 feet from the beach. they seem to manage to have a garden of perrenials each year. they grow alot of dry soil plants but i know it works. i've seen iris, rose campion, sedum, and i've given them shasta daisies and black eyed susan, to name a few, all thriving there. not the most beautiful plants but better than nothing..don't give up and good luck..

    Bookmark   March 6, 2007 at 10:20AM
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