Planting in sand...?

sunsrfJuly 16, 2006

I live very close to the Pacific and only have sand for a yard. I'm desperate to make my yard look nice without digging out the sand and buying soil. Any suggestions?

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pencil cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli) is supposed to grow well in salty, sandy areas

    Bookmark   July 16, 2006 at 2:59AM
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jean001(z8aPortland, OR)

Replacing the sand is an impossible task. Instead, look at adjacent gardens & landscapes. What's growing there?

Also, locate a garden club. You're likely to find at least one in your city, possibly even in your neighborhood.

Beyond that, mix in lots of compost -- 2 inches minimum; 4 inches is better -- and use mulch on the surface after you plant.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2006 at 1:36PM
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vetivert8(NI-NZ zone 9a)

If you get seaweed on your beach you could scavenge and pile in specific areas that you want to use for gardening. You could also make heaps of the smaller driftwood pieces and let them rot down. They'll help to hold moisture, too. (Just beware of spiders, if they're a local problem.)

When you plant choose something such as marram grass which will bind the soil and also shed old leaves to help build up the soil. Take a look at plants such as Lampranthus, Arctotis, Gazania, Desmoschoenus spiralis, Pomaderris, which will again hold and provide leaf litter. Also check out some of the Crassulas which have the plus of being without spines but have interesting leaves and flowers.

It may pay to check what if any could be regarded as local pests. Some, such as boneseed, can be a real nuisance to a natural habitat.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2006 at 9:32PM
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vetivert, I've never heard of useing the seaweed! Is that for holding the sand or keeping mointure in? My 'yard' is actually 5ft. wide on either side of my driveway. I face East. The Pacific is behind me. So my morning light is pretty intense. Especially this time of year here. Even my 'window boxes' on my front deck of Impatients are wilting with the morning heat.

Thank you all for trying to help me!

    Bookmark   July 23, 2006 at 6:40PM
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terran(zone10/Sunset20 CA)


May I suggest native dune plants? I'm inland, so am not familiar with specifics, but the book Gardening with a Wild Heart by Judith Larner Lowry is an excellent place to start. Then, I would try a stroll through the Quail Botanical Gardens in Encinitas for more inspiration.


Here is a link that might be useful: Quail Botanical Gardens

    Bookmark   July 24, 2006 at 1:56AM
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seaweed from the beach will be salty and the salt could ruin your chances for growing a lot of common plants so i recomend NOT adding anyhting you scavenged from an ocean beach to the soil as an ammendment. thats my 2 pennies.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2006 at 2:37PM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

I don't believe seaweed absorbs salt. Around here you can buy salt marsh hay for mulch and winter cover for plants.
To improve sand you should add organic matter....seaweed, dead fish, leaves etc.
Linda C

    Bookmark   July 31, 2006 at 5:17PM
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Now. i'm totally confused... I just got some 'grasses'. You know those little tuffs that look so good at the garden store...? I mixed in some of the Miracle Grow pellets with some organic soil, wet it down and got my hands in there again to mix it up. I lost 4 green tuffs of grass within 2 weeks. I transplanted the 'remains' in a pot with good soil, put it under my Bottle Brush tree and am saying prayers everyday that they come back. The other grasses I planted are a brown, hardier grass. Maybe I just don't know if they are dead because they are brown! LOL I put in several other ground cover plants....that I will have to go outside and look at the tag to see what they are called!

    Bookmark   August 1, 2006 at 8:18PM
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vetivert8(NI-NZ zone 9a)

There are several 'regular plants' that are quite salt-tolerant - but they're not very grassy!

I'm guessing you don't actually want to be out in the yard with a lawn mower but you'd like some ground cover.

A local beach has the following plants growing well in shifting sand dunes and plenty of salt spray: marram grass, arctotis and gazanias, coprosma, portulaca, and a native convolvulus. Further up the coast yellow lupin has been used for many years to stabilise the sand and add nitrogen to the 'soil' before it is overplanted with Pinus radiata. (Don't do it! They aren't safe in a residential area!!!) If you quite like conifers - look for dwarf versions that won't monster your house.

If grasses are catching your attention - think about some of the ornamentals such as Briza and Lagurus ovatus (both of which can be useful for flower arrangements). Regular lawn species and the carexes are often too thirsty to establish - particularly in mid summer.

On another stretch of coastline which is rocky and regularly deluged with spray, bull kelp, and assorted seaweeds, the marram is absent and there are more shrubby plants.

You mentioned a bottle brush/Callistemon. You might also want to check out Metrosideros 'Tahiti' which is fine by the sea and doesn't grow nearly as large as its big cousin.

Using seaweed: I dump on plenty at the beginning of winter and let the rain mush up all the holdfasts and stiff bits. A local plantsman gathers beach grit for mixing with ordinary potting 'soil'. He's found the trace elements make the plants more robust.

Mainly it's about piling on something that's free, to begin the process of soil building. If you don't get much seaweed but are blessed with shells at the high tide mark - they can be very useful as a 'hard mulch', for holding down the sand and keeping the ground cool and moist, but do what you can to find some other source of plant material to dump on and let rot.

For those first light planters - the Impatiens would probably be happy on the north side. Then you might want to put together planters for some of the tougher succulents such as Aeoniums, Echeveria, Kalanchoe, Crassula, tree Aloes, hardy bromelliads, together with beach-themed ornaments, which could make a fascinating garden statement for you. It's much easier to be cheeky and outrageous at the beach in a small garden!

(Just to cheer you up - there are gardens in similar places to yours that have been built up over time and happily grow roses and other 'regular' plants. And they started with bare sand, too. Good luck!)

    Bookmark   August 2, 2006 at 7:47AM
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vetivert, thank you! I have copied your post to My Documents and will take a copy to my trusty gardening store. So many wonderful options! I have neighbors that have built up their gardens over the years. Next door, my neighbor has a beautiful Rose garden! So many bulbs pop up along my street, but after years of building up their soil. I rent and can't really put a lot of $$ for someone else's property. Although, I rally love it here and my neighbors have been so kind to give me cuttings and ground cover to help me out.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2006 at 9:31PM
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I have givin up on trying to make my sand look good. Today I cut and transplanted some of the ice plant ground cover I have on the North side of my driveway to the South side of my driveway. It has nice small red flowers, about the size of a dime. It's green, and I haven't killed it yet! My Bottle Brush tree is on the South side and is doing well. Looks like i'm going have to be satisfied with what I have...Thank all of you very learned gardners for trying to help me!

    Bookmark   August 15, 2006 at 10:54PM
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For whatever purpose my participation may serve, I find it interesting to read the various experiments that one has to try to check and see how nature would respond to man's ingenuity. I simply wanted to indicate that back in the late 70's a US company started a tomato-growing project in the Sahara desert of Algeria, and it was a success. Also further down in the deep desert another venture was undertaken in the 90's to plant a vineyard. I can assure you that the grapes were sweet and larger than those planted close to the coast. I simply do not know what was added to the soil to make it work..but it worked!

    Bookmark   November 13, 2006 at 9:55PM
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