Sand for my clay soil. (The Garden) : LUSENET : Countryside : One Thread

It's that time of year and I'm starting to think about what else I can do to improve my Virginia clay soil in my garden. I am continuously adding shredded leaves, grass clippings and compost so I am comfortable with the humus part of it but I keep thinking that it might be helpful to add some sand to help the clay particles stay separated and allow for better air and water flow. My question is, where do I get a truckload of sand and how do I know if it is okay to put on my garden. I was thinking that as a minimum it would be safe to buy the bags of sand used for children's sand boxes but I think the cost may be a little high for the amount I would like to use. Is the sand that you get from a sand and gravel pit business okay to use in a garden or are there potential contaminents in it that I wouldn't want to put in my garden. I do raise everything organically so I don't want to screw that up. Any advice will be appreciated.

-- Colleen (, January 11, 2001


I have "Alabama red clay". Thats why I switched to square foot gardening technique and raising worms for the compost.

-- Jay Blair in N. AL (, January 11, 2001.

We live in clay clay clay.Raised bed is the only way.Lots of peat moss and manure the first year and we bought soil that year as well,small bags.In our area the sand will wash into the clay on the first rain.There is a product here called clay buster but I don't know what it is made of.Mixing sand in with other humus type stuff will hold it.It was the best move we ever made.And by the way we had a flooded spring in 2000 and I was the only one around who's garden produced anything,cuz my beds where draining.Square foot gardening is what we do and I will add three more boxes this year and the next.TTFN.....teri

-- teri (, January 11, 2001.


I'm also blessed with some compacted clay soil here at home. (But it is fertile clay!) There are as many great working clay soil ideas as places with clay soil, and all the ideas mentioned so far have worked in my garden. Our beds are raised, but most no higher than 6 inches lest the Kansas heat fry the roots to anything higher in the summer plants. (Higher beds work great for early starts in springtime!) I also have had fabulous success, mostly due to starting the square foot gardening method. The constant soil ammendments and plant cover do wonders for keeping clay soil loose. A likely candidate for safe sand would be the rinsed conrete sand available at concrete companies. (I used to drive a concrete truck :-) ) The sand has to be clean so that no contaminates mess up the concrete, and the specific type of sand is great for clay soil. It's not fine sand. I'm sure you'll get lots of great ideas.

-- Marty (, January 11, 2001.

There should be nothing wrong with adding sand from a commercial sand pit.You might want to check to be sure you aren't getting sea sand which would have too much salt. I have the opposite problem.Pure sand with the humus I have added over the past 12 years.I mix clay(red)with my compost pile.I try to add 50-100 5 gallon buckets each year.Over the years my soil has become a pleasure to work with though it still doesn't hold water as well as I would like.The summer heat burns out the humus almost as fast as I can put it in.I do seem to be winning the war.I think it's the added clay.

-- JT (, January 11, 2001.

Sand use in making cement would be OK. Call your local cement and gravel companies.


-- paul (, January 11, 2001.

I could make bricks with the clay in our garden! The recommended treatment (or so I have been told) is to apply 'dolomite' lime. Now I don't know if that is a generic or local name (sorry). However the special characteristic of dolomite lime is that it contains, magnesium, or could that be manganese? I am not much use today, am I!

Apparently it alters the water retention properties of the clay.

-- john hill (, January 11, 2001.

When I lived in east tx I had red clay suitable for making pots it was so dense and sticky. When I walked outside when it was wet I would 'get taller' since it would stick to the bottoms of my shoes in layers. In the fall and winter I would till in lots of manure and leaves. During the summer grass clippings and lots and lots of peat moss. You would be amazed at the difference this made! I wouldn't recommend adding sand. We put sand in the back yard and tilled it in before laying sod and it was not a good experience. The way to make cob or adobe is to take clay, sand and straw and mix them. Sort of the same principle if you add sand to your clay.

-- Amanda in Mo (, January 11, 2001.

Taking the opposite position, as per usual! I have the same clay Amanda was talking about and I looked into adding sand to it. The "experts" reccommend against heartily. They say it will take something like 1000 pounds of sand to 75 lbs of clay to make a desirable and/or discernible difference and that if you don't add enough it ends up being less workable than just the clay soil.

Reccommendations from 'experts" are dolomite lime, LOTS of organic matter coupled with a heavy mulch continually and....the most important ingredient....time. I went with raised beds filled with organic matter kinda lasagna or sheet composting and thn grew four successive cover crops and tilled it in on the other half of the garden. This soil was dead clay. Had no smell whatsoever and you could make pots from it without any trouble. Now it is still heavy but friable and not clumpy. The absolute best part is that it smells like REALLY good dirt now. Seems very fertile as well. If the hoppers can be held at bay anything grows happily now. Good luck!

-- Doreen (, January 11, 2001.

trade for some of my sand soil

-- Stan (, January 11, 2001.

If you put rocks in clay then you've got rocks in clay - but it's still clay - just more difficult to work with. If you put really little rocks in clay then you've got sand in clay - but ... you get the picture. Gypsum helps some types of clay - if you can dig it out of the archives I've posted a couple of times before about this. If you can't find straight gypsum then old wallboard/plasterboard can help (contains gypsum): a brand name we have here is Gyprock.

Best thing is organic matter/humus - not JUST the humus, but the fibre as well. Can combine well with gypsum. Buy straw or rotten hay, get stable sweepings or other stock bedding or poultry deep-litter or leaves or pine needles. Possibly even sawdust plus animal manure. Note that if stock bedding is used, and stock have been dosed for worms recently, this does no good at all for your earthworms.

Maybe grow green-manure crops - cheapest easiest way to add organic matter to soils.

Get a cubic inch of your soil, then start measuring cubic inches of sand and mixing them until (if ever) you think you've got an acceptable texture. Calculate your surface in cubic inches (one square yard = 36*36 cubic inches * 12 inches deep or one third of a cubic yard. How much does a cubic yard of sand weigh? How many can fit on a truck? Multiplied by your area (4840 square yards per acre). I don't think you want to get involved in this, nor do I think it's going to be readily affordable.

-- Don Armstrong (, January 11, 2001.

Colleen, agree with Don on the gypsum. Added some to the soil at our old house and it seemed to help. About the sand, read somewhere that you're not to use play sand. It is too fine and will end making more of a mess than you already have. Builders sand is much coarser. Under a microscope it has really sharp points that keep it separated from the clay better. Have never tried any, but it might help. We have heavy clay soil too and organic matter really helps.

-- Annie (, January 11, 2001.

Gypsum and lots and lots of organic,as per previous posts.I've added up to 50% old manure to get quick beds in heavy clay.Wait 4 mo til plant,tho.Info from organic soil scientist who's program I attended.

Oh,yeah,do not till.Double dig.If you absolutely must till rear tine only.Front end tillers pound the soil,making clay worse.Same person's advice.

-- sharon wt (, January 11, 2001.

We have clay soil here too but have found a way to get around most of the problems of it. Several years ago we put several tons (2 truck loads) of sand on about 3000 sq. ft. of garden. After 3 years we could not find any sand to speak of. Plan B. We have access to racing stables who use wood chips for bedding. They will load it if you bring a truck. The manure in the used bedding provides the nitrogen needed to break down the chips to make a great compost. We have put this on direct or have let it set for a year. Works great but you need a lot to loosen clay soil. The first year we put it about 4 inches deep. Worked it in with a tiller and plant. Then use it for mulch around your plants, tilling all in to the soil in the fall. Worked for us.

-- Dave Comer (, January 14, 2001.

Moderation questions? read the FAQ