The Q&A Archives: Turning a Sandpit into a Garden

Question: I'm moving to a new home this week. In the backyard there is an enclosure of sand that the previous tenant used as the bed for a small pool. Is there something I could do to this sand to make the area good for growing tomatoes, eggplant and yellow squash? I don't have a tiller, but the local garden centers have many things in bags I could mix in with hoe and shovel. Thanks for your help.

Answer: You're right to amend the sand! Sand is almost devoid of nutrients, and it drains too quickly for most plants to thrive. Ideally, I'd suggest you bring in some topsoil, but you'd probably need a truckload, so that might not be practical. Instead, you might consider building raised beds and filling them with good topsoil. If that, too, isn't possible, amend the sand by adding as much organic matter as you can--compost, composted manure, etc. Start a compost pile, and continue to add organic matter whenever you can. For example, I like to mulch with shredded leaves and grass clippings, because as they decompose they provide nutrients for the plants. It will take a few years to turn sand into a good growing medium. Remember that the first few years you'll need to be especially diligent about watering and fertilizing, since the sandy soil can't offer much in that way. You might consider growing some of your favorite plants in containers. For example, you can grow one tomato plant in a 5-gallon bucket filled with good topsoil. Hope this helps!

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