The Best Sand For Gardening – Ultimate Guide To Choosing The Perfect Sand

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Last Updated on September 13, 2022 by Griselda M.

What is the best sand for gardening? There is no direct answer, but, you can manage to work many different types of sand into your garden in a way that can be beneficial. You can also mess your soil up if you choose the wrong sand! I have done this. Follow to learn more on what to do, and what not to do.

Why Could We Need Sand in a Garden?

There are quite a few reasons you may wish to add sand to your garden soil, or your lawn. Let’s have a look at a few:

Fixing a heavy clay soil

Adding sand to heavy clay soil can change the particle size distribution of the soil. Together with organic matter such as compost, wood chips, manure, and gypsum, the addition of sand to clay can help you rapidly move to have a loam. Building productive clay soil using just organic matter and gypsum takes a few years longer.

My garden has some regions of extremely heavy clay soil. You can use this soil for making ceramics it is so bad! I covered these soils with a layer 10 inches thick of river sand and then rotavated this into the soil to mix it. Ten years later this part of the garden still does really well for carrots!

The addition of sand to the clay soil has created a fertile loam, and the change is largely permanent. It is important to mulch because the clay will do this weird thing of floating to the surface during rain and creating a crust layer on the surface of the soil as it dries. Mulch stops this from happening.

Top dressing a lawn

Adding a one or two-inch layer of river sand to a lawn as the spring growth kicks in will often help your lawn become softer and healthier. We had to develop a few lawns on very clay-covered soil. By top dressing each year with an inch of river sand, it took 5 years to build up a lush, healthy lawn that could absorb and hold water without drying out. Hence if you are trying to develop a lawn on clay soil, top dressing it in the sand for a few years can really help make the lawn sustainable.

Building a specialist soil

There are times when certain plants just need a soil type that you may not have in your garden. An example is my quest to grow a few avocadoes in my cold clay soil. This has been a remarkably unsuccessful exercise as I have ended up with my soil killing at last count about 50 avocadoes so far.

In desperation, I noticed that avocadoes grown in the coastal town near where I live thrive on the dune sand there! I would bring back 10×5 gallon buckets of sand each time I went fishing. I used this to build up a section of well-drained soil that is about a yard deep.

However, I did not realize the amount of sodium that locks onto the beach sand. Despite rinsing the sand before planting, the high salt content in this sand killed my next avocado! Hopefully, after this soil has washed for a year or two I will finally get an avo to grow in the ground, not a pot.

In some cases, for certain succulents, it is important to use sandy soil if you live in an area with high rainfall. Sandy soil has little ability to retain moisture, hence, for succulents, that tend to enjoy low moisture environments, sandy soil can help you avoid drowning your plants.

What is The Difference Between Top Soil, Sand, and Gravel?


Topsoil is a broad category just referring to the top layer of soil. Topsoil could be a developed sandy soil, a developed clay soil, or a loam. I have bought top soil from old farm fields, and it was so depleted in organic matter, that it may as well have well-been builders’ sand. I would advise that before you buy topsoil you ask to see a sample of what you are buying.


Sand is classified as a loose granular substance with a noncompacting nature. It tends to be very well-drained, nutrient-poor and dries out quickly after watering.


Gravel is much larger particle size – generally, it consists of small pieces of rock and pebble at least the size of a match head but can be larger. Gravel tends to be very well drained. I find incorporating gravel into soils helps to improve the soil in many ways. It seems to help the plant roots, and it improves drainage.

The chicken food I buy contains crusher grit similar to this. I have quite a lot of chickens and ducks in a coop, hence this provides a constant stream of chicken manure that gets worked into the garden, and the crusher grit is a long-term source of useful minerals for the soil.

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Learn more about Top 10 Vegetables That Grow Well In Clay Soil

What Are The Various Types Of Sands?

I have had a look at a few blogs and there is a lot of complete garbage written on this topic. My Dad is an ichthyologist, and I know when we went on field trips he would take river sand samples and send them to his geologist friend to get them identified. I know that there are hundreds of types of sand in just the area we sampled – so let’s not try in any way to imagine that we can list the various types of sand here.

If you want to see a relatively comprehensive list of types of sand, read here at the SandAtlas.

A quick summary is that sand, from a gardening perspective, can be broken down into its source, the particle size and how weathered the particles are.

In this regard, we get sands that are sharp and abrasive and sand that has worn smooth particles. The size and origin of these particles can vary – they can be quite small and fine or they can be large like fine gravel. The particles can be all of a geological origin – or in some cases, they can also include biological materials, such as crushed shells and broken coral reef components.

Depending on the various characteristics above, you can then have sand types that can contribute various factors to your soil. As an example, soil containing crushed shell components will have a bit of calcium in it, whereas weathered sand from a desert may have almost no nutrients in it at all.

 What kind of sand do you mix with soil

How Should We Select The Right Type Of Sand For Our Garden?

My general advice would be to find a sand mine where they dig up sand. Visit the sand mine and you will probably find that they have bulldozed the top layer of soil, which is darker and richer in organic matter to the side. This is because they generally want the cleaner sand below – I have in the past bought this weak top soil at a very discounted price.

If you cannot get that type of sandy soil, I generally like any form of river sand, as these tend to not have many salts in the soil. Be somewhat cautious about beach sand, unless it is beach sand from a freshwater lake. Seas sand has a lot of salt in it – and despite washing the salt out, I have still found that this salt somehow gets out of the soil and can kill plants.

When you choose sand, work on the principle that you are most likely trying to incorporate sand into your soil to bring it to a loamy state. Hence if you have fine clay soil buy coarser sand that has a good particle size distribution from relatively fine sand particles to coarse sand particles. Mixing this into clay soil, together with organic matter will get you a lot closer to having a loam.

If you are incorporating sand into your soil to improve drainage, use the coarsest sand you can find. This generally helps quite a bit with drainage.

How To Use Sand For Your Garden?

Top dressing a lawn in an area with poor drainage

If you place a layer about an inch to two inches deep over an established lawn as the spring growth starts, you can water the sand into the lawn – I normally mix some sifted manure into this mix as well. The grass will push through the sand and the improved aeration becomes apparent on the lawn quite fast. It also helps make the grass feel softer underfoot – when the grass is in clay it is prone to waterlog and also can become as hard as a rock underfoot when it is dry. Top dressing every year with sand can help turn a lawn on clay soil into a more pleasant lawn.

Mixing potting soil

I often mix my potting soil for various projects. If you take a third by volume sand, a third by volume compost and a third by volume weathered manure, then mix these. Once you have made this mixture it is a good all-around soil mix for germinating many seed types, and potting out many plants, and is just useful to have around. I always have a few buckets of this mix waiting and maturing in the shade for my next gardening project.

Creating a carrot/radish/potato bed

I always like to make specialist soil for these plants. I have mixed several different mixes over the years, and all work quite well. This depended on my budget at the time. If you have relatively poor soil, you can just layer sand on top of it, and mix the soil, then incorporate manure and compost into this. If your budget allows mix pearlite into the soil.

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Conclusion On The Best Sand For Gardening

Sand is a great soil amendment. If you need to improve heavy clay soil, adding sand can help to improve the particle size distribution, and drainage of the soil. Sand is also a great top dressing material for lawns. I always have a few cubic feet of sand in my garden, just in case I need to mix it with something for a project. My choice is always river sand, although other sands can be good too.

Learn more about Can You Use Coarse Sand For Gardening?


What kind of sand should I use in my garden?

There is no correct answer to this question, as it depends on why you want to add sand. My generally advice is most types of sand can be quite beneficial to improving soils. Sea sand is however a sand that is best not used as the salt in it can cause problems. Even if you wash it a lot.

What kind of sand do you mix with soil?

I like to use river sand, as this tends to be quite useful for improving the texture of a clay soil for example.

Is it good to add sand to garden soil?

This will depend on what type of soil you have. If you add sand to clay it can improve the soil. If you add sand to a loam soil it can actually make the soil less fertile as you can make the soil such that it does not retain water. This leads to nutrients washing out of the soil. If you add sand to a sandy soil it will just exacerbate the problem.

Can you use building sand for gardening?

Yes, I have often used building sand and this can be quite a good additive to your soil.

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