Planting for sandy soil

Anyone who possesses heavy sticky clay soil will always pine for a light, sandy soil, yet this is not the best soil. Although much easier to cultivate, the main problems with a light sandy soil is compaction and the inability to retain water and nutrients.
As the sand particles are small, rain will wash through these particles and cause them to ‘pan’ or form a hard surface crust, making it difficult for young plants to establish. This type of soil is free draining, so although it can be easier to dig in autumn or spring, saving your back, it will dry out quickly in summer so plants need to withstand periods of drought. It is this rapid loss of water that leaches out nutrients also, so to sum up, plants will be hungry, thirsty and slow to establish!

The key step to improving sandy soil is the addition of organic matter in large quantities, year after year. Manure, compost, green waste, leaf mould, or mushroom compost – all contain something called humus – a black fibrous material formed from organic matter of decomposed plant or animal residues. This will coat individual soil particles, helping retain water, nutrients and give structure to the soil.

Some planting ideas to get you started are...

Helictotrichon sempervirens

Amelanchier lamarkii
Cercis siliquastrum
Robinia pseudoacacia ‘Frisia’

Jasminium officinale

Agapanthus ‘Bressingham White’
Echinops ritro ‘Veitch’s Blue’
Kniphofia ‘Little Maid’

Artemisia ‘Powys castle’
Caryopteris x clandonensis ‘Heavenly Blue’
Philadelphus coronarius

A Touch of Frost

Just as we prepare for winter, changing our habits and clothing, plants are quietly going through changes too. The most striking of these is leaves turning to lovely autumnal colours. This occurs as the chlorophyll degrades in the leaf, so we can see the other pigments that are there all year too, but masked by the green chlorophyll. These include orange carotenoids, purple-red anthocyanin, and yellow xanthophylls. Hormones then cause the leaves then abcise, (from the Latin ‘to cut off’), thereby protecting them from winter frost damage.

Evergreen plants protect their leaves from freezing by using their own ‘antifreeze’. This is just a high percentage of dissolved sugar and amino acids in the cells, which lowers the freezing point of water.
This is the reason why late spring frosts can be so devastating to fresh blossom and new leaves, as these changes have not occurred. Once the fluid contained within the cell has frozen, it expands and breaks the cell wall beyond repair.

The shortening days also induces dormancy in many plants, an example being the transformation of buds to withstand the cold days ahead with thick protective scales (as can clearly be seen on Horse Chestnuts).