We’ll all agree that Brits are avid gardeners, who are especially proud of their lawns. And they’ll be always interested in how best to establish new turf, based on the soil type in their gardens. Commonly, the soil in your yard will contain a mixture of sand, clay, silt, loam or chalk in different proportions. In that sense, you may have sandy soil, loamy sand, sandy clay, sandy silt, clay, sandy loam, sandy clay loam, lime-rich soil, etc. The list goes on.
Well, our new post will focus on laying sod over soil that is predominantly sandy. We’ll also explore various situations, where for whatever reason sand has been incorporated in your garden, and see whether you can lay turf over soil mixed with sand.
To make things clearer, this post is for anyone, who wants to lay sod and:
- has sandy soil in their garden;
- is lucky to have sandy loam;
- is planning to do the job over a former patio;
- the project involves uneven patches, levelled with sand;
- is wondering if they can improve soil drainage with sand.
Can I lay turf on sand?
Predominantly sandy soils are light to work with. Also, they warm up quickly and drain very well. On the downside, sandy soils are acidic and rather poor in plant nutrients. The fact that they can’t hold onto water well is the reason why whatever nutrients they may contain are washed down fast by the rain. Naturally, this also makes sandy soils dry up quickly in hot weather conditions. The above brings us to the logical conclusion that you can lay turf on sand only if you improve the soil beforehand. You need to add organic material of some sort, be it compost, mulch, manure and/or peat soil. This will improve tremendously the micronutrient profile of your sandy soil, as well as its water-retention properties.
In other words, laying turf on sand is possible if you amend the structure and the composition of the soil, first. Furthermore, if you mix your sandy soil with compost or topsoil, this will raise its pH to a level that makes the soil more accommodating for growing a wider range of grass varieties.
Still, we need to point out, here, that not all sandy soils are actually bad. Read on and find out why.
Laying turf on sandy loam is a breeze
What is sandy loam?
Sandy loam comprises a mixture of sand, silt and clay in different proportions, where the percentage of sand is larger than the other two types. It also generally contains humus and thus, it is fertile and easy to work with, especially when it comes to establishing your lawn. As sandy loam boasts the characteristics of all three main soil types, it drains nicely without compromising water and nutrients retention. In addition, air moves easily between the soil particles. Loam also feels soft and crumbly to the touch. In that respect, count yourself lucky if your garden is mostly made of sandy loam with a pH between 5.0 and 7.0, because this type of soil is perfect for maintaining a healthy and green lawn. To sum up, it’s a green light for laying turf on sandy loam with hardly any soil preparation.
How to determine your soil type
Knowing your soil is a key before proceeding with your turf laying project. So, below, we are going to show you the ways of how you can identify the type of soil you have in your garden.
But before that, let’s explain briefly what determines the three main soil types’ gardening characteristics. Sand, silt and clay differ in their particle size, with sand being 0.05 – 2mm, silt – 0.002 – 0.05mm and clay – less than 0.002mm. As we’ve established above, if your soil contains all three types in the right proportion, then, you have nothing to worry about.
Methods on how to know your soil type:
- The jar method – Put a sample of your soil in a jar and shake well for a couple of minutes. Then, leave the jar overnight to settle. On the following day, you should be able to see distinctly visible layers of soil. Clay will sit on top, whereas sand would have set at the bottom. If the sample contains silt, it should be positioned in the middle. The size of each layer will give you a clue about which soil type is predominant.
- The feel test – This method involves wetting slightly some soil from your garden and rolling it into a ball in your hand. Failure to make a ball will mean that the soil is mostly sand. The soil will easily break down through your fingers. The soil on the silty side, if dampened, will feel somewhat soapy-slippery. You’ll notice that some of the dirt has transferred onto your hands. A wet clay ball is unmistakably pliable like plasticine. A ball, made from loam, will crumble and feel somewhat grainy, sticky and smooth at the same time.
- The pH test – You can easily test the pH of your soil without a kit at home to confirm its acidity or alkalinity. This is a different type of soil characteristic, which can also partially help you identify whether your soil is on the sandy side if it proves acidic. Just put a couple of spoonfuls of soil in two jars. Add some vinegar to the first one and if the reaction is fizzing, your soil is alkaline. If nothing happens, proceed with adding a little bit of distilled water to the second sample. Then, add ½ a cup of baking soda to that jar. If it fizzes, your soil is more acidic, i.e. sandy. Your soil is neutral (pH – 7.0) if neither of the tests has caused a reaction.
The simple methods above will give you a rough idea about your soil type, of course, as the combinations and types of soil are far too many to list here. If you’re interested, you can check out the distribution of different soilscapes in England here.
Can you lay turf on soil mixed with sand?
We’ve had questions from clients and readers alike, whether they can lay sod directly on sand or on soil, mixed with sand. So, we’ll try to answer those by discussing the following scenarios.
Laying turf on the sand after removing patio slabs
Laying sod directly on a compacted surface, covered in sand, where you’ve previously had a patio, stone slabs or pavers installed, is not a good idea. The grass roots will simply not establish well, unless you prep the area well in advance by digging, tilling and mixing in plenty of organic material into the existing soil, in order to improve its structure and boost its nutrients content. This is hard work, of course, and takes time. Still, assuming that your former patio was not that big in size, the other option is to purchase good quality topsoil and distribute a layer of at least 6 inches over the designated area. Then, you can safely roll out your sod on top and get your lawn started with success.
Laying turf on sand you have used to level the soil
We would never recommend using your leftover builders sand, for instance, to level your uneven garden, if you plan to have a lawn over the area, that is. Similarly to the case above, sand may drain well but that’s about it when it comes to creating a beautiful, lush lawn that stays this way for long. Again, to lay successfully new turf over a garden area, where you’ve incorporated sand material, you’ll simply need to roll up your sleeves and get down to mixing in lots of compost, peat, manure and/or granulated fertiliser, first. Considering the huge effort that the project may involve, there’s always the option of laying artificial turf, instead.
Laying turf on clay soil mixed with sand
Clay soils are the polar opposite to sandy soils. They are cold and don’t drain well, as the water stays in the tiny pore spaces between the minute clay particles. This type of soil is generally more fertile than sandy soil, but it will always need amendment of some sort if you want to grass the area. Clay compacts easily, when both wet or dry, which is the last thing you want if you’re planning to lay turf on top. On that note, folks erroneously try to improve drainage and soil structure with sand alone, but even sharp sand won’t suffice, unless mulch or compost has been added, as well. Why? The reason lies in the difference of particle sizes – sand alone will clog up the tiny spaces between the clay particles, and thus remove all air that is so needed for roots growth and soil life. Naturally, all paths for water to drain will be clogged up, too.
How to lay turf on sand soil
As we’ve discussed earlier in the post, sand soil needs to be improved, first, before laying the sod. Choose a nice, dry (not too hot) day for the job. Below, you can read our step-by-step guide on how to lay the turf on sand so that your lawn thrives, even if your soil is not exactly on the foamy side.
Tools that you need:
- A garden tiller
- A rake
- A turf cutter
- A lawn roller
Steps to lay turf:
- Prepare the site – Turn over the soil with a garden tiller to a depth of 5-6 inches.
- Remove debris and weeds – Make sure to remove all rocks, stones, debris and weeds.
- Add amendments to the soil – Mix in well your organic material, peat or topsoil with the tiller. To raise the pH of sandy soil, you may add some limestone, if needed.
- Level the soil – Rake well the planting site and smooth out the surface by breaking down any bumps.
- Slightly moisten the surface – Use a garden hose with a sprinkler attachment and dampen the area to increase the chance of turf establishment.
- Lay the turf – Roll out the turf, starting from the outer edges and moving towards the centre. If you need to lay a smaller piece, use your cutter and never rip the turf. Press on gently each roll or slab of turf and push the individual pieces together to achieve a uniform look.
- Water your lawn – Water your new lawn generously to encourage successful grassroots growth.
- Roll your lawn – Get your lawn roller and roll the new sod to remove any air pockets and help the roots transplant better.
Extra tips on laying turf on sand/soil
- Choose the right variety of turf, based on the amount of sunlight exposure your future lawn will get.
- Take your time and amend your sand soil properly. Spring and autumn is the time to improve and fertilise poor soil.
- For better results, it’s always good to test your soil and determine any mineral and nutrient deficiencies.
- Always attempt to lay your turf immediately after purchase. Turf expires pretty fast if not stored in a cool place (no more than 3 days).
- To ensure that you’ve irrigated well your fresh-laid turf, you can lift the edges and check the moisture level of the soil underneath.
- Allow the turf to dry before rolling your lawn.
- Avoid walking on the turf straight after installation.
- Fertilise your lawn once a year in early spring with nitrogen, as sandy soils are prone to lose their nutrients over time.
Or should you lay turf on sand in the first place?
- You’ve learnt today that if your garden soil is sandy loam or loam, laying turf could be a piece of cake, as hardly any effort is required on your part.
- It’s also possible to lay sod on sand soil after proper preparation of the site and correct soil amendment.
- However, as soil improvement takes time, hard work and resources, why not consider planting succulents, cacti or other plants that love well-drained sandy soils?
- Topsoil is pricey, so you can always lay artificial turf over your former driveway or patio installation.
- And finally, to save money and effort, why not consider making a gravel garden, if you’ve made the mistake to level the soil with leftover sand material?
We hope you’ve found this post helpful and informative enough to share it with your friends. And if you have any questions or additional tips on laying turf on sand, do make use of the comments box below!
Header image source: Shutterstock/ By Ingrid Balabanova
Posted in Lawn Care
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