My uncle lives in Orlando, Florida, and the soil there is notoriously sandy. He was recently wondering if fruit trees would be good to grow there, and which ones would work best. So, to help him out, I did some research. Here’s what I found.
Sandy soil is best for fruit trees from tropical regions such as citrus, avocado, and mango, but other fruit trees can benefit from some sand. Generally, sand increases the soil’s drainage and acidity. While sand can be good to an extent, too much or too little can cause issues.
So, while some sand is good for fruit trees, what is the right balance, and what issues can occur with sandy soil? Let’s take a closer look.
Is Sandy Soil Good for Fruit Trees?
|Sand||Good drainage||Doesn’t hold nutrients well|
|Silt||Holds nutrients well||Poor drainage|
|Clay||Holds the most nutrients||Even worse drainage than silt|
Some sand is good for fruit trees as it helps break up the larger clumps of soil, promotes drainage, and provides acidity. However, too much sand can cause excessive drainage and leaching of nutrients. Fruit tree soil should have sandy, loamy soil which is a mix of clay, sand, and silt.
Sand is mostly made up of silicon dioxide from quartz. Erosion from the wind, rain, and freezing/thawing cycles greatly contribute to weathering rocks into sand. White sand from beaches is a bit different as it’s mostly calcium carbonate from shells from marine life (source).
On the other hand, many fruit tree owners have to deal with heavy clay soil, but adding sand is a great way to reduce the alkalinity and poor drainage that comes with clay. The large particles from the sand easily break up the clumps of smaller particles in the clay.
Also, since fruit trees generally prefer a slightly acidic soil pH of 6.0-7.0, sand is a great way to adjust the soil’s pH and make it more acidic.
The reason why fruit trees prefer a slightly acidic pH is because that level of acidity is best for dissolving the nutrients in the soil and making them accessible to the tree’s roots.
Fourteen of the seventeen essential plant nutrients are obtained from the soil. Before a nutrient can be used by plants it must be dissolved in the soil solution. Most minerals and nutrients are more soluble or available in acid soils than in neutral or slightly alkaline soils.Donald Bickelhaupt, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry
For a more accurate measure of what pH you should be aiming for with your fruit trees, feel free to check out this table I put together.
|Fruit Tree||Preferred pH|
So, some sand is highly beneficial for fruit trees because it promotes drainage and acidity. We’ll get into exactly how much sand we should use, but first—what are some issues that can result from soil that has too much sand?
Common Issues With Sandy Soil
Soils with too much sand aren’t good for fruit trees due to their excessive drainage, leaching nutrients, and concentrated acidity. Generally, the larger particles from sand suggest that water and nutrients will run straight through it, instead of holding it long enough for the tree’s roots to absorb.
One of the first problems with soil that has too much sand is that its particles are too large to stop the flow of water. Because of this, water can flow straight through the sand into the deeper soil, past the reach of most roots. Since fruit trees typically have shallow roots, this can be a big problem.
Not to mention that any water-soluble nutrients will also run off with the water.
Additionally, if a fruit tree’s soil is either too acidic or alkaline, the nutrients won’t dissolve properly—binding them in the soil. So, soil with too much sand will bring too much acidity and leach away nutrients from being accessed by the fruit tree’s roots.
From here, it’s just a matter of time before the fruit tree runs out of stored nutrients and begins to decline in health.
Common symptoms of nutrient leaching and poor nutrient availability in fruit trees include wilting, yellowing, browning, and dropping leaves and fruits.
To recap, excessively sandy soils can be bad because of their:
- Large particles and excessive drainage
- Nutrient leaching
- Overly acidic pH
Now, let’s get into exactly what’s the best kind of soil to use for fruit trees.
What Kind of Soil Is Best for Fruit Trees?
The best soil for fruit trees is sandy, loamy soil. You can achieve this by mixing equal parts sand, peat moss, perlite, and compost. Since sand and peat moss are acidic, and perlite and compost have a neutral pH, mixed together they make a slightly acidic, rich, and well-draining soil—perfect for fruit trees.
|Sand||1/4||Improves soil drainage and acidity|
|Peat||1/4||Softens the soil and provides acidity|
|Perlite||1/4||Aerates the soil and improves drainage|
|Compost||1/4||Provides nutrients and water retention|
We’ve already covered what sand does earlier in this post, but what about peat moss, perlite, and compost?
If you aren’t familiar with some of these ingredients, here’s a quick summary (along with the links to Amazon in case you’d like to make your own fruit tree soil):
- Peat moss is made of decomposed fiber from moss and other life found in peat bogs. It can hold a large volume of moisture and is slightly acidic.
- Perlite is a mineral that is a type of volcanic glass. You’ve likely seen it before as the small white rocks in commercial soil mixes. Perlite helps break up clumps of soil and provides aeration to the roots of the tree, reducing the chance of root rot.
- Compost is simply organic material that’s been decomposed. Most often, compost is made from plants, but it can also be made from animal products. It provides a wide range of nutrients that are easily absorbed by plants and tends to have a neutral pH, depending on how the compost is made. This makes it a great alternative to fertilizer for most plants.
So, using 1/4 of each sand, peat, perlite, and compost is an amazing recipe for homemade fruit tree soil.
Also, avoid using gravel or rocks as they create too much drainage and take up space where valuable nutrients should be instead.
While mixing your own fruit tree soil is fairly easy for potted fruit trees, the volume needed for planted fruit trees in the garden can make it more difficult. In this case, if you need to amend large amounts of your garden’s soil, it’s best to plant your fruit trees in mounds.
If you’d like more information about planting fruit trees in mounds, you can check out my recent post here: Can Fruit Trees Grow in Clay Soil (If So, Which Ones)?.
More Tips To Grow Fruit Trees
- Amend sandy soils with alkaline materials such as charcoal, wood ash, and lime.
- Amend clay soils with acidic materials such as coffee grounds, peat moss, and sand.
- Plant on 1 to 2-foot mounds to promote more drainage and help the tree establish roots in rich, loose soil, rather than being blocked by compacted clay.
- Mulch fruit trees in all climates, especially in hot and dry weather. Some good mulches for fruit trees are leaves, bark, straw, pine needles, and grass clippings.
- Avoid fertilizing fruit trees in the winter as many fruit trees go dormant in the winter, such as cherry trees.
For a more accurate soil analysis, including how much soil amendment you should use, consult your local nursery, professional orchard, or cooperative extension service.
Need More Help?
You can always ask us here at Couch to Homestead, but you should know the other resources available to you! Here are the resources we recommend.
- Local Cooperative Extension Services: While we do our best with these articles, sometimes knowledge from a local expert is needed! The USDA partnered with Universities to create these free agriculture extension services. See your local services.
- 7 Easy Steps to Grow Fruit Trees (Free Guide): Need more fruit tree help from the ground up? See our free guide to make growing fruit trees a breeze.
- Ask the Free Community: Join The Couch to Homestead Community and connect with other members discussing gardening, homesteading, and permaculture.
- 30-Day Permaculture Food Forest Course: Learn how to turn your backyard into a thriving food forest in just 30 days with our online course.