Can You Use Builders’ Sand Instead of Horticultural Sand?

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Brock Ingham
Brock Ingham

Can you use builders’ sand instead of horticultural sand for gardening? Yes, you absolutely can. Sand, whether it be builders’ sand or horticultural, sand is used to help your soil drain properly.

When you water your plants, the water needs to be able to drain. Otherwise, if it doesn’t, it can sit and hinder plant growth, as well as promote fungal disease. This is the primary reason why sand is used. The sand helps to aerate your soil, allowing water to move and drain freely and properly.

While some experts recommend horticultural sand because it contains quartz and sandstone and is gritter, builders’ sand is suitable – and in most times, more cost-effective – alternative for building a successful garden.

Builders sand on construction site
Builders sand on construction site

What is Builders’ Sand?

Builder’s sand is a sand that is commonly used for building materials. It’s most commonly found in mortar and concrete mixes. It’s not to be confused with sandbox sand or play sand which has rounder, finer grains that are closer to beach sand. Since builder’s sand features grains that are larger and more coarse, it is perfect for drainage.

Be warned, it does contain silica which is a lung irritant that can be linked to cancer. When handling this sand, it’s ideal to wear a fine dust mask to prevent inhaling this sand.

Sharp Builders’ Sand

On its own, builders’ sand contains course materials that assist with proper soil drainage.

However, it may sometimes be confused with sharp sand, which is a little heavier than traditional builders’ sand. Sharp sand is another name for horticultural sand, which as mentioned above, is a coarse type of sand made out of quartz and other various-sized particles, both small and large.

Though they may be similar, sharp sand (aka horticultural sand) has larger grains, meaning that it provides better soil drainage than other competitors on the market. It is generally best used for root cuttings and improving the overall health of your lawn, though it can also be mixed with potting soil and used with clay soil, as well, which is the primary soil used for spring blossoms such as Bearded Irises and Daylilies.

Horticultural sand being mixed into soil
Horticultural sand being mixed into soil

When to Add Sand to Your Garden

Adding sand to your garden has a few different benefits to it but when should you add it? It’s recommended that you add sand to the soil in your garden if you have clay soil. Adding sand to clay soil allows you to not only harness the ability to retain moisture with clay but also provide a healthy amount of drainage that you get with sand. This allows for an effect similar to loamy soil and creates the perfect balance between two extremes.

It can also help with feeding nutrients to the plant. Using just sand won’t be able to provide that but clay soil is rich in nutrients that your plant can use to grow. The sandy soil also helps break up the clay by making sure that it’s not packed too tightly. This makes it easier for water to make its way through and makes it easier for plants to grow in the soil.

Can Builders’ Sand Be Used on a Lawn?

Chances are unless you were born with a green thumb, you didn’t know you could use sand on your front lawn. While we typically think of sand as being a landscape all on its own, it can actually be used to improve the firmness of your lawn and keep it healthy.

Just as with plants in your garden, your grass needs to be able to drain otherwise it runs the risk of turning brown. After all, who wants a brown front yard, considering how much it takes away from the aesthetic of your property? To combat this, sand is used to aerate the soil and make it easier for water to get through.

While horticultural sand is typically recommended, you can easily use builders’ sand on your lawn instead. If you opt for this method, however, keep in mind that you should use it sparingly. Only use a thin layer of builders’ sand over your grass, and primarily in lower levels. This is because builders’ sand doesn’t contain any nutrients, so it may cause your grass to lose its vitality.

Though you may have noticed sandy areas more prevalent in lower areas of a golf course and think you can do the same, it’s important to note that golf courses typically use turf, which is synthetic grass. As such, it’s not at risk for any sort of damage or deterioration due to the sand. If you want to use sand in another unique way, the paver experts at Trenton Block & Hardscape Supply suggest using sand as a form of landscape edging. Per their team, “having sand there to be a defined boundary…keeps your beds looking neater and more defined for longer.”

Can You Put Builder’s Sand in a Compost Bin?

While composting is a great way to deal with your garbage in a way that’s healthy for the environment, you shouldn’t include builder’s sand in your compost bin under any circumstances.

Sand doesn’t decompose which is only going to create more of a headache for you. All it really does is add bulk to your compost. Unless you need that extra bulk for some reason, you should not use sand in your compost bin. Taking that sand in your compost to the waste depot is not recommended either.

Benefits of Adding Sand to Soil

While sand can have its risks, as noted above, there are several benefits of adding sand to your soil. Here are the top three:

1. Improves Water Drainage

As mentioned earlier, the addition of sand to your soil can help make it easier for water to drain through the soil. The easier it is for water to drain, the less likely your plants will be to succumb to any damage.

Too much water can lead to root rot – a common, but miserable plant disease that all plant owners know and detest. When the root can’t release its water intake, it also can’t get any oxygen or other nutrients, so essentially too much water causes your plant to deprive itself of oxygen.

Since sand contains large and small materials it essentially creates little holes for the water to drain through, combatting this issue safely and efficiently.

Dry clay soil
Dry clay soil

2. It Makes Clay Soil Better

There are all sorts of soil on the market, but one that could benefit from the addition of sand is clay soil.

In some ways, clay soil is great because it can easily absorb all the water and nutrients a plant needs to survive. However, this ability is also its weakness, as it’s not very forgiving when it comes to allowing water to pass through. As a result, clay soil tends to get waterlogged, which as mentioned before, can cause root rot and oxygen deprivation. As such, adding coarse sand breaks apart clay soil so it gets better aeration and drainage.

3. It Makes Transferring Plants a Whole Lot Easier

If you want to transfer one of your plants from a smaller pot to a larger one, or bring one from the outside inside (or vice versa), sandy soil makes it a whole lot easier.

Sand makes it easier for soil to move around (hence, why it’s so beneficial for thick soils, like clay soil). As a result, this makes it easier to move a plant.

Sand Alternatives

If you’re looking to use something a little different, here are some alternatives to using sand in your garden.

  • Compost – You shouldn’t add sand to your compost, but if you’re looking for an alternative, compost is actually a great option. While it can be heavy and dense, you can also incorporate it into the soil in a way where it’s actually a great option to improve drainage. Due to its nature, it provides a balanced soil composition that is resistant to both oversaturation and drought.
  • Horticultural sand – This article has already covered how builders’ sand can replace horticultural sand, but it also goes the other way around. It not only has large, coarse grains but has excellent mineral content that provides for healthy growth and nutrition for your plant.
  • Peat moss – While not actually moss, peat moss has a lot of the same qualities as compost such as the ability to retain moisture while also allowing some of it to drain.
  • Vermiculite – This silica-rich alternative is great at retaining nutrients like potassium, magnesium, and calcium. The downside to this alternative is that it isn’t the greatest at draining.

Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for ways to improve your soil’s drainage, adding sand is a great technique you can use. Builders’ sand is generally more affordable than horticultural sand and it’s very easy to use. With these tips, you can create the garden of your dreams!

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