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How to Substitute for Horticultural Sand in Seed Mixes

Horticultural sand is an ingredient found in some recipes for seed starting mixes, commonly mixed with peat and perlite. However, it can be difficult to find in some regions, and when it is available, it’s often expensive and sold in smaller quantities than what may be convenient for you. If you can’t find horticultural sand at local stores, look for sharp sand, horticultural grit, or grit. You can also substitute it with a coarse builders sand.

A Sand by Any Other Name

For all intents and purposes, horticultural sand is the same thing as sharp sand and is similar to builders sand and horticultural grit. These aren’t exactly the same things, and regional variations abound, but they all can be used for the same purpose: to improve drainage, particularly in clay-like soil. In a seedling or potting mix, gritty sand does more than promote drainage, improving the soil’s structure, providing tiny spaces for air and water to move around, and making it easier for roots to grow through the medium.

Horticultural grit and sharp sand are made from crushed rock, such as limestone or granite. Different types of stone have different pH levels, so try to find out what type of stone is used in the grit or sand to help gauge how acidic or alkaline it is. Builders sand also comes from rock, of course, but it’s unlikely the supplier will know its origin.

Prices for these materials may depend on availability in your area, but builders sand is most likely to be the cheapest, followed by sharp sand.

Choosing Builders Sand

The most commonly available gritty or coarse sand is builders sand because it’s a common building material. It’s used in concrete mixes and some mortar mixes. Builders sand is not the same thing as play sand or sandbox sand, which are made of finer, rounder grains, similar to beach sand. Mixing fine sand into your starter mix will turn it into cement. It won’t drain well, creating the reverse of the desired effect.

Coarse builders sand is sold in the masonry department of big home centers and through masonry and landscaping materials suppliers. It has a much larger and coarser grain than play sand, making it perfect for drainage. Builders sand does contain silica, a lung irritant that is linked to cancer, so if you’re working with a lot of sand—shoveling a big pile into your garden, for example—it’s a good idea to wear a fine dust mask.

Other Options

If you can’t find the appropriate sand, you can always try a different seed starting mix that doesn’t require you to use horticultural sand. Just make sure the recipe includes something for drainage, such as perlite or vermiculite. You could also simply swap the horticultural sand for finished compost or vermicompost, which offer the added benefit of introducing rich nutrients into what might be an otherwise inert mix. Many soilless seed starting mixes don’t use horticultural sand, and drainage isn’t a problem.

What Is Finished Compost?

Finished compost looks and feels like dark, crumbly soil rather than the organic matter (such as vegetable scraps) that you originally put in your compost pile. The original ingredients shouldn’t be recognizable, and the compost should have an unobtrusive earthy smell.

Learn how horticultural grit and course builders sand can be inexpensive alternatives to the pricer horticultural sand.

What Is Horticultural Sand: How To Use Sand For Plants

What is horticultural sand? Basically, horticultural sand for plants serves one basic purpose. It improves soil drainage. This is critical for healthy plant growth. If soil is poorly drained, it becomes saturated. Roots that are deprived of oxygen soon die. Take a look at the following information and learn when to use horticultural sand.

What is Horticultural Sand?

Horticultural sand is very gritty sand made from substances such as crushed granite, quartz, or sandstone. Horticultural sand for plants is often known as sharp sand, coarse sand, or quartz sand. Usually when used for plants, sand consists of both large and small particles.

If you have difficulty finding horticultural sand, you can substitute horticultural grit or builders’ sand. Although the substances may not be exactly the same, all can be used to improve soil drainage. Builders’ sand will probably save you some money if you’re improving a large area.

When to Use Horticultural Sand

When and why use horticultural sand? Follow these suggestions:

  • Planting seeds and taking cuttings: Horticultural sand is often mixed with compost or peat to create a soilless rooting medium that drains well. The loose structure of the mixture is beneficial for germination and for rooting cuttings.
  • Potting mix for container growing: Garden soil isn’t suitable for container growing, as it quickly becomes compacted and brick-like. When water can’t drain, the roots suffocate and the plant dies. A mixture of compost or peat and horticultural sand is an ideal environment. Many plants do well with a combination of one part horticultural sand to two parts peat or compost, while cactus and succulents generally prefer a grittier 50-50 mix. A thin layer of sand on top of the potting mix is also beneficial for many plants.
  • Loosening heavy soil: Improving heavy clay soil is difficult but sand can make the soil more porous so that drainage is improved, and roots have a chance to penetrate. If your soil is heavy clay, spread several inches of horticultural sand over the top, then dig it into the top nine-ten inches (23-25 cm.) of soil. This is a difficult task. To make a significant improvement, you would need to incorporate enough sand to equal about half of the total soil volume.
  • Improving lawn health: Lawn grass in poorly drained soil can become hard and waterlogged, especially in rainy climates. One way to mitigate this problem is to rake horticultural sand into holes you have punched into the lawn with an aerator. If your lawn is small, you can create holes with a pitchfork or rake.

How is Horticultural Sand Different?

Horticultural sand for plants is very different from the sand in your child’s sandbox or at your favorite beach. Sandbox sand has smaller particles, which are smooth and substantially less gritty. As a result, it generally does more harm than good because it hardens quickly and prevents water from permeating through to plant roots.

Horticultural sand for plants serves one basic purpose, it improves soil drainage. This is critical for healthy plant growth. For information about and to learn when to use horticultural sand, click on the following article.