Let’s Get Dirty and Talk Soil

First, get your minds out of the gutter and into the dirt. This is a gardening blog!

I believe soil is the basis for every healthy plant. So many factors play into a successful garden, but if you don’t nourish the soil your garden will require more work and could cost you money if your plants fail. Plants derive much of their nutrients from the soil surrounding them. Those nutrients help the plants grow and produce fruits, vegetables, flowers, and healthy green leaves. If your soil lacks these nutrients, you’ll find you have to fertilize more. This means more work and less time enjoying your garden. I’m all about enjoying my garden. And I don’t need more work, I have four beautiful daughters who supply me with plenty, daily.

Dig garden
Picture courtesy Pexels

Soil in Florida

I moved from the prairies of Illinois where the soil was sinfully black and the most amazing soil. My gardens grew with no effort to the soil. I mean no added work. Florida is a tad less dirt and a lot more sand. Most likely you’ll be working with sandy loam or sugar sand. If you live in recently built development, it’s likely your soil is back filled with anything and everything. You may find glass, rocks, garbage. It’s terrible! But there is hope. With a little planning and prep work, these soils can be amended.

Photo courtesy Pexels

Let’s Talk Sand

Sand has it’s disadvantages and advantages and can be turned into quality planting soil. In just nine months, I have turned my sandy yard into a little darker dirt. It still has a long way to go, but it can be done, and your plants will love you. There’s been a little work involved in prepping my gardens, but it’s all been worth it.

Sand disadvantages:

  • Sand hold little nutrients
  • Offers little resistance to pests
  • Needs to be watered frequently
  • Sand is hot
  • Not all plants will do well in sandy soil

Sand benefits:

  • Drains well
  • Good aeration for roots
  • Easy to dig in
  • Easy to amend

The good news – it can be amended! Adding organic matter can greatly improve your soil. Choose one or a few of the soil amendments below and experiment.

  • Compost
  • Peat Moss
  • Manures
  • Leaves
  • Potting soils
  • Top soils
  • Mulch

How to Turn Sand into Dirt

I use all the soil amendments listed above except peat moss. That isn’t because I don’t think peat moss will work or because I don’t like it. I just haven’t experimented with peat moss.

My favorite soil amendment and most successful is mulch. Everyone tells me that it will disappear by the end of the summer. But I’m okay with that because I’ve already noticed my butterfly gardens went from tan sand to dark sand. And I can just make or buy more mulch. I’ve recently been laying cardboard everywhere as a weed barrier and also as compost. This can look ugly, but can easily be covered by mulch. And viola! You have compost and mulch working together. Mulch is something I can pick up at the store, relatively cheap and have immediate results. It also makes my gardens look tidy. You can make your own mulch by using grass clipping, branches, and leaves. This is a good way to repurpose lawn litter. You can also toss these things in your compost pile or bin and wait until it turns into dirt. So many people take it to the lawn compost center or have a service pick up their lawn litter. That’s free mulch. Use it!

*Secret admission: I was biking around the neighborhood this past weekend and saw everyone putting out their lawn clippings for pick up. I thought, That would be awesome for my compost. Do you think my neighbors would think I was a crazy hippy? Crazy hippy or not, free mulch is worth the possible awkward moment.


I’m going to briefly talk about compost, because I believe it deserves it’s own post. I love, love, love compost. It’s taking things you already have (i.e., kitchen scraps, newspapers, cardboard) and turning it into dirt. It’s easy, and you don’t need to spend any money to make it. You can just toss it on your gardens and let it do it’s work! I have so much compost, I have two compost bins. Composting is brilliant and, I believe, a must in the garden. I’m also experimenting with vermiculture – worm composting!

Topsoil/Potting mix/Manure

I use potting mix and topsoil when I’m repotting or propogating plants. This will then be added to the soil when I transplant. My raised beds have been filled with a mix of topsoil, potting mix and manure to give them a head start. These are all things you can buy at your local garden store. Manure you can find from neighboring farms, but I haven’t ventured down this avenue yet. When I lived in Illinois, we had chickens, and I had a regular supply of manure. Sometimes, just go for what’s easiest and most convenient. You’re more likely to stick to it.

Sand isn’t a lost cause. With a little bit of knowledge and a lot a bit of determination, you can make soil! So get your hands dirty and start making your soil do what it’s supposed to do…grow plants! Happy planting!

A garden requires patient labor and attention. Plants do not grow merely to satisfy ambitions or to fulfill good intentions. They thrive because someone expended effort on them.  ~Liberty Hyde Bailey



Maccubbin, Tom. Month-By-Month Gardening Florida: What to Do Each Month to Have a Beautiful Garden All Year. Minneapolis, MN: Cool Springs Press, 2014.

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