As your children get a little older and lose interest in garden toys like sandpits, you may be left with a lot of stuff to recycle or reuse. This is also a great time to start planting more flowers and foliage in your garden since there will be no little hands grabbing at them. Putting sand into the soil where plants grow provides many benefits, and if you’ve got some leftovers from the sandpit, you might be asking can I use play sand for plants? Unfortunately, play sand is not suitable to use for plants owing to potential high saline content and its effect on drainage in the soil. That being said, it is relatively easy to dispose of and there are many other types of sand that can be used to benefit your garden. So, if you’ve discarded the play sand and are left scratching your head and wondering what to add to your soil, we’ve got the answer.

Child Playing in Sand
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Why Add Sand To Soil?

If you are new to gardening, you might be wondering why on earth you would want to add sand to your soil in the first place. Let’s make it clear that this isn’t something you will need to do all of the time, but there are some benefits for specific plants and situations. One of the main reasons that sand would be added to a potting mix would be if the mix was too dense. In this case, drainage would not be very good but adding certain types of sand could improve this significantly. It can be tricky to determine whether this is needed but as a general rule, if water is taking any longer than two minutes to make it through a pot of soil, then it might be too dense.

Another reason that a lot of home gardeners add sand into the mix is when they are growing plants that require much drier soil. This includes a lot of herbs such as oregano, rosemary, fennel, lavender, sage and several others. However, for most other types of gardening, the soil should already be adequate for the plants.

Sandpit in My Garden
Sandpit in My Garden

What Types Of Sand Shouldn’t be Used for Plants?

If you have determined that your plants would benefit from having a little sand in their soil then you are somewhat spoiled for choice. There are several different types of sand on the market but not all of them will be suitable for this purpose.

Play Sand & Beach Sand

If you have determined that your plants would benefit from having a little sand in their soil then you are somewhat spoiled for choice. There are several different types of sand on the market but not all of them will be suitable for this purpose. Let’s begin with play sand; while this may be ideal for the little ones to get creative with a bucket and spade, it is far less advantageous to your plants. Since a common reason for adding sand is to improve drainage, you will likely be getting the complete opposite effect if you add play sand. The reason for this is that this type of sand has a very specific shape; the edges of each grain are rounded and this means that each one is like a tiny sphere.

Imagine pouring this into an already dense mixture; all it would do is block up any existing spaces and make the drainage ability even worse. Add to this that the overall consistency of the sand is much finer than other types and it isn’t difficult to see why it might not be suitable. In addition to these points, it is also worth considering that some play sands, especially the more high-end ones, could simply have been collected from a beach. While beach sand may be beautiful to look at and relax on when spending time at the coast, it won’t do much good for your garden.

This is because beach sand has a very high salt content. As it sits on the beach, the sea regularly washes over it leaving behind a saline deposit. This is not good for your plants and could be detrimental to their health. You might be tempted to collect sand from the furthest point away from the sea on your local beach but since the material on the beach moves around so freely, this sand will also be very salty.

Beach Sand
Beach Sand

Building Sand

Some people would recommend using builders’ sand, but again, there are some issues with this. While this is very coarse sand so its drainage capabilities would be vastly better, it may also contain certain chemicals that could interfere with the growth of your plants. Furthermore, it is known to contain silica which is linked to certain lung conditions, including lung cancer. Moreover, building sand has a pH that is not conducive to healthy plant growth. It has a very high lime content which makes this an extremely acidic material. While this sand is incredibly affordable, it is important not to let that tempt you into using it.

What Sand Can I Use for Plants?

After reading about the beach, building and play sand, you may be feeling a little deflated and thinking that you won’t be able to use sand in your plants after all. The good news is that there is one type of sand that may be beneficial to your plants. Horticultural sand (Amazon link – opens in a new tab) is specifically designed for use in the garden, as its name may suggest. You may have heard this type is referred to as sharp sand and that is because the grains all have irregular edges making it much more suitable for applying to soil. It is not high in any particular compounds or chemicals that could be harmful to your plants and has extremely good drainage abilities.

The price of this type of sand is considerably more than others, but it certainly won’t break the bank. What’s more, you should consider that it is better to invest a touch more in your sand than use a cheaper alternative that could damage your plants; the cost of replacing these would be much greater, not to mention how time-consuming it would be.

How Much Sand Do I Need To Add for Drainage?

There is not a predetermined amount of sand that you should add for drainage since what you’ll need will depend on what you are growing and the needs of your plants. It is also worth keeping in mind that different potting soils will need different amounts of sand, so you will need to use your initiative. However, most people would agree that one part of sand for every four parts of potting soil should be sufficient.

Additionally, you will need to think about how you will add the sand to the soil. Whilst you may think it is easier to simply place it on top, this won’t bring about the benefits you are looking for. Instead, you will need to thoroughly mix the sand into the soil.

Sandy Zen Garden
Sandy Zen Garden

Uses for Sand in Landscaping

Sand is a versatile material in landscaping, offering both functional and aesthetic benefits. Here’s a list of its uses in landscaping:

  • Paver Base: Sand serves as a cushioning layer beneath pavers, helping to level and stabilize them.
  • Joint Filler: Fine sand is used to fill the gaps between pavers, bricks, or stones, locking them in place.
  • Sandpits: Sand is the primary material for creating play areas or sandpits for children.
  • Artificial Beaches: In properties with ponds or lakes, sand can be used to create a beach-like area.
  • Zen Gardens: Sand is a key component in Zen or Japanese rock gardens, where it’s raked into patterns that mimic ripples in water.
  • Erosion Control: Sandbags filled with sand can prevent soil erosion in areas prone to runoff.
  • Lawn Levelling: Sand can be spread over lawns to fill in low spots and help level the surface.
  • Pathways: Sand can be used as a base material for pathways before laying down gravel or other materials.
  • Golf Bunkers: Sand is used to create hazards or bunkers in golf courses.
  • Drainage: Sand layers can improve drainage in areas of the landscape that tend to collect water.
  • Mulching: In certain desert landscapes, sand can be used as a type of mulch around plants.
  • Soil Amendment: Sand can be mixed with garden soil to improve its texture, especially in clay-heavy areas.
  • Decorative Accents: Coloured or speciality sands can be used as decorative accents in garden beds or containers.
  • Retaining Wall Backfill: Sand is often used to backfill retaining walls to ensure proper drainage.
  • Pond Liner Base: Before installing a liner for a pond or water feature, a layer of sand can be used to protect the liner from sharp objects in the soil.
  • Volleyball Courts: Sand is the primary surface material for outdoor volleyball courts.
  • Fire Pits: Sand can be used as a base inside fire pits to insulate and prevent underground fires.


Growing plants requires perfect soil conditions and one of the ways that you can improve this for certain plants is to add some sand. However, not just any sand will do and while it might be tempting to add a bit of play sand from an unused sandpit, the chances are that this will do more harm than good. Horticultural or sharp sand is the best option for your plants and is widely available in garden stores and online.

Uses for Sand in Landscaping Infographic

Garden Doctor Tips

“Horticultural sand and horticultural gravel come in a range of sizes depending on your needs!”

“If you have a small amount of play sand to dispose of, sprinkle thinly across your garden and you won’t even notice it is there!”

“Builder’s sand can be detrimental to your health so you should avoid using this, especially in your garden without a mask!”

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you mix play sand with soil?

The purpose of adding sand to your soil is to aid drainage. Play sand is not free draining and will do nothing to aid in draining your soil. You want horticultural grade sharp sand. 

What kind of sand is best for plants?

Horticultural-grade sharp sand is what should be used when creating your soil mix. Builder’s sand is NOT a suitable substitute because of the high lime content and other chemicals that it often contains. Horticultural sand has been screened to remove any unwanted nasties. 

What kind of sand is best for plants?

Good quality horticultural sand is best for a potting mix. Avoid play sand as this will make the mixture too dense when you add water. Builder’s sand is NOT a suitable replacement due to the high lime content.


Trevor Wright is not just a seasoned horticulturist; he’s the esteemed Garden Doctor. With a BSc in Horticulture and years of hands-on experience in the soil, Trevor has become a trusted mentor for all things gardening. As the founder of Garden Doctor, he’s committed to clarifying the intricacies of gardening, offering straightforward advice that’s rooted in years of practice. His writing is a garden of how-tos, savvy insights, and comprehensive guides that enable individuals to nurture and grow their garden dreams. When he’s not knee-deep in garden beds, Trevor is at his keyboard passing on his green-thumbed wisdom to budding gardeners, ensuring that the legacy of sustainable and joyful gardening blossoms far and wide.

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