Soil vs Sand: Definition, Differences and Ideal Uses

Most people confuse themselves with the difference between soil and sand when it comes to gardening. Well, sand is a type of soil, however, has its characteristics and does not fit completely into the definition of soil. Apart from being sandy, your soil can also be loamy, clayey, or various other kinds of soil types available. Thus, while you can say that sand is soil, the term soil is a lot different from it.

In simple words, it has a pretty broad definition and is the topmost layer of the surface of the earth when it comes to landscaping. While sand is made up of rocks and some mineral grains, other soil types can have different constituents. This Soil Vs Sand post focuses on similar differences between the two, and how to decide which is the best for your garden.

Let us get started to know all about the difference between soil and sand. 

Soil vs Sand: Introduction

What is Soil?

To compare soil vs sand, let us first discuss each of them individually. We will begin with sand. In simple words, this is nothing but the loose surface material that you can find on the land. This covering has both inorganic particles and organic matter as its constituents. This topmost layer of land is very crucial for plants to grow as it is their source of water as well as nutrients.

When it comes to the formation of this soil, happens due to a variety of natural processes like leaching, weathering, and microbial activities. All of these together make end-products that are soil and can be of various types like sandy soil, clay soil, loam soil, etc. All of them usually vary in their chemical and physical properties.

Also, they may have their strengths and weaknesses in terms of agriculture. The one you can use for your crop production usually depends on the kind of crop you are growing and various other conditions. So, is sand considered soil? Yes, it is. Now that you know what soil is, let us find out more about what sand is.


What is Sand?

Sandy soil in soil and sand difference

Before moving on to questions like “is soil better than sand,” it is necessary that you know what they are. So, after giving you an introduction to what soil is, let us learn the same about sand. In simple words, it is a type of soil that is a mixture of small grains of rock and granular materials. The size of these grains is typically coarser as compared to silt and finer than that gravel.

Thus, if a soil type has a particle size that ranges from 0.06 mm to 2 mm, it is sand. Any particles that are larger than 0.0078125 and smaller than 0.0625 mm are silt particles. Just like various other soil types, sand is also formed by natural processes. Thus, with the erosion of soil, weathering of rocks by seas or rivers, and freezing and thawing during the winter, sand comes into existence.

Further, when it comes to the composition of sand, it is mainly composed of unconsolidated granular materials. These materials either are rock fragments, oceanic materials, or mineral particles. The rocks and mineral particles here are mainly silicate rock or silicate mineral granular particles. Now that you have an introduction to sand, let us quickly move on to the next part of the post.


Soil vs Sand: Difference

How are soil and sand different?

After successfully explaining what soil and sand are, let us move forward and take a look at the soil vs sand comparison. This will explain to you how the two of them differ from each other. So, without any more wait, let us provide you with an answer to “How is soil different from sand?” We will be doing so with the help of various factors like particle size, water retention, etc. Have a look:

  • Definition

In terms of definition, the soil is what covers the topmost layer of the land surface of the earth. Usually, this layer is composed of disintegrated rock particles, organic matter, water, and air. Sand, on the other hand, is a kind of soil. It is a loose material and is formed of rock particles or mineral grains. While sand is soil, not every kind of soil is sand.

  • Nature

The next characteristic that we will be using for the soil vs sand comparison is the nature of both. When compared, you will find out that both of them are organic. However, the soil is more organic due to its elements, and the sand is lesser organic in nature.

  • Composition

After the nature of soil and sand, let us move on to their composition. To begin with, the soil consists of inorganic/mineral material (essential and trace mineral elements), organic material (humus), air, and water. Depending on what kind of soil it is, the composition of these may differ.

Sand, on the other hand, is usually composed of silica, calcium carbonate, and other minerals. If the question “Why is sand not good for growing plants,” ever crosses your mind, the lack of organic matter in it is one of the reasons.

  • Porosity

The next characteristic is the porosity of soil and sand. When compared, you can observe that while the soil is porous, sand is not. It, on the other hand, is non-porous.

  • Water Holding Capacity

Another factor that we will be comparing is the water-holding capacity of both soil and sand. This is another factor that can help you decide whether or not sand is good for your plants. When it comes to the soil in general, it can hold water. Sand, on the other hand, has very poor water holding capacity. It cannot retain water for a long time.

  • Draining Property

Next up is the draining property of soil and sand. Since soil can hold water or liquids, it does not drain them easily. However, when it comes to sand, due to its poor water retention capacity, any liquid or water that you pour on sand will drain easily through it.

  • Weight

Which is heavier: soil or sand? Do you ever wonder about this? If yes, we have an answer to it. Since the particles in other soil types are tightly packed as compared to sand, they are heavy. Sand, however, is light in weight due to its loosely packed soil particles.

  • Air Holding Capacity

Another factor that we will be comparing is the air-holding capacity of soil and sand. Now, from the earlier points, it is clear that the particles in soil that are not sandy are tightly packed. This leaves very less or no space for air to pass. So, this soil has better air-holding capacity.

For sand, on the other hand, there is a lot of space in between the soil particles. The air can easily pass through these large spaces. Therefore, sand is known to have poor air-holding capacity.

  • Particle Size

The final characteristic is the particle size present in soil and sand. When it comes to the soil that is not sand, it usually has fine particles. These are smaller in size than the sand. Moving on to the sand particles, these are large and coarse.

So, this is how soil and sand are different. Apart from this, they may also differ in their types. As you know by now, sand is a type of soil. Apart from this, soil can be of various other types like clay, silt, loam, etc. Similarly, the kind of rock, it is made from or its major components, and can also be of various kinds. Some of these include Coral sand, Glass sand, Pit sand, Silica sand, Gypsum sand, Desert Sand, Garnet sand, Volcanic sand, etc.


How to Know Your Garden Soil Is Sandy Soil?

Garden Soil

Have you ever observed the soil in your garden and wondered “Why does my soil look like sand?” If yes, chances are, your garden soil is sandy. To confirm whether or not your soil is sandy, pick it up, and try to squeeze a handful into a ball. If the soil is sandy, you will not be able to do so. Instead, it will run through your fingers. Also, if you have such soil, you will notice that even after it rains, there are hardly any puddles in your garden.

Soil Vs Sand: Which is Ideal for Your Garden?

While a variety of plants can grow and thrive in sandy soil, it is not the case with all. So, how do you improve it? Can you mix sand and soil to do so? In case you are wondering about the same, making amends to sandy soil is quite simple. You only have to increase its nutrient content along with its ability to retain water. 

Since sand is non-porous, a single grain cannot hold water. Sand, on the other hand, has large enough spaces between its particles to permit unrestricted airflow. Because plants and animals that live in or use the soil provide a large portion of the organic matter that makes up soil, it is unique.

To increase the nutrient level of the soil, simply add organic matter to the soil (humus, compost). For improving water retention, you can vermiculite or peat as sandy soil amendments. While you add all these, do keep in mind that they are high in salt content. Therefore, make sure to keep these levels in check. Happy gardening!



Hope this article did help you to clear your confusion all about the differences between soil and sand. Please keep in mind all the tips and tricks that we have shared here to ensure a healthy, green, and full-of-life garden. Remember, a healthy garden is also a key to a healthy mind.