This question comes up at least once a week in Our Private Members Area. The subject of what sand to use for rooting cuttings is confusing, so lets see if we can make it easier.
In just about everything that I write or videos that we shoot I talk about the coarse sand that I use for rooting cuttings. But this is a very confusing subject because I’ve never actually seen sand sold under the product name “coarse sand”. Sometimes what you are looking for is called sharp sand, or concrete sand.
If you intend to use the Automated Plant Propagation System, and you should because it makes rooting cuttings insanely easy, sand is often the best rooting medium to use.
But it varies so much because sand is local to each region so it will be very different from area to area. Because it is so heavy, it’s not usually trucked very far, but instead mined and sold everywhere you can find a gravel pit.
In this post I am going to show you four different kinds of sand that I was able to find in our area. First up, beach sand! Notice that as I filled the nursery pot with beach sand, some of it leaked out through the drain holes in the pots. Dry sand will often do that, wet sand normally not.
Next up, silica sand! You can see that the silica sand contains tiny pebbles that allow this sand to drain really well.
Today I will do my best to show you how to find a sand in your area that is suitable for rooting cuttings. We shot a video about coarse sand “with the donkeys of course”. They are my video making compadres.
In this area we are fortunate because just about 30 or 40 miles down the road there is a huge silica quarry where they have been mining silica stone for at least 50 years. When they screen and wash the stone one of the byproducts is a great deal of coarse silica sand.
We use coarse silica sand because it drains well. Our Plant Propagation System applies water to the cuttings that we are rooting on an as needed basis but it’s important that the excess water drain away quickly so the stems of the cuttings don’t rot.
As you can see, play sand is very fine, contains no pebbles. It’s great for little kids, very easy on the knees, hands and elbows. But not really good for rooting cuttings because it holds too much water and stays too wet.
This is the play sand that I found in one of the local big box stores. Brand name doesn’t matter because sand varies from local to local so what’s really important is to evaluate the sand to find the one that is going to work for rooting cuttings. I hope this blog post helps you do that.
When we tried to fill this nursery container with the play sand it simply ran out the bottom of the pot like an hour glass. However, it was really dry in the bag so we added some water and managed to keep it in the pot.
What You Really Need to Know about that . . .
Some people will tell you to place paper coffee filters in the bottom of your nursery containers to keep the potting soil from running out. You do not need to do that! Good potting soil will not escape from the holes in the bottom of the nursery container. There is not a commercial grower in the business that I ever seen do that, I’ve never done it and I’ve never needed to.
If you are losing potting soil out the bottom of your containers,
your potting mix is too fine.
Next up we have what they sell in big box stores as all purpose sand. Not sure what people use it for, maybe under paying brick, but for that I’d much rather use crushed, super fine limestone because it packs hard and won’t ever seep through a crack hour glass style like sand can. It does contain some small stones which makes it better than play sand. But . . .
Again, this is what one of our local big box stores sells. Don’t bother looking for brand name.
But more importantly . . .
Watch as I test all four of these different kinds of sand for drainage.
Now let’s add some water . . .
We added water to both of these containers and in a matter of less than one minute the silica sand appeared to be completely free of excess water. In this photo the beach sand still has a little water standing on top. Not a good sign.
In the same amount of time, we added water to all of the containers at the same time, the play sand was still very soggy and as you can see, some of it washed out the bottom of the container. In the right hand container you can see that the all purpose sand also has water standing on top of the container. That surprised me, with the visible pebbles in the all purpose sand I thought it would drain better, but there’s something in there that’s inhibiting drainage.
The straight up winner was the Silica Sand, it by far drained better than the other three.
The Lake Erie Beach sand came in second, it actually drained pretty fast.
The All Purpose Sand came in third. It didn’t drain very well, held way too much water for plant propagation.
The big loser was the play sand. It held all kinds of water, stayed soggy in the container, almost slurry like and as you can see in the photo, it also washed out the holes in the bottom container but still, minutes after our test it was still soggy and you can stir it like a milk shake. The play sand sold in your area might be different, you can test it as I have done here. But after this test I would never recommend it for rooting cuttings.
Keep in mind, I am only evaluating these brand name products for the purpose of plant propagation and that’s not what they are intended for. So poor results here doesn’t make them bad products. I’m sure they are fine products, just not for sticking cuttings.
Questions, comments? Post them below or in the Members Area.