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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Wednesday - April 02, 2008

From: St. Paul , MN
Region: Midwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Soils
Title: Possibility of growing plants in St. Peter Sandstone
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Can you grow plants or native plants in St. Peter Sandstone or amend it?

ANSWER:

Well, if we grow any plants in any kind of soil, you can bet they will be native plants. That's what we do at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center-care for, promote and propagate plants native to North America. Being mostly gardeners, and Texas gardeners at that, the first thing we had to do was figure out what St. Peter's sandstone is. We discovered that St. Peter sandstone originated as a sheet of sand in clear, shallow water near the shore of a Paleozoic sea and consists of fine to medium size, well rounded quartz grains with frosted surfaces. The extent of the formation spans north-south from Minnesota to Missouri and east-west from Illinois into Nebraska and South Dakota. In commercial applications, it is called Ottawa sand and is used for the manufacture of glass, for filter and molding sand and for abrasives.

So, we went searching for possible botanical uses for this sandstone, or just sand, if you will. We found many, many references written by geologists, but not one single botanical reference. From a practical standpoint, sand is difficult to grow anything in anyway; it is made of very large particles which don't cling together, and therefore, if you put a plant in it, fertilize the plant, and then water it, all the water (and the nutrients) are going to shoot right through and go off somewhere else. Sometimes, gardeners seek to add sand to clay soils to amend them by making them looser, but it's not recommended, because it's difficult to get the correct balance. And, we really can't imagine trying to grow anything in a soil that is used for glassmaking. If the dirt you have in your garden is predominantly composed of this sand, we would suggest raised beds with compost and topsoil, on top of the sand, not mixed with it.

 

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