Many of the common Australian native plants that can now be easily purchased for home cultivation come from sandy, well-drained areas of the country.
Sandy soil does not normally retain moisture well. When fine sand dries completely, the surface can become water repellent. Adding organic material will improve water retention of sandy soils and a surface mulch will help prevent the surface from drying out so much. The other problem with sandy soil is that nutrients leach through to lower layers. Adding compost or manures to the soil will help combat these problems.
There are many native species suited to sandy soils and the following suggested tall shrubs and trees should be regarded as a sample list.
Acacia elata, or Cedar wattle, is a native of New South Wales. It is a tree with dark green, bipinnate leaves to 40cm long. Pale yellow, globular flowers of a diameter of almost 1cm appear from December through to March. This acacia is normally hardy and long-lived but can be attacked by borers. It can also be frost tender while young.
The Banksia ericifolia or Heath-leaved Banksia is endemic to Queensland and New South Wales. It can reach a height of 6m. The leaves are small and narrow. The flower heads last from April to November, are up to 25cm long, and can be a variety of shades from yellow, orange, deep red and cream. Although quite adaptable, it prefers well-drained soils. To get the same colour from an old to a new plant, the Banksia ericifolia must be propagated from cuttings. It is a favourite of birds.
Banksia occidentalis or Red Swamp Banksia is native to Western Australia. It grows to 8m high and has leaves of 5 – 15 cm long with a white undersurface. It flowers mainly from December to April. The flowers are up to 15cm long, and cream to yellow with bright red styles. Banksia occidentalis adapts to moist or well-drained conditions and will cope with either full or partial sun. It is attractive to birds.
Casuarina equisetifolia is also known as the Coastal She-oak or Horsetail She-oak. It occurs naturally in Queensland, New South Wales and the Northern Territory. It can grow to 20m and is a very graceful tree with drooping branches and fine, she-oak foliage. The flowers are relatively insignificant. It is best suited to tropical and subtropical regions and is useful for sand-binding and sand erosion control. It will cope with exposed coastal conditions and doesn’t react to frosts.
Dryandra formosa or Showy Dryandra is endemic to Western Australia. It grows to 8m and is highly decorative with attractive, serrated leaves to 10-20cm long. The orange-yellow flowers of around10cm diameter appear mainly from September to November. Dryandra formosa must have a well-drained site with full or partial sun. It is grown commercially for cut flower production. It is also a favourite with birds.
Also popular with birdlife is Eucalyptus caesia, a native from Western Australia. It grows to 10m and is a decorative small tree with silvery grey foliage, buds and fruits. It flowers from June to November and the pink flowers are tipped with gold. It is suitable for a wide range of locations providing they are well-drained. It may need regular pruning and/or staking to support its weight. The
large-flowered form ‘Silver Princess’ is popular as a cultivar. It has long, pendulous branchlets and blooms profusely.
Corymbia ficifolia or Red-flowering Gum is another native of Western Australia once known as Eucalyptus ficifolia. It grows to 10 metres and is a spectacular flowering gum with colour forms of white to pink, scarlet or deep red. It is a popular choice for gardens and street plantings. It flowers from December to March and must have a well-drained position. It has a preference for deep, sandy soils and is attractive to birds.
Another pretty tree that attracts birds because of an abundance of pollen and nectar is Eucalyptus torquata or Coral Gum, also known as Coolgardie Gum. It is another Western Australia native and grows to 9 metres. It is a smallish tree with decorative, reddish buds and fruits. The flowers are usually pink but can vary from cream to red. Blooms appear in pendulous clusters from September to February and even young trees will flower profusely. It is best suited to a warm to hot, well-drained position. It is tolerant of slightly saline soils.
The Hakea laurina or Pincushion Hakea also has a great many admirers. It is a Western Australia native and grows to 6 metres, forming a large, bushy shrub or small tree with cream and red flowers from March through to July. The flower heads are a pin-cushion shape. It does best in a well-drained position. The flower buds can be damaged by frost. Young plants are strengthened by light pruning. In its native environment, the pin-cushion hakea is a favourite of the honey possum.
The Norfolk Island Hibiscus, Lagunaria patersonii, is endemic to Queensland and grows to 13 metres. It is an attractive, single trunk tree and flowers from December to April producing pink, open-petalled flowers to 6cm diameter. It is ideally suited to life in coastal regions and grows as a small to medium tree in cultivation. It is also favoured by birds.
There is a huge number of native trees and tall shrubs that will do well in sand and your garden centre will be able to provide you with even more choices.