We live in the desert. The previous house owner had the back yard landscaped with a plastic layer on top of levelled sand and then 2-3 inches of rock on top. Rock size 1-2 inches across. The wind blows the sand onto the rocks and weeds often break through the plastic, or even just grow in small pockets of sand on top of the plastic. I've no idea why proper weed barrier wasn't used.

My question is how to get rid of at least some of the sand? We've something like 5000 sqft to deal with so sieving by hand is going to be backbreaking (dig, pile onto a small aperture chicken wire mesh, replace).

I wondered about a leaf blower that has a vacuum and bag. I've never even used a leaf blower, let alone tried it with sand - picking up the sand while leaving rocks.

Any other solutions welcomed. Ultimately it'll be a major plant hire and done properly but we can't afford that right now.

  • Somewhat related: gardening.stackexchange.com/questions/2132/…
    – Niall C.
    Commented Mar 8, 2016 at 2:03
  • Bah, all my Googling didn't find that answer, and SO usually comes up in Google results for my programming! Good ideas but I'm not sure any would work (large level surface area with no drainage for pressure wash, for example), except of course doing it properly from scratch. Thanks though.
    – GeoffM
    Commented Mar 8, 2016 at 3:48
  • Even if you get the dirt out, it will return. Have you considered applying a pre-emergent?
    – Debbie M.
    Commented Mar 8, 2016 at 18:50
  • I doubt pre-emergents would work with the plastic barrier and pockets of shifting sand.
    – GeoffM
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 4:50

2 Answers 2


I don't like answering my own questions but, after speaking to my neighbors, just about the only solution is to dig the whole lot out and start again. I did just this on a smaller area with bigger rocks and it's laborious by hand - but works. Dumping the rocks onto a concrete pad and then literally raking them a few feet dislodged and exposed most of the sand which could then be swept away (prevailing winds helped blow some in the right direction too!).

As to the original, far, far bigger area with smaller rocks, well that will be a digger job. A couple of hundred US$ to rent for a day but might take 2 days at a guess. Dig it up, dump on an elevated mesh prep surface so the sand falls through (hopefully), maybe hose down too. Spike down weed barrier, replace rocks. Repeat ad nauseum. Relax with beer afterwards.

A small wall may help resist some of the sand returning, the sort blown at a low level over the few inches of retaining curbstones.


I live in the desert as well, and just did this. Broke it loose with a shovel, then hard rake back and forth in short areas while someone holds a powerful leaf blower and watch the sand fly. It's a lot of work and the street looks like a sand dune now, but it made a better top 1"...if that doesn't work, get some new rock and put on top, I'm doing both..LOL . Don't forget a mask

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