There are several aspects to consider when choosing grass seed for your lawn. They include the grass tolerance to shade, drought, cold, heat, and so on. Still, the type of soil in your backyard is the most important of them all.
Although clay soils are usually rich in nutrients, they hold more water than they do air, and it often leads to the death of the grass.
Nevertheless, many plants, including a few types of lawn grass, do well in clay soil. Moreover, you can introduce an organic matter for a better result.
So, what is the best grass for clay soil?
Depending on your climate, one of these varieties will be best for clay soil: Buffalo Grass, BermudaGrass, Tall Fescue, Zoysia, Kentucky Bluegrass, Red Fescue, or Perennial Ryegrass. These varieties cope well with compacted and heavy soil thanks to their robust root systems that grow deep into the soil.
How Does Clay Soil Impact Grass Growth?
If your soil consists of clay, the water will tend to puddle on the ground instead of soaking in.
You can perform a simple soil test to check its quality and determine whether you have clay soil or not. If it consists of more than 50% clay particles, your soil is heavy clay.
There are also other indicators that you have clay soil. If it sticks to your garden tools or shoes like glue, crusts over and cracks in dry weather, or forms big clods that are not easy to separate, it is clay.
Pros Of Clay Soil
You are wrong if you think that clay soil does not have any good qualities. This soil, because of its high density, retains water well. Clay is also more nutrient-rich than other types of soil. And there is a reason for that.
Clay soil is made of negatively charged particles that attract and hold positively charged particles of different nutrients, including magnesium, potassium, and calcium.
Cons Of Clay Soil
However, clay soil also has a few negative qualities that affect grass growth:
- Clay soil tends to be alkaline in pH.
- It also tends to heave in winter.
- Clay compacts easily, making it challenging for plant roots to grow.
- Such soil is slow to warm up in spring, and water stands on it, meaning you will get a late start in spring.
Clay soil gives you the advantage of holding more nutrients and moisture, but you should be careful about the amount of moisture in the ground. Otherwise, you may drown the roots of your grass.
Clay soil is often challenging when it comes to growing your lawn into a thing of beauty. The small particles of clay bind together, making the ground not only compact but also dense and heavy.
Still, even though these grasses are quite durable and have deep root systems, it will be better to improve your clay soil before planting your grass seed.
Improving Clay Soil
Here are a couple of suggestions you can use to improve clay soil before you lay a lawn or for garden beds.
Define the growing area for your garden bed
If you plan to improve an existing garden bed, the first step you should take is digging out all plants you want to keep and setting them aside in pots until you finish your soil improvement.
If you want to prepare a new bed, it will be a good idea to go through the basics of starting a new garden bed.
Add organic matter
When the garden bed is ready for improvement, add about seven inches of organic matter to the entire surface of your garden bed. You may use compost, rotted manure, shredded leaves, or grass clippings. Spread it on top of your clay soil and mix it with a shovel.
The final step
When you are finished, you may notice that the garden bed is a few inches higher than it was before. However, it is not a problem. It will settle down throughout a season since the organic matter will break down, improving the soil structure.
What Grass Grows Best in Clay Soil?
Below you will find the types of grass that grow best in clay soil. They include Buffalo grass, Bermuda grass, Tall fescue, and many others. So let’s learn more about them.
Buffalo grass, also known as Buchloe dactyloides, is native to the Great Plains. Because of its deep root system, Buffalo grass is clay-tolerant.
It is an excellent choice if you need a drought-tolerant lawn in clay soil.
However, remember that Buffalo grass is a warm-season grass, so it may be better to consider another type of grass if you live in a cold region since Buffalo grass goes dormant in winter. The best time to grow it is when the temperature outside is above 65 F.
Cynodon dachtylon, or Bermuda grass, is a perfect option for those who want an emerald green carpet-type lawn. You may find this grass in public parks and on golf courses, and it also grows great in clay soil.
Nevertheless, Common Bermuda grass is not the best choice for cold regions, as it does not tolerate low temperatures. Still, new U-3 and Midiron grass varieties grow well even in a cold climate.
Their root systems with deep rhizomes can tolerate heavy clay soil, making them a better option than other warm-season types of grass.
Zoysia grass becomes a thick, quality turf when properly maintained. This warm-season grass grows best in Zone 3 of the United States. The water content does not affect this type of grass as badly as others, so it can work well in clay soil.
This grass establishes more slowly than other lawn grasses.
Still, Zoysia grass can form a pretty dense carpet of grass under your feet. Because of its high density, no weeds can penetrate established Zoysia lawns.
Tall fescue, or Festuca arundinacea, is probably the best choice for clay soil.
This cool-season grass grows well when planted in either partial shade or full sun, and it prefers dense, heavy soils.
Tall fescue is a coarse-textured grass, but you can also find several new varieties, such as the dwarf turf-type or turf-type Tall Fescues with shorter, finer blades.
The roots of this grass are longer than of other cool-season grasses, so they can penetrate the soil deeper, making Tall fescue a great option for clay soils.
Kentucky bluegrass works best when planted in areas with regular fertilization. However, this grass may require lots of maintenance, and it is susceptible to diseases. Also, Kentucky bluegrass needs to be grown in cool northern regions.
Kentucky bluegrass grows slowly during hot summer months.
During extended drought or extreme heat, this grass may go dormant. Still, Kentucky bluegrass recovers quickly with a return to normal conditions and proper irrigation.
Festuca Rubra, or Red Fescue grass, is a cool-season grass native to Europe.
This perennial lawn grass needs moist soil until established and can produce a nice turf in heavy soils such as clay.
Once Red Fescue is established, it develops a pretty deep root system and becomes quite resistant to drought and wear. When irrigated properly, Red Fescue, with its fine blades, produces a beautiful emerald green color.
Perennial ryegrass is an excellent choice for those who want to build a lawn without investing much in a cover crop. With adequate watering and fertilizing, this non-spreading bunch-type grass will grow almost anywhere.
Perennial ryegrass establishes well on numerous types of soil, including rocky or clay soils.
Still, it prefers fertile, well-drained sandy or sandy loam soils. Ryegrass does a fine job of outcompeting weeds, taking up excess nitrogen, and holding soil.
Best Cool-Season Grass For Clay Soil
If you live in an area that is suitable for cool-season grass and you have clay soil then there are lots of varieties that can grow in clay soil so it’s nothing to worry about.
The cool-season grass I would recommend as the first choice for clay soil would be tall fescue.
The main reason I recommend tall fescue is that it is known for its substantial and strong growing root system. The root system will have to be strong enough to deal with the challenging conditions that clay soil can provide such as it is a really dense soil.
Tall fescue is excellent for growing in challenging conditions such as drought and long periods of excessive heat.
The root system that tall fescue grows will make this grass practically invincible when you have it thriving and it will make an awesome lawn that could be the envy of your neighborhood.
Best Warm-Season Grass For Clay Soil
Clay soil under your grass can make it more of a challenge to grow a lush green lawn and half the battle is making sure you select the best variety of grass that is suited to the conditions clay soil will provide.
The warm-season grass I would recommend as the first choice for clay soil would be zoysia grass.
The reason I recommend zoysia is because it has a really robust root system and that is the most important thing when you are dealing with clay soil.
Clay soil is a really dense type of soil and that’s what leads to the many challenges you may have to overcome when you are growing a grass lawn on it.
Zoysia is a great pick for clay soil (although not the only option) as the root system will be able to successfully grow well in the dense conditions of clay soil, it can be a challenge if you are starting a new lawn but when you get it going you shouldn’t have too many problems creating a beautiful lawn.
Advantage Of Growing Grass In Glay Soil
If you have clay soil under your lawn it is nothing to worry about as there are actually some significant advantages and clay soil could actually help you in your quest to grow some lush green grass.
- Clay soil will hold water better so if you live in an area that doesn’t get lots of rain clay soil will make it a lot easier to grow grass.
- Depending on where you live it can be a real advantage that you don’t have to irrigate your lawn as much especially during drought if there is a hosepipe ban.
- The same as the water situation is that clay soil will keep the nutrients in the soil and they won’t wash or be drained away quite so easily.
- You can really cut down your use of fertilizer when you have clay soil so this can be a real money-saving benefit in the long run.
Disadvantage Of Growing Grass In Clay Soil
If you have clay soil then there can definitely be some disadvantages that you will have to work around to successfully grow grass and have a beautiful lawn. If you put in the extra work clay soil is really nothing to be put off by when it comes to growing grass.
- Clay soil can be prone to drainage issues because when it gets wet it can sometimes turn into a slimy mud that doesn’t let water drain.
- You may have to aerate clay soil every year to sort out drainage issues and make it into top condition for growing grass.
- If your lawn has a lot of foot traffic then it can be prone to becoming compact which can limit root growth and add to drainage issues.
- When it’s really dry during the summer clay soil can become really hard and when spring arrives it can take longer to defrost if you live in an area with a cold climate.
How To Grow Grass In Clay Soil
Now you know about some of the best grass varieties for growing in clay soil however apart from selecting the best grass variety there are a number of other things you can do to improve the lushness results.
You need to get rid of as much of the thatch as possible.
It is easy to do if you are tearing your lawn up to create a new one. Moreover, you can use the thatch that did not get removed along with the grass as extra organic matter.
When it comes to the dethatching of a lawn you want to keep, go over it twice with a powered dethatcher or a thatch rake.
Next, add the thatch you collected to the compost pile you will use to improve your soil.
Fix Your pH
The first step to take here is estimating the alkalinity of your soil.
The easiest way to do it is by using a soil tester.
This cheap meter allows you to test soil’s sunlight, moisture, and pH levels. Stick it in different places throughout your garden and average the readings.
The optimal pH level for your lawn’s soil is 6.5. Anything higher than that is alkaline, and lower numbers are acidic. Clay soil is almost always alkaline, so you may need to spread granulated sulfur to fix it.
Add Organic Material
Now you should add some organic matter to break your clay soil up.
For better results, mix it with the top layer of your soil using a garden rake.
Watering Lawns Grown On Clay Soil
Grass grown in such soil does not need frequent watering. You can stick a screwdriver into the soil to determine its moisture content. If the tip of your screwdriver is dry when you pull it out, the soil is dry as well.
Water slowly and stop watering when it begins to run off the site. Water takes longer to penetrate such soil, so you need to wait a few minutes until the standing water soaks in.
Clay soil challenges can be quite hard to overcome. Still, with a carefully planned maintenance and a little preparation, you can grow a healthy, beautiful lawn and develop a nice carpet of grass in your yard.
Nevertheless, you need to choose a proper type of grass to enhance your chances of success. Choose one of the grasses described above, and enjoy its beauty!