Clay usually contains very fine particles that impede the normal flow of water and air in the soil. Clay soil retains water for longer and extremely hardens in dry weather. This may make it difficult for most plants to thrive.
Having clay soil in your yard is not the end of the road for your dream of having a green lush lawn. You can successfully grow grass in clay soil if you use the right grass seed for clay soil coupled with several amendments for improving clay soil for lawns.
How to Grow Grass in Clay Soil
The following are steps for starting a lawn in clay soil:
1. Test for clay content in the soil
If you are starting a new lawn from scratch, you should always begin by conducting soil tests. This helps to know the soil pH and the kind of nutrients the soil needs before planting the seed.
To know the type of soil you are dealing with, you can use the Mud Shake Test as explained by gardeners.com or simply scoop a small amount of the soil and mix it with a little amount of water, and kneed it in your hand.
Clay soil will feel sticky in your hand and when you press it between the thumb and your index finger it will form a ribbon longer than 1 inch. This means that you have to initiate clay soil amendments before you plant any grass.
2. Turn over the soil
This is one of the initial amendments to undertake as a way of improving clay soil for lawns. Digging deeper breaks the soil compaction for proper penetration and development of plant roots. Run a rototiller over the area you want to grow grass. You can rent a rototiller from any nearby gardening center.
3. Apply compost
Once you have turned over the soil, spread compost several inches thick over the entire area. Go over the area again with a rototiller to work the compost into the soil. You may do this several times as long as you have enough compost to apply.
Once done, rake the soil to remove rocks and any large debris.
Apart from improving the structure of clay soil for better growth of the plant, a well-decomposed compost adds organic matter that enriches the soil, retains soil moisture, and reduces the need for chemical fertilizers.
4. Choose grass type for clay soil
Several grass species adapt well to clay soil. They are the kind that will give you an easy start and a few problems under different weather conditions.
Tall fescue grass is a cool-season grass that does well in clay soil. It has a deep root system that makes it tolerant to drought, heat, and cold conditions. Tall fescue will offer a dense thick lawn in almost all soil types thus the best bet for your clay soil.
Other cool-season grasses you can also grow in clay soil include Perennial Ryegrass and Kentucky bluegrass.
For those in the southern region of the US, Bermuda grass is the perfect choice for your clay soil. This type of warm-season grass produces deep rhizomes which make it thrive in clay soil and drought conditions.
As long as you keep your lawn well-fed, Bermuda grass will spread faster and fill any bare spots. Other warm-season grasses you can grow in clay soil include Buffalo grass and Zoysia grass.
5. Water moderately
Once you have planted your new grass, watering the grass seed should be done once or twice per day but without oversaturating the soil. Once the grass is established, water your lawn deeply but not too often to promote deeper growth of grass roots. About 1 inch of water once per week will keep clay soil well-moisturized.
6. Mow high
Mowing your lawn high is recommended for clay soil lawns. It helps in keeping the soil moist and also enhances the healthy growth of the grass. Ideally, cut your grass to a height of 4 to 6 inches. After mowing, leave the grass clippings to decompose on your lawn.
In most cases, feed your lawn with compost. Apart from providing nutrients, a well-decomposed compost will improve clay soil structure for proper penetration of grassroots. Compost also prevents soil compaction which makes roots access air, water, and nutrients.
If your clay soil is heavy, consider aerating your lawn once every year. Lawn aeration helps in breaking down the compacted soil for the free flow of air, moisture, and nutrients. Core aeration is recommended for clay soil as compared to spike aeration.
9. Minimize foot traffic
Heavy foot traffic contributes to soil compaction. You’ll want to keep kids and pets off the lawn for grass to thrive. You may replace grass with stepping stones in heavy traffic areas.
10. Control pests and weeds
Inspect your lawn for pests and diseases and provide appropriate treatment. A healthy lawn easily overcomes many challenges including drought and weeds. Be sure to read and follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using pesticides or any chemical weed control treatment on your lawn. You may also seek the service of pest control agencies.
While it might seem hard to work with clay soil when growing grass, it might be a blessing in disguise. Clay soil has greater nutrient density as compared to other soil types. The fine particles of clay soil attract and binds to important nutrients like calcium, magnesium, and potassium that help plants to grow.