Clay soils are densely compacted, therefore, quickly become waterlogged in wet weather and too hard when they dry out. This makes it impossible for important nutrients, air, and water to reach the roots of the grass.
In this guide, I have explained how you can break down clay soil fast to improve the health of your grass.
How to Improve Clay Soil for Lawns
Apart from causing stunted growth of grass, clay soil leads to the problem of standing water in yard, growth of moss in lawns, bad smell in the yard, and unhealthy playing areas for kids and pets. The clay soil in lawns can be improved in several ways.
1. Lawn aeration
A lawn aerator with hollow tines mechanically removes plugs of soil and thatch from a lawn during core aeration. This creates a channel through which air, water, and nutrients penetrate the soil to reach the grass roots. Aeration should be done when clay soil is relatively dry.
Apart from the traditional ways of aerating a lawn, liquid aeration is a new technique of loosening up compacted soil without pocking holes. A liquid solution is simply applied on the lawn to create water and air nutrients entryways.
While it sounds like an effortless way of improving clay soil, turf grass experts explain that the method may not effectively work on heavily compacted soil. Similarly, spike aeration is said to help less in breaking soil compaction.
Annual aeration is recommended for lawns with heavy clay soils. However, without proper timing, the process can stress the grass. You should never aerate grass that is dormant. Aerate your lawn when the grass is in its peak growing period so it can recover quickly
Early fall or early spring is the best time to aerate cool-season lawn grasses, while late spring or early summer is suitable for warm-season grasses. Once done, this will be the best time to overseed and fertilize your lawn.
You can hire lawn aeration service from a nearby lawn care professional or hire the equipment from a rental company. However, core aeration is not the ultimate solution to the problem of clay soil in your lawn but a very important start for other soil amendments.
Topdressing a lawn can help in breaking down the clay soil faster. Once you have done aeration, take a well decomposed compose and apply a thin layer of 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch. Then use the back of a rake to work the material into the grass.
Adding organic matter on topsoil greatly improves the soil structure, enhances water retention capacity, reduces thatch, and introduces beneficial soil microbes. Topdressing should be done in the fall for cool-season grasses and in spring for warm-season grasses.
Before top-dressing a lawn, mow the grass as short as possible and run a core aerator. Next, remove the plugs of the soil extracted and apply a well-decomposed compost. Work in small sections, and ensure every part of the lawn is thoroughly covered.
Topdressing may take several years to improve your lawn’s clay soil completely. If done correctly, you will see improvements in drainage, water retention, and overall grass health.
NOTE: Some sources claim that adding sand to clay soil will improve it. Sand will make clay soil even harder, especially during summer or drought. This will make it even impossible for water and nutrients to percolate the soil. Therefore avoid it.
3. Prevent Foot traffic
Heavy traffic on your lawn can ruin efforts and chances of improving the clay soil. Children and pets playing in the yard, walking, or driving on the lawn are among activities that will compact the soil even more and reverse any efforts of improving your clay soil.
You should therefore try to minimize any form of traffic on your lawn while undertaking any clay soil amendments.
4. Mowing High
Avoid mowing your lawn short, as this will make the clay soil dry out faster. Mowing high, especially during summer or drought, will help the clay soil to remain cooler; therefore, less watering will be needed.
After mowing, you should leave the grass clippings on the lawn to provide mulch and nutrients to the grass once the clippings decompose.
5. Install a French Drain
A French drain is a trench filled with a perforated pipe and gravel that allows water to drain from an area. You can install a French drain to direct water from your yard to a designated area away from your home. Fortunately, a French drain can be covered with grass or other garden plants to make it inviable.
Also read: How to level a bumpy lawn
Growing a thick, dense lawn in clay soil is possible if you carry out the required soil amendments and apply a proper care program for your grass. It may not take one season to get the desired results, but you will still achieve the goal with determination.