With barbecue feasts coming, I wanted to be a gracious host with, jaw-dropping green to serve tender smoked meat, burgers and lamb chops. But with my lawn barren and lacking the vibrancy to get those oohs and aahs due to seemingly stubborn clay soil, I decided it is high time to find out why. In this article, I’ve noted down what I’ve found as a brief guide on how to grass in clay soil.
Test the Clay Soil Density
Creating a green scenery right at your doorstep can, indeed, be a welcoming experience. Not only can a green well-maintained lawn improve a home’s appeal, but it also generates positive vibrations. But with clay soil, an arid lawn with ground that feels like a hard rock can bring snooty relatives nose up due to compaction. While it’s easy to identify if your lawn’s soil is clay type, it is wise to test for density just to be sure what particular clay soil type you have and initiate the correct treatment.
You can do it by simply scooping at least half a cup then, soaking it with a few drops of water in your hand by creating a ball, and voila. If it breaks at 1 inch, that’s loam or silt; at 2 inches– clay loam, when more, that’s heavy clay. This hand-texturing test will help determine what soil you have and find the best possible treatment. Check out these pics below on how to do the hand texturing test.
Clay Soil Treatment
With the clay soil’s structure, essential minerals will not be easily accessible to grass or any plants for that matter. The idea is to turn it over and improve the structure and tilth of the soil. Good tilth, by the way, helps to increase the viability of growing grass seeds by improving deep root penetration.
To do this, combine organic materials while turning clay over. Add some coarse sand, animal manure (except chicken), roadbase stones, gypsum and of course, compost– lots of it.
A liquid clay breaker like the Jackhammer Organic Liquid Soil Aeration can help lessen your efforts as it penetrates deeper and longer into the clay soil to soften and make room for seeds to take root.
During summer, keep it moistened using a heavy mulch to prevent hardening.
Clay soil treatment is critical when prepping up your lawn for grass seed. When not cultivated beforehand, grass seeds will have a hard time penetrating deep into the soil to take root.
Test for a second time
Once the soil is treated, it should be tested again the second time to confirm whether there is enough organic matter. Ideally, if the soil treatment has been done right, it should not form a long ribbon when it is pressed between the thumb and index finger.
If you find that it is forming a ribbon longer than 1 inch, spread, and work in another layer of organic compost. Wait for a period before conducting the ball test again so that the compost gets time to change the composition of the soil.
Preparing Clay Soil for Grass Seed
As a rule, treating clay soil before planting grass seed is essential. Ripping it up at around 350mm to 450mm comes highly recommended by experts in gardening to ensure adequate root development. This also helps to break compacted soils up.
Compost and other organic material must be completely ripped and carefully blended into the topsoil. So does the use of chemical supplements like gypsum and other liquid clay breakers. You can make good use of a rototiller like this 16-Inch 12-Amp Electric Tiller and Cultivator to help mix compost to the ground while breaking up compaction at the same time.
How to plant the grass seeds
First, measure the area where the seeds will be planted as a lawn to calculate the amount of seed or number of plugs you will need, depending on the manufacturer’s recommendation for your chosen type of grass and space.
Next, divide the amount of seed into two parts for applications in the seeding the area.
Spread half of the seed over the chosen area using a broadcast spreader while walking in a vertical path. Then, spread the second half of the seed by walking in the perpendicular direction to get even coverage.
Roll the area you have seeded with a lawn roller filled with water, and spread a thin layer of straw mulch over top.
Growing Grass in Red Clay Soil
When thinking of cultivating grass in red clay soil, prepping may require you to add lime before applying compost. This will help neutralize soil’s pH level and making it viable for grass seeds to grow and thrive. Keep in mind that nutrients can be locked into the soil when the pH level is poor. Prepping it to be around 6.0 or above can help create a vigorous and drought resistance lawn you love.
When the soil is finally ready, sow two portions of seeds vertically then, perpendicularly. Use a broadcast spreader to help lighten the load and for a more even spread.
If you are using grass plugs, plant them by digging holes about 6 inches apart along the lawn area. Moisten the soil holes with water by sprinkling the soil. Plant one plug into each hole so that the plugs are even with the ground level. Roll the planted area lightly with a lawn roller half full of water.
Remember, to moisten the planted area with about 1/4 inch of water. Always, use a sprinkler to apply water one to two times a day to keep the soil evenly moist but not oversaturated. Do this activity until the grass is established. It is a good idea to set a small can in the area to get the measurement of the amount of water you are applying.
Add mulch and provide enough water each time to maintain the moisture of the ground. An automated sprinkler system with a timer like this Orbit Single Outlet Programmable Timer can be used so your newly sown seed and its ground gets enough moisture all day long.
The best type of Grass for the Perfect Clay Soil Lawn
Choosing the kind of grass as well as plants to grow must also be taken into mind when planning to cultivate clay soil.
Albeit its challenging condition, Buffalo grass and Bermuda grass are perfect for clay soil lawn type.
Tall fescue also is known as Festuca arundinacea, grows best in clay soil. It is a cool-season grass and does well when planted in either full sun or partial shade. In its originality, it is a coarse-textured grass, but now new varieties are available, such as the turf-type or dwarf turf-type tall fescues which produce shorter, finer blades. Its roots are longer and so penetrate the soil deeper than other cool-season grasses, making it a good choice for clay soils.Bermuda Grass
If you have imagined having an emerald green carpet-type lawn Bermuda grass with scientific name Cynodon dachtylon is the one you should choose. It forms the turf that can be seen on golf courses and in public parks. It is well known that Bermuda grass grows well in clay soil. Common Bermuda grass can’t tolerate cold temperatures but the newer varieties, such as ‘Midiron’ and ‘U-3’ now make it possible to grow the turf in even your place has cooler climate. Its ability to tolerate heavy, clay soil is possible because of it’s root system’s which produces deep rhizomes.
This grass is native to the Great Plains. Buffalograss scientifically known as Buchloe dactyloides is a smart choice if you are planning to have a drought-tolerant lawn in clay soil. This is a warm-season grass. Apart, from being clay-tolerant, buffalograss provides several benefits but also has some drawbacks. It goes dormant during the cold period of November and January, depending on the cultivar, and starts greening up from March to April. The best time to grow a new buffalograss lawn is when the temperatures remain high above 60 degrees Fahrenheit. As with most grasses that tolerate clay soil, buffalograss’s ability is due to its deep root system.
Pangola Grass: Also known as Digit grass is a highly productive, robust tufted perennial that can adapt well to inland environments with low rainfall and winter frosts. It can grow on a wide range of soils from sands, scrub and medium clay soils, where its open sward makes it easy to coexist with legumes.
It has a good drought, fire, and cold tolerance properties and its foliage is low in oxalate making it suitable for horses.
Plant species like wattles such as White Sally wattle, pravissima, and boormanii, willow-leaved Hakea, Pangola grass, Callistemons, and so on are also known to tolerate clay soils.
As always, finding ways to provide constant TLC to soil and plants, must be constantly taken into mind to finally create the perfect green grassy lawn you want.
Tips to ensure you have a great grass lawn
- It’s best practice to cut your grass to a height of 6 to 8 centimeters (2.5 to 3 inches). This height will promote growth, prevent weeds, and discourage insect pests.
- Water your lawn deeply but not too often to promote the growth of deep roots. Apply about 2.5 centimeters (i.e 1 inch) of water, usually no more than once a week. Place a small pet food or tuna can on the lawn to help you measure how much water has been applied. Stop watering when the can is full. Too much water starves the soil of oxygen and invites disease.
- Feed your lawn with compost. Let grass clippings stay on your lawn to provide nutrients.
- Aerate compacted soil, ideally in the fall. This helps water, air, and nutrients reach plant roots more easily.
- Sow new seed over thinned areas, or choose other ground covers for tough spots.
- Replace grass with paving stones or mulch in heavy traffic areas.
- Check your lawn often to detect pests and other problems early.
If you don’t want to do it yourself, many lawn care companies maintain lawns and control pests. Some may include services marketed as organic or pesticide-free.
To choose the option best for you:
- Find out what programs and prices companies in your area offer, and what results you can expect.
- Avoid lawn care programs that apply pesticides even when pests are not present.
If you use a pesticide on your lawn, read the label to make sure you are choosing the right product for the right insect or weed. Always follow all label directions and warnings carefully.
I hope this article has given you a fair idea f what you need to plan and do to grow grass on clay soil. So now go ahead and execute your plan
Protect animals and insects
It is important to protect birds, beneficial insects, earthworms, and other organisms that play an important role in keeping your lawn healthy.
- Birds and predatory insects (like nematodes) feed on grubs and other pests.
- Insects, earthworms, beneficial fungi, and other micro-organisms break down thatch and aerate the soil.
The best way to protect these beneficial animals and insects is to only use insecticides and fungicides when needed.
Be practical about how you want your lawn to look. It may take a season or two of improving your lawn care practices to get the results you want.