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What Is The Best Grass for Clay Soil?


Choosing the best grass for clay soil

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The type of soil in your yard is just one of many concerns an individual will feel when he or she approaches growing a green, healthy, beautiful lawn. One of the other concerns a person might have is the best type of grass to purchase for one’s soil, which an individual needs to know depending on the type of soil.

What’s the best grass for clay soil? The best grass for clay soil is generally a grass with a robust root system that grows deep. Since clay soil tends to be heavy and compacted, grass varieties like Zoysia, tall fescue, Bermuda, and buffalo grass are often used depending on the climate.

Since there isn’t much available on the Internet today when it comes to researching the best grass for clay soil, we came up with the following information. So, people that review the information we have for them below will get the best grass for clay soil.

Clay Soil’s Impact On Grass Growth

Remember that how much maintenance you need to do with turfgrasses can depend on both the type of grass and the soil. Maintenance can vary due to the grass or grass seed you purchase because different grass types have different tolerances to things like heat, drought, cold, and shade.

One thing that’s good about clay soil is that it is packed with nutrients. So, clay soil can keep in more water than air. People that utilize clay soil to plant grass do need to be careful, however.

While clay soil gives individuals the advantage of holding more moisture, if a person isn’t aware or careful about the amount of moisture in the ground, he or she may drown the roots of the grass.

However, purchasing a type of turfgrass that does well in clay soil will help prevent this problem and improve the likelihood that an individual’s lawn will survive.

When it comes to growing turfgrass, clay soil can be challenging. That’s because clay consists of small particles that like to bind together, or “blend”. That blending process makes the ground not only compact but also heavy and dense. 

Because clay soil is so compact, it typically does not drain well. That means it can create a problem for grasses that cannot handle a lot of water in the soil. Several types of grasses feature roots that won’t easily make their way through the heavy clay soil as they grow larger. 

However, there are varieties of grass that work well with clay soil because they have robust work systems that can grow deeply through the heavy ground. However, it does help to improve the clay soil before you sow your grass seeds to improve your rate of success. 

Click Here To Learn How To Prepare Clay Soil For Grass

We’ll cover below some different types of grass that work well with clay soil, and then discuss how a person can improve clay soil to create a beautiful lawn. 

Growing grass in clay soil.

Types of Grass for Clay Soil

Below we’ll cover the types of grass that work best in clay soil. These types of grass include tall fescue, Bermuda grass, and buffalo grasses. Then, we’ll break down the difference between cool-season grasses and warm-season grasses. 

Tall Fescue

The first type of grass that works well in clay soil is tall fescue (Festuca Arundinacea). Tall fescue works well with clay soil, especially if an individual is looking for cool-season grass. Tall fescue grows well when planted in partial shade, or full sun.

With tall fescue grass, a person gets a coarse-textured green that offers a lot of variety. That variety includes turf-type tall fescue grasses and dwarf turf-types which grow shorter.

Tall fescue works well with clay soil because its roots penetrate deep into the ground compared to other types of cool-season grasses. In fact, according to this report by Turfgrass Specialist Richard Duble, tall fescue actually grows best in clay soils that are high in organic matter.

It’s not suited for the deep south but the majority of the US can grow tall fescue so, if you are needing a cool-season grass that can do well in clay soil, tall fescue offers a great option.

Bermuda Grass

Some people are dying to grow emerald-green Bermuda grass, also known as Cynodon Diachylon grass. That’s because people commonly see beautiful, carpet-type Bermuda grass on places like golf courses as well as public parks. 

For individuals that want to plant Bermuda grass in clay soil, there’s some good news. Bermuda grass grows quite well in clay soil. However, if an individual wants Bermuda grass and lives in a colder temperature, planting Bermuda grass might require a bit of extra thought.

Common Bermuda grass won’t grow well in colder climates. However, newer varieties of Bermuda grass, like “U-3” and “Midiron” provide Bermuda grass options that grow well even in colder areas.

Bermuda grass, as a type of grass, typically does well in clay soil as long as a person develops the right kind of Bermuda grass in the correct climate. 

Buffalo Grass

Another type of grass a person can consider when looking for the best grass for clay soil is buffalo grass, also known as Buchloe Dachtyloides. Buffalo grass works well for individuals that want a grass that can tolerate droughts or low-water conditions in clay soil.

Kansas State University points out that it takes a while for the grass to get established when the soil contains clay but it is able to tolerate this soil type well (source).

So, for people that live in very hot, desert climates, buffalo grass offers a great option. Buffalo grass works as a warm-season grass that’s clay tolerant. Also, buffalo grass doesn’t require much watering, which is also great news.

However, it’s important to remember that buffalo grass goes dormant from around November through January. In March and April, buffalo grass starts to look green. So, when the temperature is above 60 degrees Fahrenheit outside, it’s an excellent time to plant buffalo grass.

So, buffalo grass won’t give you the best lawn throughout the year, but it still offers several benefits. It grows well in clay soil and works well in warm climates. If this fits your needs, buffalo grass might be an excellent option. 

Cool-Season Grasses

For people that live up north or in colder climates, cool-season grasses provide an excellent option for a lawn. Cool-season grass species grow well when it’s colder outside, like during the spring and autumn. Plus, cool-season grasses adapt and survive even harsh winters in the northern parts of America. 

Cool-season grasses do go dormant, usually during the summer months when it’s hot outside. Also, it’s essential to know that for those living in the South, cool-season grasses do not usually grow well in the Southern parts of America. 

Probably the best choice in cool-season grasses for clay soil is tall fescue, which we discussed above. Because tall fescue has such a reliable root system, it’s able to handle the dense, clay soil well. The deep roots of tall fescue grasses allow it to fare well during the heat and low-water conditions. 

Warm-Season Grasses

Warm-season grasses fare better in hotter climates. For individuals living in warmer areas, warm-season grasses offer the best option for clay soil. Warm-season greens do well and grow while it’s summer, and then go dormant once the weather cools down.

Warm-season grasses do not tolerate cold as well as cool-season greens. So, for people living in the northern United States, warm-season grasses should be avoided.

However, in the South, where the climate is warm, and there is a lot of red clay, one of the best choices is zoysia grass. Zoysia grass does well in clay-like tall fescue because it also has a robust root system so it can grow through dense soil.

Purchase Zoysia plugs from a reputable grower where they are guaranteed to grow or replaced free (link to Zoysia Farms).

See How To Grow A Successful Zoysia Lawn: A Step-By-Step Guide

I’ve had good luck growing and maintaining Centipede Grass in my red clay soil yard. Even though it’s a shallow rooting grass, it develops a thick carpet that helps to hold in moisture in the top layers of clay.

I’ve actually found it to be surprisingly drought tolerant as long as I properly prepare the soil before seeding or condition the soil after with regular aerating and other soil improvement strategies.

Watering Grasses Grown In Clay Soil

It’s important to remember that grass growing in clay soil does not require as much watering as the grass grown on sandy soil. People need to assess the soil’s moisture before watering in clay soil because clay soil retains a lot of water.

So, if a person isn’t careful about watering in clay soil, he or she might drown the roots of the grass.

One approach I often see recommended to determine how much water is in an individual’s clay soil is to stick a screwdriver into the soil down to about six inches. Then, pull the screwdriver out. If the tip of the screwdriver is dry when you pull it out, then the soil is dry, too, and requires a watering.

I generally push my finger into the soil. If it is soft and moist then I leave it alone. If the ground is dry and hard, however, it’s in need of watering. Whatever approach you take, just make sure not to overwater.

Remember that tightly compacted clay does not allow for water to leech and drain through it easily. If you overwater frequently, you can literally drown a newly established lawn. Give it what it needs and no more.

Conclusion

Do not fall victim to the claims that you cannot grow a healthy, beautiful lawn if you have clay soil.

I have some of the worst red clay soil that you can imagine but I’ve found that with a little preparation and carefully planned maintenance, I have been able to overcome the clay soil challenges and, for the most part, develop a nice carpet of grass in my yard.

Choosing the best grass for clay soil will depend in part on your climate. But preparing the soil prior to seeding or planting will give your grass the best chance to thrive.

Click here to learn how to prepare clay soil for grass.

Paul Brown

Paul has a two-acre yard on red clay soil in Southeast Texas. He knows exactly what the challenges are to nurturing a thriving yard in difficult soil. He takes a practical approach to yard improvement and enjoys putting best practices and “golden rules of lawn care” to the test. Click here for Paul’s author page

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