Several varieties of grass seed work best in dense clay soil. However, you must amend the soil and plant the seed correctly in order for your new grass to flourish.
Here where I live in Missouri, one only has to dig down about an inch in most places before they hit hard, thick, reddish brown clay soil.
Looking at that dense, unforgiving dirt makes you feel like you might as well try to plant grass on your concrete driveway!
A few years back my wife and I purchased a new house with a “patchy” lawn to say the least.
I wanted to do the new lawn right so I set off on a quest to find out not only what is the best type of grass to grow in Missouri, but what is the best grass seed to plant in hard clay soil ?
Choosing Grass Seed for Clay Soil
Head on down to your local hardware store and you’re likely to see a wide variety of grass seed options. Walk into one of the big box hardware stores (please don’t) and you’re likely to come across even MORE confusing options.
The big national chains don’t make it easy on you either. Most carry the same brands and types of grass seed in every store nationwide regardless of what area of the country you are in.
Choosing the best type of grass seed for your local climate is a difficult enough decision on its own. But what about for homeowners with tough, hard, clay soil to contend with as well?
First let’s look at some reasons why Clay Soil is so difficult to plant grass in.
Why is Clay Soil so difficult to plant grass in?
- It’s difficult to dig or irrigate
- Water runs on top of it rather than soaking in
- Fertilizers and Organic nutrients all run off rather than soaking into the soil
- Your new expensive grass seed sits right on top just waiting to get eaten by birds
Best Types of Grass Seed for Poor Clay Soil
Before we “Dig in”… ;-)….Let’s first take a look at some of the best types of grass seed I found to work clay soil conditions:
Due to Clay soil being a hard and unforgiving substance, you will want to choose a grass variety with a strong and robust root system. Especially grass with roots that grow deep in order to not only maintain stability, but reach a large surface area of soil for hydration.
The best types of grass that meet these criteria are:
Now, other factors go into choosing a type a grass seed to plant besides just soil type.
You will need to understand what climate zone you are in, how much watering each type of grass requires, whether it is a warm season or cool season grass, and how susceptible each one is to local diseases.
For instance, here in Missouri I ended up choosing the Tall Fescue.
While Zoysia is a common grass found in Missouri, it is what’s known as a warm season grass.
This means it grows the fastest in warm weather vs Tall Fescue, a cool season grass, which grows the most in cool weather.
While Zoysia is known to require less maintenance and less watering than Fescue, it also turns a pale brown in the winter when it goes dormant.
My wife and I preferred to have a green lawn year-round, but this is personal preference.
The Best Way to Plant Grass Seed in Hard Clay Soil
So, once you’ve chosen your clay soil grass seed what’s the best way to plant that grass seed to make sure it…you know…actually grows?
Because clay soil is so compact, it does not drain very well.
While surface water may run off the top and be difficult to get into the soil INITIALLY, once the soil finally is saturated, it holds on to that water for a LONG time.
For this reason, you must choose a grass seed that can handle a lot of water.
Preparing Clay Soil for Grass Seed
Clay soil is challenging to plant in because it tends to dry out and crack. However, it is also capable of holding a large amount of water and nutrients.
You can take advantage of this attribute by amending the soil with lots of nutrient dense organic material before planting your grass seed to create a topsoil.
Topsoil provides a less dense, nutrient filled bedding for your fragile little seedlings to start their journey into becoming healthy blades of grass.
If you try planting your grass seed directly into the hard dirt, their fragile new roots will never take hold and they will quickly dry out and die.
How to Amend Clay Soil for Grass Seed
To prepare the soil for grass seed, you will want to first incorporate organic material such as fertilizer, compost, manure, or even pre-fertilized topsoil into the existing soil.
You will want to mix your organic material into the top 6-12 inches of your soil. This becomes what is known as your topsoil.
The best way to do this is to buy, borrow, or rent a tiller to aerate and aggravate the soil and mix the organic material into the top later.
Make sure to use a heavy-duty tiller if you are planning to use it on heavily compacted clay soil.
Many lightweight inexpensive tillers will just bounce up and down off the hard clay soil rather than grinding it up.
How to Plant Grass Seed in Hard Clay Dirt
Once you have tilled the ground and incorporated your organic material into the topsoil, you now have a nice healthy starting environment for your grass seedlings to start their growth.
Use a seed spreader to evenly distribute your seed on the topsoil and then cover it with a small layer of additional compost, topsoil, manure, or straw. This will keep the seeds moist and avoid having them eaten by birds.
Make sure to keep the ground moist before, during, and well after you have laid your seed. You may need multiple sprinklers running in shifts depending on the size of your lawn.
The idea is to keep the ground moist at all times, but do not overwater and drown out the seeds either.
Avoid walking on the new grass for a number of weeks until the seedlings have taken hold and are well established.
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