Growing grass on clay soil can be quite tricky. It’s heavy, dense, too wet, as well as too dry. Grass seed generally doesn’t germinate properly, and if it does, it tends not to thrive. That’s why we’ve come up with this guide to the best grass seed to grow on clay soil.
So what’s the right grass seed for clay soil? Like any other grass seed, it’s vital to select the kind of grass that best suits your environment. The best grass seeds for clay soils include tall fescue grass, buffalo grass, Bermuda grass, and perennial ryegrass.
In this post, we’ll give you all the information you need to pick the right kind of grass for clay soil. We’ll also share tips on how to prepare clay soil for grass, how to aerate your clay soil, and how to water grass growing on clay soil.
Our Bottom Line Upfront:
The best grass seeds for clay soil include tall fescue grass, Bermuda grass, buffalo grass, and perennial ryegrass. To ensure your grass seed of choice thrives, make sure to prepare the clay soil before planting. After planting seed grass, aerate your lawn, and then water it lightly and more slowly.
Clay Soil Characteristics
Clay soil is extremely heavy and dense. Since the soil is super compact, some plants can find it tough to successfully establish their root systems. While clay soil isn’t highly regarded by many people, that shouldn’t discourage you. You simply need to learn how to work with this soil well.
Clay soil has a very high water retention rate. However, since it doesn’t provide excellent natural drainage, homeowners often over-water their lawns, resulting in root rot as well as other problems. Moreover, clay soil is pretty rich in nutrients like calcium, potassium, and magnesium.
Although clay soil is bright red in some parts of the US, it also appears in various shades of brown.
Benefits of Growing Grass on Clay Soil
While many homeowners aren’t too enthused about growing a lawn on clay soil, that doesn’t have to be the case for you! There are some benefits of growing your grass on clay soil.
Retains Water Incredibly Well
Clay soil has unbelievable water retention ability. While it’s not good to over-water your lawn, doing so can save your time and money. Since the soil will keep water, you won’t have to worry about watering your lawn during short spells of drought. By not having to frequently water your lawn, clay soil is a low-maintenance option for growing grass.
Loaded with Nutrients
Clay soil naturally includes nutrients such as magnesium, calcium, and potassium. Homeowners with other soils typically have to fertilize their soil to get these nutrients. Since clay soil naturally has these three nutrients, you’ll fertilize your lawn less often, or even not all!
Cons of Growing Grass on Clay Soil
There are also some drawbacks of clay soil when it comes to growing grass on it. However, by selecting the right kind of seed and creating a lawn maintenance schedule, you can overcome these problems with ease.
Hinders Root Growth
As clay soil is naturally very dense, grass seed can find it difficult to put down its roots. To overcome the challenge of density, you should aerate your clay soil before planting grass. Moreover, choosing a kind of grass with a strong root system will reduce the density issue.
Retains Water in Excess
Clay retains water well. It does the job too well at times. If your yard lacks proper drainage, you might need to take extra measures to enable proper water drainage. This can include making sure that your lawn is well aerated every year to let the water flow. In addition, you can consider redoing your landscaping to allow for better drainage.
What’s the Right Grass Seed to Plant on Clay Soil?
The best grass seeds for clay soil include tall fescue grass, Bermuda grass, perennial ryegrass, and buffalo grass.
For cool-season grasses, tall fescue is the best option to grow on clay soil. It’s a very strong type of grass with a deep root system. It strongly tolerates drought and impressively stands up to heat and cold.
For warm-season grasses, the best option is Bermuda grass. Bermuda grass’s deep rhizomes make it tough and strong. This grass grows rapidly and can spread and fill up bare patches, provided that you provide it with proper nourishment.
Tall Fescue Grass
This is arguably the best cool-season grass seed to plant on clay soil. Above all, it offers exceptional tolerance to shade, heat, cold, and drought. These qualities make tall fescue an extremely versatile grass that provides excellent flexibility and durability to homeowners.
In northern regions of the United States, tall fescue grass is among the top cool-season grasses that thrive best in the early fall and spring.
How to Plant Tall Fescue
- For lush, dense, and green tall fescue grass, reseed or plant it in early spring or fall as this is when it thrives best.
- The good news about this type of grass is that it requires less fertilizer to grow and maintain its color.
- It also thrives in many different soils, including clay with a pH rating of between 5.5 and 7-5.
How to Care for Tall Fescue
- While tall fescue is one of the strongest cool-season grasses around, taking care of it is easy.
- To thrive throughout the year requires you to set up a good lawn irrigation system. One thing to keep in mind is that the grass prefers deep watering to keep the roots moist for longer, taking in as many nutrients as possible from clay soil.
- In addition, it’s best to overseed this grass a few times annually to maintain its density.
This is the best type of grass to plant in warm-season climates. Due to its excellent ability to tolerate heat, shade, drought, and traffic, Bermuda is a very popular grass in the southern United States.
What’s more, Bermuda is the fastest-growing warm-season grass and can recover very fast.
With its rapid growth, however, the grass needs more frequent maintenance, so it’s imperative to create an effective lawn fertilization routine to keep it looking its best.
How to Plant Bermuda Grass
- Like most warm-season types of grass, Bermuda grass emerges from dormancy during the spring following the last frost. The best time to plant or overseed it is at that time because it’s in its key growth phase.
- Bermuda grass seeds withstand alkaline soil, which means the grass can thrive in clay soil. But remember that it grows best in clay soil with a pH of 5.8 to 7.0 but can tolerate higher pH values if necessary.
How to Care for Bermuda Grass
- Bermuda grass is the most high-maintenance of all warm-season grasses. It hits its peak in the summer, so you’ll need to mow it twice a week.
- To keep a dense, lush appearance, mow the grass to 1-1.5 inches for your home lawn. And during its peak growth, make sure to fertilize it once per month for a lush, dense lawn.
This warm-season grass is drought-resistant and can survive well with just 1.5 inches of rainfall a month on clay soil.
Buffalo grass is originally from North America and it was a very popular drought-resistant lawn grass throughout the 1980s. This soft, gray-green, or blue-green low-maintenance grass is used widely as pasture and lawn grass.
How to Plant Buffalo Grass
- Buffalo grass seed is best planted in April and May. To plant it, you can choose either seed or sod. In general, buffalo grass seeds usually have both female and male plants, while sods have females only.
- But buffalo grass has lots of cultivars. If you intend to plant buffalo grass on your lawn, go for male plants because they don’t have seed heads.
- If you combine female and male buffalo grass seeds on your lawn, you’re going to have numerous white seed heads that attract insects and don’t look particularly good.
How to Care For Buffalo Grass
It’s very easy to care for buffalo grass.
- Make sure to fertilize it immediately after sowing and fertilize it once per month after that. However, remember not to apply too much fertilizer because it’ll hinder its strong growth.
- Buffalo grass also needs wet clay soil until it gets established. After that, the grass flourishes with just 1.5 inches of water a month.
This grass is widely grown in cooler climates around the US, though it’s native to Asia and Europe.
It tolerates cold weather superbly and maintains a green, lush color throughout the colder months, which is why it’s one of the most coveted cool-season grasses.
While perennial ryegrass thrives best during the cool season, it also flourishes well in mild summer climates. It can also stand up to light shading.
Perennial ryegrass is renowned for its quick germination and fast establishment. Quick germination allows you to quickly reseed eroded areas and re-establish a lovely lush lawn.
How to Plant Perennial Ryegrass
- Perennial ryegrass thrives in a wide variety of soils, including acidic and alkaline soils.
- Clay soil has the best pH values of between 5.5 and 7.5, which means it’s more acidic and great for hosting perennial ryegrass, which thrives in pH ranges of 5.5-7.5.
- To confirm the pH level of your clay soil, use a basic soil tester like MySoil.
- Perennial ryegrass is ideally seeded in early fall. Its ability to germinate fast produces a fine-blade lawn by wintertime in readiness for the heat of the summer. This grass is also an excellent stabilizer and might help you even out soil on a slanting site.
How to Care for Perennial Ryegrass
- To keep your lawn lush and dense, mow perennial ryegrass to a height of 1.5 to 2.5 inches. While this height might seem too tall, the grass thrives at this range.
- Compared to all other cool-season grasses, perennial ryegrass needs more fertilization and water. It’s best to water it more than the usual amount during drought and in the winter to maintain a green, lush lawn.
Getting Your Clay Soil Ready for Grass Seeds
To ensure your grass thrives, be sure to prepare your clay soil before sowing your lawn.
The great thing about improving clay soil is that there’s so much organic matter available that won’t cost much of your money or time.
- Grass clippings: Perfect for both an existing lawn and new grass. Spreading grass clippings over bare clay soil will naturally provide more potassium and nitrogen. These two nutrients are vital for lush, green growth, and long-term protection.
- Leaves: With a handheld leaf picker, you can spread a good amount of brown and green leaves onto clay soil to boost decomposition. Leaves keep the soil wet and help vital microbes to proliferate.
- Starter fertilizer: It’s recommended that you use a starter fertilizer to improve your new growing lawn’s quality.
After applying organic matter, it’s best to cover it with 2-5 inches of quality topsoil. This will considerably speed up the growth rate of your grass and ensure it receives all the vital nutrients to germinate and stay healthy.
Why Aeration is Important for Grass Growing on Clay Soil
Clay soil requires aeration as it does get super compact. Aeration reduces the compactness of the soil and boosts the growth of grass.
For a dense, lush, green lawn, the roots need adequate air circulation, water, and nutrients. You should aerate your clay soil lawn once annually to avoid the compactness issue.
How Does Clay Soil Get Aerated?
Aeration is an easy but effective way to improve the quality of your clay soil. Here are simple methods to follow:
- Aeration shoes: These are a simple and exciting option to help aerate your clay soil lawn. Aeration shoes have spikes on the soles to help aerate your lawn while you walk around.
- Spike aerator: An aerator with multiple spikes is perfect for small yards and is inexpensive. It leaves sufficiently deep holes to allow the water, air, and fertilizer to flow.
- Slicing aerator: Works like a spike aerator but comes with a spinning blade featuring spikes that slice through your grass and thatch the soil.
Watering Your Clay Soil Lawn
Clay soil typically retains more water than other soil types. Thus, you need a different plan to help your grass thrive in clay soil.
Below are tips for watering your clay soil lawn:
- Water your grass seed lightly to avoid creating a sticky puddle when establishing your lawn.
- Using a screwdriver, regularly dig up to 6 inches deep into the soil to check the level of soil moisture.
- If the soil is dry at 6 inches deep, then you can water your lawn.
- Water your clay soil lawn more slowly than you would other soils. Water gets into clay soil very slowly, so it can easily run off the soil surface and form puddles on your lawn if done quickly.
- If there’s some water remaining in your clay soil lawn after watering, let it seep into the ground before continuing with your watering schedule.
Testing Your Soil
It’s important to carry out soil tests to find out if the essential nutrients are available for your chosen type of grass.
Some key soil tests before you establish your clay soil lawn include:
- Soil pH test
- Soil texture
- Nutrient level (NPK)
But why is it important to perform a soil texture test? Well, this is to ensure that the soil in your yard is indeed clay. You may need to improve your clay soil before sowing grass seeds.
FAQs on Best Grass Seed for Clay Soil
Question: What’s the Best Grass for Wet Soil?
Answer: The best grass variety for wet soil is perennial ryegrass. As it’s a cool-season grass, it thrives in cold temperatures and never goes dormant during winter. It’s able to withstand not only wet conditions but also wet ones. In addition, it’s drought-resistant once it’s established.
Question: What’s the Best Grass for Sandy Soil?
Answer: The best types of grass to grow on sandy soil are bahiagrass, Bermuda grass, tall fescue, zoysia, and bentgrass. Most of these grasses develop deep roots that assist them to absorb nutrients and water effectively in fast-draining sandy soils. Their grass seeds can help establish a lawn next to beaches.
Question: What’s the Best Grass Seed for Tall Fescue?
Answer: The best grass seeds for tall fescue include:
- Scotts Turf Builder 7 lb.Tall Fescue Mix
- Pennington Kentucky 31 Grass Seed
- Scotts EZ Tall Fescue Lawns Seed Patch & Repair
- Scotts Turf Builder Tall Fescue Mix Thick’R Lawn
- Scotts Turf Builder Dense Shade Mix Grass Seed
- Eretz Kentucky Grass Seed 31 K31 Tall Fescue
Question: What’s the Best Bermuda Grass Seed?
Answer: The best Bermuda grass seeds are:
- Scotts Turf Builder Bermudagrass Grass Seed
- Vigoro Bermuda Blend Grass Seed
- Scotts EZ Seed Bermudagrass Patch & Repair
- Pennington Smart Seed Bermudagrass & Fertilizer
- Outsidepride Arden 15 Bermudagrass Hybrid Grass Seed
- Pennington Seed 1 lb Bermudagrass Grass Seed
Question: What’s the Best Grass Seed for Poor Drainage?
Answer: Tall fescue is the best grass seed for poor drainage. This cool-season variety is ideal for USDA zones 3-9, but it can thin out in harsh winters and will grow slowly during the heat of the summer.
The Takeaway on Best Grass for Clay Soil
Growing grass on clay soil doesn’t have to be difficult as long as you know how to prepare your clay soil and which grass seed is best for you.
If your area has a warmer climate, choose buffalo grass. It is heat and drought-resistant and is probably the best grass seed for soil that requires little maintenance when established.
If you stay in a colder climate, we recommend going for perennial ryegrass. It’s a fast-germinating and strong grass variety for clay soil. While it is more high-maintenance than other cool-season grasses, it produces an attractive lush, green lawn.