Planting & Landscaping

Planting Grass In Clay Soil: Easy Steps To Success

Growing grass in clay soil is not as difficult as you might think. By following these easy steps, you will be able to plant grass that will stand up against the various elements and last for years!

There are two main things to consider when planting your turfgrass: amend the soil and what kind of seed you should use. The first step is to loosen the top layer of dirt using either a spade or tiller, then mix in amendments such as well composted manure or garden compost if necessary. Once this has been accomplished, it's time to decide which type of seed suits your needs best.

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Heavy clay soil does not allow for proper drainage, making it hard for water to penetrate deeply enough to reach the plant roots. Soils that are heavy with clay hold water longer and drain slowly because of the smaller soil particles.

Soil Testing

soil test

The first step in planting grass that thrives in clay soil is to have a soil test.

Testing will give you a better idea of what nutrients are the pH levels.

Send a soil sample to your local university extension office or garden supply store for analysis.

Clay Soil Preparation For Grass Seeds And Plugs


Preparing your garden soil for grass seed, plugs, or sod is critical. Without amending the soil, grass seeds will not penetrate the soil to find that perfect spot and take root permanently.

Ensure that the area being planted has been cleared of weeds, especially perennial weeds, with their deep root systems. Add organic matter and starter fertilizer.

Add 2 to 3 in (5-7.5cm) of organic material such as compost to the soil and work into the top few inches, and this will prevent compaction, add soil nutrients and eliminate drainage problems.

Compost is the best soil conditioner available to improve the soil structure.

Keep the soil damp until seed germination.

Clay Soil Amendment For Existing Grass

topdressing lawn

Aerate clay soil annually to keep your lawn grass healthy and vibrant. When deprived of water, air and nutrients by compacted soil, grass roots struggle in stressful situations such as heat or low rainfall, which leads them to lose their rich color.

Grasses thin out until finally dying completely due to lack of the oxygen, water, or nutrients they need for survival.

Core or plug aerators are the best for clay soil. The aerator removes plugs of soil and grass and deposits them on top.

These will break down eventually and amend the soil. Rent or purchase from lawn and garden stores or hire a professional to help if you have a large lawn.

Another way of amending an existing lawn is to top dress with topsoil, which will provide nutrients that the clay soil lacks and make it a little more permeable for water to soak in.

Do this as often as every three months to begin with if the existing soil is heavy clay.

Best Warm Season Grass For Clay Soil


Buffalograss is a warm-season drought tolerant grass that can tolerate clay.

Buffalograss provides several benefits and has some negatives in that it goes dormant during the cold periods - it starts greening up in March/April.

Zoysia Grass

Zoysia is a warm-season grass that starts to grow in the late spring to the hot summer weather.

It is perennial, meaning it will come back year after year when grown in appropriate climates.

Zoysia performs well across southern states from the humid Southeast to parts of California.

Bermuda Grass 

Bermuda Grass is the most popular grass for golf courses and public parks because it can grow in clay.

The roots of Bermuda Grass produce deep rhizomes to help the plant survive on this type of soil.

Best Cool Season Grass For Clay Soil

Tall Fescue

Tall fescue is a cool-season grass and grows best in clay soil.

When planted in either full sun or partial shade, it does well depending on the variety of tall fescue you purchase.

It tolerates drought well and is disease resistant.

Perennial Ryegrass

Perennial ryegrass tolerates drought well but does not tolerate heavy foot traffic very well, making it less desirable for homeowners' lawn turf.

Besides, this perennial will need to be reseeded every two to three years.

Kentucky Bluegrass

Kentucky Bluegrass is a cool-season grass plant and does well in clay soil. It is best planted in full sun, or it will struggle to grow due to its low shade tolerance.

Kentucky Bluegrass needs ample water during the growing season since this perennial type can be prone to drought stress if not watered regularly.

If you want a lawn that requires less maintenance, then consider planting fescue. Although it's not as drought-tolerant as Kentucky Bluegrass, Fescue requires less work and fertilizer to keep looking good.

Watering Grass In Clay Soil

watering grass on heavy clay

Clay soil is one of the most water-retentive soils.

It generally needs to be watered less often than other types, but it also takes longer for any given amount of water applied to seep into the clay - so you need a slow and steady rate of water over a longer time.


Clay soils might seem hard to work with when it comes time for planting grass.

The process of cultivating the soil and watering can be more tedious than other types of soil, but if you follow these easy steps, then growing a healthy lawn that will withstand all seasons should not give you any trouble at all!

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