Growing grass in red clay soil

murne(z7 NC)September 15, 2005


This is my first posting! I have just recently moved to NC from Michigan and have already had enough of the red clay dirt. Apparently I became very spoiled by the rich, black dirt of the northern climes and I miss my lush, green lawn. To make matters worse, I moved into a new house without an established lawn. My husband and I tried seed twice with different types of fertilizer but the grass is very patchy. We did place sod in one small section and it seems to be doing fine for now, but we are on a budget and have a large yard. Any suggestions for helping us grow the NC version of a great lawn? We have time and strength but not a lot of know-how. Thanks!

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What county are you in? Call your county ag extension. The county agent and/or a Master Gardener on staff can give you advice on what grass to use, when to seed, etc. Clay is actually very rich in nutrients, and grass is one of the few things that will grow in clay without amendments. It always amazes me to see grass growing out of clay baked hard by the sun. Just think about how your lush green lawn was a deep, cold, wet expanse of snow for a good part of every year, and you probably won't miss Michigan as much. We have a very long growing season here, and after living all over the country, I think this is the best place to garden, unless you are into tropical (Zone 9+) plants. Good luck.

    Bookmark   September 16, 2005 at 5:24PM
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I have sandy soil here in Carthage. When they drilled for our new well, yards and yards and yards of red clay came from about 180 feet down. The driller tried to blow it into an expanse of wildness I have on the side of our yard but a good six inches of what I like to refer to as "potter's clay" remained on our centepede lawn. The driller said the grass would grow up through it. "yeh..sure" I thought. Needless to say where the clay was is now the only place in our yard that is lush and green. Adele

    Bookmark   September 16, 2005 at 7:17PM
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new2nocarolina(7 NC)

WE too have a few patcthy places...some are rather large...some have never had a seed of grass take root. The front of the house looks ok. a few small patches here and ther. But the one side andthe back are really bad. We are thinking of putting in that new Scottts Blue, for southern gardeners. It is supposed to aggressively spread to fill in bare spots. DH thinks it is a wonderful thing to try. Hope it is nt THAT aggressive. Any ideas any one?

    Bookmark   September 19, 2005 at 10:07AM
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Well, "aggressive" grass scares me. In the first place, it may not be true-I've always heard that this is the worst place to grow grass, given our minimum temp in winter and heat in summer. If it is true, it makes me remember constantly pulling grass out of planting beds in New Orleans, Pasadena, and Phoenix. I think of grass as a green frame for my gardens - if it didn't make a nice frame in places, I'd eliminate it altogether. I'd rather have my frame patchy in places than have the frame cover the painting. Weeding is hard enough without both mowing and pulling grass adding to the chores.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2005 at 10:58AM
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Get a soil test done through your county extension and then you will know what your soil needs to grow grass. Now is a good time since most clay soils usually need lime and it takes approx 6 months for lime to adjust the PH in the soil. So if the test shows you need lime, you can put it out now and in the spring the PH should be right for your grass. The soil test takes the guess work out of it, which will save you in dollars for just trying anything without knowing what is lacking in your soil. You can also ask the extension agency what types of grasses grow well in your area. And you can ask them for a yearly maintenance schedule for the grass type that you want to grow. This schedule will tell you when and what to feed your grass throughout the year.

    Bookmark   September 19, 2005 at 2:47PM
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Claire Pickett

Your first mistake was leaving the black fertile loam of Michigan. Welcome to the land of clay and sand! The good news is you can garden yearround. I agree that your county horticultural agent at your local Cooperative Extension Service would be a great place to start. They and the Master Gardener Volunteers that assist them, make housecalls, if you wish, to assess your site. Turf grass is not as simple a decision as it is 'up nawth.'

According to your zone or microzone you may be able to grow fescue which is green yearround here, but requires watering. (I met a woman from GA last week who is successfully growing fescue there).
Some warm weather grasses like Bermuda (don't believe everything you'll hear about it) can be overseeded to provide green lawns in the springtime. Centipede is a grass that is favored in Sanford where I live, very drought tolerant and slow-growing, but it's brown all spring and winter and can't be overseeded well.

There's a lot to consider. Cooperative Extension also has Turf Calendars to get you on the right page about what to do when on a month by month schedule for whichever grass you choose.

peace, claire

    Bookmark   September 19, 2005 at 5:59PM
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Hi - I too am a 'newbie' to NC gardening and after living in/around Chicago for 50 years, this red clay has ALMOST done me in... I am convinced that whenI first moved here that FIRST I should have enrolled in 'pottery classes', invested in a Kiln and got rid of alot of this clay BEFORE I began bringing in mulch (14 square yds.) and top-soil (12 square yards of questionable 'dirt') and peat, more peat and MORE peat... ;-)

It HAS been a very interesting 4 years since I have moved here. This is virgin soil that has NEVER been improved (I live in a mobile home park). I have even found a lot of arrowheads in the soil. Apparently people do NOT believe in 'improving' soil in trailer parks... ;-) I am the talk of the entire park for 'wasting' my time/$ on my yard, but I consider it MY home so I pay them no mind ;-)

I even save all my coffee grounds to work into the soil.

The three plants that seem to do very well for me (even in this red clay) are Irises, Daylilies and Cannas, but I too am having a lot of difficulty with GRASS. Or the 'lack' of grass. That 12 yds. of 'top soil' that I got turned into a nightmare as it contained a lot of dark grey/black CLAY!!! I have learned that I prefer RED clay over the dark clay. At least you can 'see' it ;-)

What else(besides coffee grounds) can I just toss on to help break down this soil? Any help would be much appreciated.

Do any of you have web pages/sites from your gardens as you worked on them? Links would be appreciated by me as I feel very much like a pioneer in this endeavor to 'get the best' of virgin/native soil...

Here is a link that might be useful: 4th year of winning Red Clay war...

    Bookmark   February 19, 2006 at 2:20PM
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Clay and sand are why people grow bermudagrass... I'm not condoning it, it's just a statement in fact.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2006 at 2:56PM
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All pages that I have previously left links to are NOW being monitored with Security measures in place. Anyone visiting my pages, please be aware of these Security measures. Ruth

    Bookmark   August 7, 2006 at 3:55PM
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Because of on going HARASSMENT, all pages that I have previously left links to, have now been removed from GardenWeb access.

Here is a link that might be useful: Harassment Link, I am now a activist for STOPPING Internet Harassment!

    Bookmark   November 20, 2007 at 8:16AM
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Hi! I'm originally from Wisconsin, and I too miss the good dirt, but then again, it stays green here a lot longer. If you want to fall in love with your new State, just vacation in the mountains and at the beach, and all of a sudden it will all make perfect sense, HA!

At my last house I had a steep slope with clay and lots and lots of stones. Digging was horrible. At my current house I have a gentler slope and sand in the front yard and decent sandy loam in the back yard. The difference is that I have a lot of trees in back that dump leaves, and since I have no grass (thanks to digging dogs), I leave the leaves alone and just bring in mulch. I was back there today picking up doggy doo and admiring how black the soil is getting. It's nice and loose too; unfortunately it's because of all the moles and shrews that are digging tunnels for me.

To amend your soil, stop using chemical fertilizers. Use natural things that will change the texture, like aged cow or horse manure. You can sprinkle it over the soil. You can sort of rake it in and then the earth worms will do the rest - pretty sure. Plus it will cover that red color that can drive you nuts.

Oh, and another way I've come to appreciate NC is by watching shows on the UNC channel (channel 4 on cable in Raleigh), Exploring North Carolina. Learning about this fascinating State has helped me appreciate it. It's just as interesting as Wisconsin was geologically, climate wise and vegetation wise.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2007 at 2:32AM
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dottie_in_charlotte(z7-8 NC)

I shudder when I think of how deep Bermuda roots would go in the deep dark soil of Michigan..
Manures are great if they are well composted but I'm finding ,after 20 years of experimentation, that bark fines (what is called 'soil conditioner') and composted leaves (leaf mold) and just a little bit of peat moss(just a little) do a much better job of amending lawn and garden soil.
Too often, non-commercial manure sources(from friendly farmers) carried wild bermuda seed, hay and sorghum seeds that were a bigger problem. Bagged 'Black Cow' has been OK.

Coffee grounds are great as well as crushed peanut shell as additives. I throw them on the ground and till them in the next year(for gardens). Shredded raw leaves work well as mulch(repeatedly mow over a pile of leaves until they're well chopped). Till that in the next year or draw off and mix with your compost pile.

    Bookmark   November 26, 2007 at 12:16PM
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Try this:

1. Buy bags of organic soil at walmart
2. Take 1 bag and spread it across the clay soil in about a 8' x 3' patch.
3. Use Expert Seed from Walmart (make sure it is mainly Turberry seed)
4. Sprinkle scotts grass seed fertilizer and then use lots of Expert Seed
5. Rake it all in the soil patch
6. water it after planting, and then 1x in am and 1x at dusk every day for at least 30 days
7. You will have great patch of grass in 10 days
8. Repeat steps above until yard is covered.

My extension service was useless except for the soil analysis.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2008 at 10:51PM
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