The Q&A Archives: Improving Clay Soil

Question: Our lawn is 1 1/2 acres hard clay, every color in the map. Difficult to grow grass and I love flowers, how can I make this work? So far I've been making small indiv. gardens for the first time. Please let me know if I can do something else to make it look better. It has big lumps of grass, bare spots etc. Mauneza Lyons

Answer: A healthy, lush lawn needs good, fertile soil. Clay soil is generally high in nutrients, but compacts to form an impenetrable surface, and it often remains soggy during wet spells and dries to a hard, cracked surface. Few plants can survive in such soil. The addition of organic matter improves heavy clay soils; your plan of action really depends on how much you want to spend. You could have the entire area tilled up, adding lots of compost and manure. You could spread a layer of topsoil/compost over the entire lawn, and reseed. If this would raise the level of the lawn too high, you might have to skim off the top layer of soil, re-grade, and add the topsoil. These are all quite expensive options. You might also try spreading a thin layer of compost over the entire lawn, let the existing grass sprout up through it, and reseed bare spots. If you can continue this practice over several years, you may be able to build up the organic matter in the soil sufficiently to support a lawn, without a huge capital investment. If you can aerate the lawn before spreading the compost, you'll go a long way toward providing a better soil environment. You can rent a core aerator and leave the plugs on the lawn, then spread a thin layer of sand or compost over the lawn. The plugs will dissolve with rainwater or water from the sprinkler and the sand or compost will work its way down into the holes where the plugs wers and help loosen the clay. Just keep at it and eventually you'll improve the soil and have a nice healthy turf.

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