Best Grass for Clay Soil

What is the Best Grass for Clay Soil?

There are some unique challenges involved in growing grass in dense, clay soil. Clay is usually nutrient-rich and it is effective at holding water, but it’s more likely to compact, which prevents air circulation. This means that plant roots (including grasses) can rot and your lawn can become diseased or die. Today I’ll introduce you to what I consider to be the best grass for clay soil, and I’ll also provide tips and tricks to create a beautiful lawn, even if you have clay in your area.

Let’s get started!

Trust and Accuracy Information

This article was last updated on by Lawn Chick Owner Sarah Jameson
Article content reviewed for accuracy by Horticulturist Arthur Davidson, A.S.

So What are the Best Grasses for Clay Soil?

With the right care, most grasses can grow in clay soil, but if you’re planning to overseed your lawn, or have areas where you’re planning to till and start from scratch, why not use grass types that will thrive in clay?

Growing Grass in Clay Soil

Here are my 3 favorite grasses to use on lawns with heavy clay. is reader supported. If you make a purchase after clicking a link, I may earn a commission at no additional cost to you.

Bermuda Grass

If you want a lawn featuring the most striking shade of emerald green, think about planting Bermuda turf in your clay soil.

Best Grass for Clay Soil - Bermuda Grass

It tends to do well in this kind of environment. Traditional Bermuda grass doesn’t thrive in cooler temperatures, so stay away from it for your New England lawn or if you live elsewhere in a northern climate if that is where you live. However, there are certain new kinds of Bermuda grass that could be viable. These include “U-3” and “Midiron.”

A reason why Bermuda grass is able to grow beautifully in clay soils is the fact that it’s root system produces deep rhizomes.

Tall Fescue Grass

Tall fescue is an ideal grass for clay soil. It’s a cool-season variety of grass, so you’ll want to be careful or avoid it if you live somewhere with a great deal of hot weather (I’m looking at you, Texas).

Best Grass for Clay Soil - Tall Fescue Grass

You can plant tall fescue either in partial shade or full sun.

Tall fescue’s texture is quite coarse. There are some new types available now, though, and these tend to have finer blades. These varieties include dwarf turf-type and turf-type Fescue.

The roots of tall fescue grass reach deeper into the ground than other types of cool-season grass species, and this is one reason why it’s ideal for clay soils.


If you want the lawn you plant in clay soil to be especially tolerant of drought, you could consider going with buffalograss.

Best Grass for Clay Soil Lawns - Buffalo Grass

This is a warm-season grass. If you choose buffalograss, though, you’ll have to be ready for it to become dormant for the months of November through January. It will begin to get green again in around March or April. It’s buffalograss’s deep root system that lets it do well in clay soil.

With that said, if your lawn has a lot of shade, I recommend that you choose fescue, which tends to be more shade tolerant.

Tips for Watering Grass in Clay Soil

Many homeowners will find that there’s no need to water their grass if they have clay soil. Grass root systems can end up drowning in clay soil if there is too much water applied, and mother nature may be giving your grass just what it needs.

If you do have an irrigation system or simply want to keep the greenest grass in your neighborhood, you have to be meticulous to water grass planted in this type of soil in a very careful way. You should water less frequently than you would if you had a sandy type of soil.

Watering Grass Growing in Clay Soil

Try to determine the moisture content of clay soil before you water. You can do by inserting a screwdriver into the turf, going down about six inches. If the screwdriver’s tip is dry when you pull it out, you can assume that the soil needs to be watered.

When you do determine that your clay soil has to be watered and go ahead with watering it, remember that it will take longer for the water to penetrate the soil. This is why you need to proceed slowly.

Stop watering when you see standing water anywhere on the lawn, and use a sprinkler that releases water more gradually if possible to give your lawn a long soak rather than a flood.

How Aeration Can Help

Lawn aeration is a process that involves creating tiny but quite deep holes in the soil. These holes allow important nutrients, air, and water to get to grass and plant roots.

Aerating also loosens compacted soil (you know how grass struggles to grow around pathways where people walk all the time? That soil is compacted from the foot traffic).

Grass for Clay Soil

Aerating your lawn will help to alleviate the problems that can come with clay soil – especially the fact that clay soil is naturally compact and dense. Nutritional deficiencies and root diseases can arise as a result, which is why many lawns growing in clay soil struggle to thrive.

Ways to Aerate Your Clay Soil

  • You can use an aerating fork to poke tiny holes on one of the edges of your lawn.
  • You can wear lawn aerating shoes.
  • Rent a professional core aerator every other year and give your entire lawn a breath of fresh air.
  • Try a liquid treatment to loosen compacted clay soil.
  • Or you can hire a landscaping company to do it for you.

Plant the Best Grass for Clay Soil and Enjoy Your Lawn

While you may feel frustrated with the challenges of growing a beautiful lawn in clay soil, remember that every lawn has its challenges.

Part of the satisfaction that comes in improving your lawn and creating a hospitable landscape for yourself and your family is found in overcoming those challenges. Embrace them, conquer them!

I hope the tips above will help you choose the best grass for clay soil and maintain a beautiful lawn on your property.

At Lawn Chick, I am committed to publishing accurate, useful, and trustworthy resources for my readers. As part of this commitment, I’ve invited subject matter experts to review our articles for accuracy. I invite you to read our editorial policy and publishing standards which outlines in detail how every article on this site is sourced, edited, fact-checked, and vetted.



Sarah Jameson’s blog, Lawn Chick, is read by over 2 million homeowners each year and she is regularly cited as an expert source of lawn care knowledge by major publications. Her goal is to meet you where you are, and help you achieve a yard you’ll be proud of. Ready to take the next step toward improving your lawn? Grab her free lawn care cheat-sheet: What to Do When - Take the Guesswork Out of Lawn Care, or upgrade your garage by browsing her favorite DIY lawn care products.

6 thoughts on “What is the Best Grass for Clay Soil?

  1. Daniel R Westphal

    Thanks for the information. I have about a third of an acre to establish grass and I am having a difficult time. My soil is clay with sand, formerly pasture but since has been graded with more crummy dirt on top. I have a bit of a rise and rain keeps cutting grooves requiring me to regrade. I live in Texas and it has been really hot and even though we have had rain more this year than most it is still dry. My soil turns to grease when it is wet adding to my problems. I hate the mud.

    • Gosh that sounds like a big project, Daniel!

      When helping friends establish a new lawn on a difficult area what I will sometimes do is put down some type of annual turfgrass that will establish itself quickly to prevent erosion, and then in the fall and again in the spring overseed that with the perennial turfgrass I hope to establish as a permanent lawn there. Something you could try if you continue to have a tough time with the rain.

      Good luck!

    • Hey, Holly!

      My go-to recommendation is usually fescue for lawns that are heavy clay and a mix of sun and shade, but because you’re in NC and because you said that you have a mostly shaded lot, it will really depend upon your local microclimate. Some parts of NC get super hot, other parts stay cooler, so you’ll have to decide if a warm season or cool season grass will work better for the unique conditions of your lot. If one of your neighbors has a great lawn, I might ask them what type of grass they have and see if you can do something similar … that’s a good way to narrow in on a grass type that is sure to thrive in your yard. There’s nothing worse than spending a ton on sod only to have it thin out and underperform in a few years.

      Still, I like Fescue for clay, and it’s my favorite type for shade as well. I have an entire guide that talks in-depth about fescue grass that you can read by clicking right here.

      The variety of Fescue that you have available locally as sod. Some Fescues need a fair amount of sunlight, while others (like creeping red fescue) are the best shady lawn grass you can get.

      The reason why I like Fescue grasses for shade is because they tend to grow deeper roots which help to counteract the compaction of clay and can penetrate that tough soil type. Mowing your fescue tall (3-4 inches) will help as well because it tends to grow roots 3x as deep as it is mowed.

      I think your best bet is to contact your local vendors to see what they have available for sod and what they recommend for shade/clay in your area. If they have a variety of Zoysia that thrives in your area and will tolerate the shade in your lot, that’s a wonderful type of grass that homeowners love. It’s thick, soft, and repairs itself by spreading through rhizomes and stolons. But your best bet may be to get a blend of Fescue sod that includes some creeping fescues that will spread laterally and thrive in shady conditions. If they have a hybrid Turf Type Tall Fescue that takes shade, that’s a great choice as well.

      Good luck!

  2. Mary Killeen

    Hi Sarah! I’ve really enjoyed reading your articles. I’m purchasing a home in the Central Savannah River Area (think Augusta National Golf Course) on the border of SC & Ga. The home will be sodded with Bermuda grass on top of what will likely not be well prepared compact red clay. The time frame for this will be the end of March/beginning of April. I was hoping for some good suggestions on how to best take care of this type lawn. I do have your “What to do When” article printed. Would those instructions and timings be appropriate for a newly sodded lawn as described above? Thanks and looking forward to Spring!

    • Hi, Mary!

      Thanks for the kind words, and congrats on your new home! Yes, I think if you follow my warm-season lawn guide you should get great results. Just ask whoever is doing the install what they’re using for starter fertilizer (if they are), and you may want to delay the first application of products I recommend 4 weeks after your new sod is installed if they gave it a jump-start with something.

      Best of luck with your new lawn!

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