Best Grass for Sandy Soil

Best Grass for Sandy Soil

A sandy yard doesn’t spell doom for your lawn, though it presents challenges you’ll need to work around. If you’re having issues getting your grass to thrive in your sandy yard, it’s likely because you don’t have grasses that thrive in that environment. Getting the lush green grass you’ve always dreamed of is well within your reach, and it only takes a few steps and the right grass to make into a reality. In this article I’ll list my five picks for the best grass for sandy soil lawns, and provide tips for establishing a perfect lawn in sandy topsoil conditions.

Trust and Accuracy Information

This article was last updated on by Lawn Chick Owner Sarah Jameson
Article content reviewed for accuracy by Certified Horticulturist Nicole Forsyth, M.S.

Picking the Right Grass for Sandy Turf

Chances are, picking the right grass for your yard is what’s standing in the way of you and your dream lawn.

Sandy soil drains water very quickly, which is what makes it challenging to maintain a lush green lawn – especially if your lawn consists of the wrong type of grass.

Sandy soil is ideal for many perennial plants and fruit trees, but grasses tend to require more moisture and nutrient rich ground to maintain that lush green carpet experience.

Sandy Lawn Grasses

Once you pick the grass that’s right for you, you’ll have to adopt a certain routine to keep it lush. Different grasses need different maintenance, so it is a tricky undertaking. But it will be well worth the results.

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What is the Best Grass for Sandy Soil?

Here are the 5 best grasses for sandy lawns. These grasses all thrive in dry lawns, making them ideal for turf that doesn’t retain moisture.

Bermuda Grass

Bermuda grass needs far less water than colder temperature grasses. It works particularly well with sandy soil because Bermuda Grass actually requires ground that drains well.

Bermuda Grass on a Golf Course in Florida
Bermuda Grass used on a Golf Course in Florida – photo courtesy J. Bryan Unruh, UF/IFAS

That said, Bermuda Grass is a versatile turf grass, and it thrives really well in clay soil. Initially grown in South Africa, Bermuda Grass came to lawns in South America, and eventually North America.

Bermuda grass grows very quickly and if you plant Bermuda Grass in your lawn, you’ll enjoy its rich, dark green color and thick lawn texture.

If your yard is shady, though, Bermuda Grass won’t work well for you. This grass needs a lot of sunlight to really thrive.

Bermuda grass simply will not grow well in cloudy environments or yards with a lot of shade … so if that sounds like your yard, choose something else.

Centipede Grass

This grass is a thick, warm season grass that forms sod.

Centipede grass spreads by stolons, which are creeping, horizontal stems that branch off to form new plants by running over the top of the ground and taking root wherever they touch your soil.

Centipede Grass - One of the Best Grasses for Sandy Lawn Soil
A Centipede Grass Lawn in Florida – photo credit J. Bryan Unruh, UF/IFAS

Many standard grasses use rhizomes to spread, by comparison, which means they send off shoots under your turf which then sprout new grasses.

Centipede grass grows slowly and is very coarse in texture. Once it is established Centipede grass weaves itself into a thick, lush carpet. This is ideally suited to yards with sandy soil.

Though it requires infrequent mowing and fertilizing, Centipede grass requires bright sunlight to thrive, just like Bermuda Grass.

It grows well in acidic soils and is Hawaii’s standard grass type.

This turfgrass earned its name due to its stolons, which resemble centipedes as the grass grows.

This type of grass originated in China and Southeast Asia before making its way across the ocean to Hawaii, and the southern United States.

Bahia Grass

Bahia grass has a very deep root system and can spread very quickly in sandy areas. You’ll want to mow it regularly – when you do you’ll naturally spread its seeds across the yard for on-demand (and free) overseeding.

Bahia grass is a nice grass for lawns because it does not need much water or fertilizer.

Bahiagrass Lawn in Florida - one of the best grasses for sandy soil
Bahiagrass lawn in Florida – photo credit L. Trenholm, UF/IFAS

However, it has a very light color that lightens further when it goes for extended periods without water, so if you’re looking for that dark green dream lawn you’ll need to take some extra steps to achieve that color.

What I love most about Bahia grass, and why it’s a great choice for sandy soil is its resilient root system.

This deep, espansive root system prevents run-off in your lawn, and allows Bahia grass to get the water and nutrients it needs in dry, infertile soils.

Bahia grass has adapted well to beaches. It is used frequently in the Southeastern United States. However, it is not a thick growing grass and does not form a carpet-like layer across the yard, so you may want to mix in other grass types that are self-spreading.

Mixing Bahia Grass with one of the other sandy lawn grass types mentioned in this article will offer great results.

Fescue Grasses

Fescue grasses are well suited to sandy soils in cooler climates. It’s what I recommend for sandy yards in New England, the pacific northwest, and states in the northern midwest region.

That said, in some parts of the transitional zone – in particular the Carolinas – fescues may not perform as well in sandy soil where the lawn gets full sun according to Grady Miller, Charles Peacock, and several other soil science professors and extension specialists at North Carolina State University.

“It is a reliable performer and easily started from seed,” they say, sharing that “[Tall Fescue] is the best grass to plant if you want a year-round green lawn.” But they caution that in North Carolina, “Tall fescue thrives in sun or medium shade. It will not perform well in full sun in the coastal plain, especially if the soil is sandy.”

I have a Turf Type Tall Fescue lawn where I live in New England, and I’ve found that Fescues are very hardy and this type of grass can sustain itself in areas with low water due to its deep root system (my yard’s soil skews sandy).

Turf Type Tall Fescue Grass
Turf Type Tall Fescue – photo credit University of Kentucky

This grass type is also very resilient, and can thrive in shady areas with little sunlight.

There are three varieties of Fescue lawn grasses that have their own unique strengths, while all being drought resilient. They can grow in thick and fescue grass can be used to fill in empty patches in your yard.

Creeping red fescue is a slow-growing variety that adapts well to slightly acidic soils. Red fescue is low-maintenance and takes to gravelly and pebbly areas along seacoasts. It spreads with both underground rhizomes and stolons.

It’s my favorite type of grass for dense shade in sandy soil.

Tall fescue provides a rich color and is notable for withstanding shaded areas. Tall fescue is a bunching grass that fills in areas very well if you spread seed densely enough. Spread your Tall Fescue grass seed too thin, and you’ll have a clumpy, patchy look.

Tall Fescue’s rich color is what it is most known for, and its deep root system makes it a great choice for sandy lawns with mixed sunlight conditions.

Hard fescue is known to be very low maintenance and does not require consistent mowing.

However, it is a cool season grass and does not tolerate high temperatures, so if you live in the south you’re out of luck with this grass type.

Zoysia Grass

Zoysia grass is hardy and grows well in sandy soils. In the wild you’ll find Zoysia grass growing on or near beaches due to its deep root system that help sustain it in quick-draining soils.

This grass for sandy soil is adapted well to drought conditions and doesn’t need much water to thrive. However, Zoysia grows and spreads very slowly unless it is fertilized with nitrogen and phosphorous rich fertilizers.

Zeon Zoysia Grass Lawn
Zeon Zoysiagrass Lawn – photo credit Joey Williamson, HGIC, Clemson Extension

One downside to Zoysia is that it browns quickly after the season’s first frost, but it is resilient and bounces back into a bright green lawn come springtime.

I recommend it for southern lawns – it’s ideal for conditions in the Southeastern United States. It’s tough to grow from seed, and Zoysia plugs are the best way to establish a Zoysia grass lawn.

You can order fresh plugs online (Amazon link) to establish a Zoysia lawn, and I usually try to spread some Zoysia seed between the planted plugs to speed up the process.

Getting Your Sandy Yard Ready for Grass

Once you’ve picked the best grass for sandy soil that you plan to use in your yard, it’s time to prepare your for grass.

But before you begin, it’s important to know that unless you’re laying sod, your lawn won’t be perfect over night.

Growing grass from seed takes time.

All in all, this process will take you 1 to 2 months, and it will be about 3 months before your yard is in tip top shape.

Seeding Your Lawn

Your first step is to prepare the topsoil to take in the new grass.

Clear the yard of debris, such as sticks and large pebbles. Use a rototiller to loosen your topsoil if it is dense or compacted (about 4-inches deep). Amend your soil with compost to increase the amount of nutrients in the soil.

Once that is done, apply a high phosphorous starter fertilizer and use an iron rake to mix that into your topsoil. I recommend the quick-release fertilizer with crabgrass preventer from Scott’s – it’s what I use when I’m growing a new lawn from seed or overseeding my lawn.

Now it’s time to spread your grass seed of choice, then cover the seed with the soil by using the back of a garden rake to gently press it into the soil and get good contact.

You don’t necessarily have to use straw mulch or peat moss over the top of your seed, but you can, and that will help your seed stay moist and improve germination and survival for your seedlings.

Once the seed is in place, it is time to water your new grass seed.

Watering New Grass Seed

Water your newly seeded lawn evenly, but don’t over water it.

Watering Grass Seed in a Sandy Soil Lawn

It’s easy to wash away the grass seed before it settles into the soil, so that first watering is to get your turf moist and adhere the seed to soil.

Because sandy soil drains quickly, you’ll need to feed your lawn again after it has germinated and is starting to grow.

The Value of Compost

To increase your lawn’s drought tolerance, add compost or other organic matter to the top of your soil once a year for the first few years. Do it in the fall when you over-seed.

As the compost breaks down, it improves your yard’s ability to retain water to help the roots take hold more quickly. It also provides vital nutrients and microbes to your soil.

Adding Compost to Sandy Lawns

Often, your local community has a shared compost depository at your brush dump. The town where I live has a great one, and I can get as much screened compost as I need, free of charge (unless you count taxes).

You can also start a compost bin on your property to compost grass clippings, leaves, and other organic matter to make your own compost.

Either purchase a compost tumbler or bin (I have this one that I bought from Amazon and absolutely love), or build your own compost pile by sectioning off a part of your yard with chicken wire or pallets.

This way you’ll always have compost on hand to make your lawn lush.

Maintaining a Beautiful Lawn in Sandy Soil

Sandy soil makes establishing your lawn tricky, but once you have your lawn established (with the best grass for sandy soil) maintenance of a lawn in sandy topsoil is easy.

Grass in Sandy Lawn Soil

The five types of grasses mentioned in this article thrive in dry soil and require very little watering or mowing.

Use the light conditions and temperature range of your yard to determine which of these grasses will work best.

Consider Improving Your Yard in Other Ways

Consider Adding a Perennial Garden to Your Sandy Lawn

While we all want a beautiful green lawn, there are other options for improving your yard’s appearance if you have dry, sandy soil conditions.

My favorite it so to create garden beds with hardy native perennials that thrive in dry, infertile soil.

If you have patches or parts of your yard that are difficult for grasses to take hold, I always recommend that before you spend a boatload on grass seed and expensive equipment rentals, you consider turning that spot into a perennial garden bed.

Coneflowers, Black-Eyed Susans, Hyssop, Yarrow and Salvias are all beautiful native flowers that look beautiful together, and thrive in most growing zones, require minimal water.

These plants bloom steadily throughout the year and will attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinators to your yard. This is a great gift that you can give to pollinators and to the environment. And by the way, these flowers are also beautiful.

You’ll need to similarly improve the soil, like you do with grasses. But when you install garden beds with mulch, you will lower the amount of grass—and water—that is needed. Plant densely, and you will only have to weed your garden once a year, in the spring.

Yarrow, Daylillies, Poppies, are a few other options to consider for these garden beds.

Plant Low Maintenance Shrubs

If you don’t want to go through the effort of installing landscaping and investing in perennial flowers in your yard, consider adding low maintenance shrubs. These can be junipers, currants, shrub roses, or bald cypress.

They’ll make your yard look beautiful, while cutting your mowing time and the lawn maintenance frustration that you experience in those trouble spots of your yard.

Whether you choose to go with full grass, or to mix with landscaping, sandy soil shouldn’t stand in your way.

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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.

2 thoughts on “Best Grass for Sandy Soil

  1. Luke KhumLo

    Thank for your information about five different types of grasses. I’m living along the seacoast and next to Mozambique boarder and I would like to Bermuda grass in my yard as I have read your recommendation.

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