Ready to learn how to grow grass in sandy soil? Planting new grass is a big project, so it is important to do it right based on the kind of soil that you have. Here are the basic steps to growing a lawn full of lush, beautiful green grass in sandy soil:
- Get the soil tested for texture, nutrients, and organic matter
- Add organic matter (and/or other recommended amendments)
- Plant grass seed (or plugs for zoysia)
- Keep seed moist through germination and early establishment
- Cut the lawn high (3″) to encourage deep root growth
Now let’s discuss each of these steps in detail. Read on to learn all about how to prepare your soil, plant seed, and get the grass established.
Getting A Soil Test for A Lawn on Sandy Soil
The first step to growing a great lawn on sandy soil is to get the soil tested. Knowing what you’re dealing with, beyond simply looking at it, will help you make better decisions and waste less time and effort. Knowing the composition of your soil will allow you to understand what kind of grass you will need to get and how you need to care for it. The test may take a few weeks, but it may also save you a few years of headaches.
“Just as one may find sugar maples, oaks, hemlocks, and many other species of trees in a particular forest, so, too, might one find Christiana clay loams, Sunnyside sandy loams, Elton silt loams, and other kinds of soils in a particular landscape.”The Nature and Properties of Soils, by Nyle C. Brady and Ray R. Weil
Get your soil tested for texture, nutrients, and organic matter. Sandy soil is notoriously low in soil organic matter. This leads to well-draining lawn soil…perhaps too well draining. The grass plants may not have access to the water for as long as they require. Organic matter will help the soil hold water for long enough that the plants can absorb what they need. Sandy lawns often benefit greatly from bringing in soil organic matter…but you need to know how much.
“The proportion of organic matter in different soils ranges from virtually nil in sandy soils to as much as 90% in muck soils or peat.”Mineral Nutrition of Plants: Principles and Perspectives, by Emanuel Epstein and Arnold J. Bloom
Adding Soil Organic Matter or Making Other Lawn Soil Amendments
Once your soil test shows what you’re dealing with, it’s time to amend the lawn soil so its closer to ideal conditions for grass growth. Believe it or not, soil that is made up of 50 to 80% sand is actually great soil for growing grass. The soil is easy to work with, it drains well, and grass will be able to establish its roots well.
The downside? Sandy soil dries out quickly. Therefore, before you go to plant grass, you will often want to add organic matter like homemade compost. This will help it hold moisture better as well as add nutrients to your soil that will help grass flourish.
Most lawn owners work towards having “sandy loam” type soil. This soil is mainly sand, but also has some clay and silt, as well as organic matter. Take your soil test results and make the changes necessary to work towards sandy loam.
“Loam soil, which is often considered the ideal, combines the main benefits of clay, sandy and silty soils. It has good fertility and an ability to retain some moisture as well as drain well. Loamy soil is easier to cultivate. The addition of organic matter maintains its fertility and open texture, for optimum root penetration.”Royal Horticultural Society Small Garden Handbook: Making the Most of Your Outdoor Space, by Andrew Wilson
Planting Grass Seed in Sandy Soil
Most types of residential turf grass will grow very well in sandy loam, given they have enough sunlight and moisture. Grass does not grow happily in clay, silt, or straight organic matter….so we’re already off to a good start with sand as the main component of the lawn soil matrix. As discussed in the previous section, there should be other stuff mixed in with the sand, including finer rock particles and organics:
“Soil is a creation of life, as dead and decaying microorganisms, animals, and plants are added to the matrix of clay, sand, and gravel. Along the central plains of North America, soil was built from the annual contribution of leaves falling from deciduous forests, prairie grasses, and droppings from vast populations of passenger pigeons and bison.”The Legacy: An Elder’s Vision For Our Sustainable Future, by David Suzuki
Southern Warm-Climate Grass for Sandy Soil
Bahia grass has a great tolerance to heat and drought. This means if you live in a climate that is really hot or does not get a lot of rain, Bahia grass may be the best option for you. It is good in sandy soil as it does not like a lot of water. The disadvantages to Bahia grass are mainly that it is not as thick as some other types and it does not fare well in the shade.
Bermuda grass thrives in warm climates and warm seasons, meaning it can withstand extreme heat and drought (though it will need to be watered at least once a week – especially in sandy soil that’s low in organic matter). Unfortunately, Bermuda grass is intolerant to cold and shade. In those climates, it will fade and can feel like straw.
“Bermuda grass is as popular for lawns in the south as Kentucky bluegrass is in the north. A good, low-maintenance lawn, the coarse-textured Bermuda grass grows well in poor soil and tolerates low mowing. It is salt tolerant and has deep roots, which makes it drought and heat tolerant.The Lawn Bible: How to Keep It Green, Groomed, and Growing Every Season of the Year, by David R. Mellor, Fenway Park’s Master Groundskeeper
Zoysia grass is the most adaptable to temperature and light changes out of these three kinds of grass. It is also extremely low maintenance, which makes it quite popular. Zoysia is hard to establish from seed, so most homeowners choose to buy plugs instead of seeding (see Zenith® Zoysia Grass Plugs).
Northern Cool-Climate Grasses for Sandy Soil
Fine Fescue is one of the best lawn grasses if you live in a northern or cool-climate region. It usually lasts year-round, even in cooler climates, and is extremely low maintenance. Types of fine fescue include creeping red fescue, hard fescue, Chewings fescue, and sheep fescue.
Fine fescue performs best in well-drained soils and are not tolerant of wet conditions. In particularly wet regions, they known to attract insects and pests. The good news is that if your soil is sandy, this may not be much of an issue for your lawn. Fescue is a good match for lawn in sandy soil.
Cool-climate grasses are generally sold in mixes. Look for a mix of grass seed that contains a mix of fine fescue and Kentucky bluegrass. Both fescue and bluegrass are high quality turf-type lawn grasses. Mixing the types of grass will add biodiversity and make the lawn more resilient to variations in environmental conditions.
“A lawn of Kentucky bluegrass is often considered the lawn by which all other lawns are judged. Characterized by the deep green/blue color and the fine texture, Kentucky bluegrass is as durable as it is good looking.”The Lawn Bible: How to Keep It Green, Groomed, and Growing Every Season of the Year, by David R. Mellor, Fenway Park’s Master Groundskeeper
“Compared to the fescues, bluegrass has a higher incidence of disease problems, especially summer patch, and is more sensitive to drought damage and Japanese beetle grub feeding.”Lawn Establishment, Renovation and Overseeding, University of Maryland Extension
The mix may also contain a smaller percentage of perennial ryegrass for quick germination (different types of grass have much different germination times). Avoid mixes containing “rough bluegrass” or “annual ryegrass”, as these are low-quality/short-lived.
Watering A Grass Lawn Planted in Sandy Soil
When growing grass, especially in sandy soil, watering is the most crucial part. When your first plant grass seeds, you need to water the grass daily on overcast days and several times a day on sunny days. Once your grass seeds get wet, try not let them totally dry out.
“Watering is the most important element in the planting process. You can meticulously distribute even amounts of seed across every inch of your lovely soil bed, but without water, those poor little seeds will dry up and never amount to anything.”The Lawn Bible: How to Keep It Green, Groomed, and Growing Every Season of the Year, by David R. Mellor, Fenway Park’s Master Groundskeeper
After the grass grows in, watering is still very important. The key to keeping the grass healthy with deep roots is watering six to eight inches deep and as infrequently as possible for your grass to stay healthy. However, watering any deeper than eight inches or watering during the hottest time of the day can waste water.
Cutting Grass Growing in Sandy Lawn Soil
When your grass grows in, you are eventually going to have to cut it, but you need to be careful when doing this. Grass plants with longer blades have longer roots. This is of key importance to sandy lawns, as the lawn soil may have trouble retaining moisture – especially in the upper few inches of the lawn. Encourage deep roots not only by deep, infrequent watering, but also by never letting the grass get too short. A cutting height of 3″ is ideal for routine lawn mowing.
You do not want to cut off more than 1/3 the height of the grass at a time. If your grass gets too long, it is better to cut it down to the length you want, a little bit at a time, rather than hacking it off all at once.