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Any suggestions on getting grass to grow in rocky clay soil?

Callie Lindsey

Joined: Mar 13, 2012
Posts: 2
I live in East TN and have tried a few seasons to get grass to grow without any results. The major areas of concern are on the hills and throughout the seasons rocks have washed to the surface. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

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Craig Dobbelyu

Joined: Dec 22, 2011
Posts: 1118
Location: Maine (zone 5)
By the looks of it, grass will have a hard time growing there due to the erosion. I think you'll be better off in so many ways if you plant some perennial shrubs or some small fruit trees to help stop the soil from sliding down the hill. The grass there just doesn't have the root depth to secure the soil. You could also make a few terraces to help gain some level ground. Then you could put in raised garden beds. If the grass won't grow, don't force it. Find something that will grow and provide you some benefits. Blueberry bushes, raspberry, grapes... the possibilities are endless.

Best of luck

"You may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing there will be no result”


- Compost in training
Amedean Messan

Joined: Nov 11, 2010
Posts: 909
Location: Burlington, NC, USA - Woodland, Clay - Zone 7
Hey, I am very familiar with this soil. Either way, the problem is that when the construction crew built your sub community they dozed the top soil to clear the land. Your soil is very dead. It will take some years for the grass to grow thick - around 3 to 15 years naturally. Due to your slope every time it rains you will have soil erosion removing the nutrients from the surface further prolonging the fertility regeneration, hence the bald spots of grass clay. Also the clay has a tendency of compacting.

You can plant trees but they will grow very slowly because the soil is not very fertile. I do not believe you are allowed to use many permaculture techniques involving animals or anything of that sort in your subdivision so conventional landscaping would have to be considered. You could directly transplant patches of grass from your lawn but this is very time consuming and you have to work in some compost or fertile soil into the clay before you place the grass. Make sure not to do this before heavy rains due to the slope. The grass will be in shock but will bounce back and since the soil is clay you you dont have to worry so much about water.

Be careful not to be tempted to do the seed thing, when the fall and spring come the hardiness differences in the grass (if lucky enough to germinate) will make lots of brown spots and it will look very ugly as well - not much improvement. Also if the back yard is frequented a lot you should consider a shrub or tree more because people make more forceful steps walking at angles which will kill the grass.

I would not focus on monoculture grass lawns and focus on building functional herb guilds, maybe a mixture of medicinal plants like and cluster them together. They will spread and I am sure you will appreciate going to the back yard for clippings of fresh herbs when you cook.

Those who hammer their swords into plows will plow for those who don't!
Jeffrey Hodgins

Joined: Nov 14, 2011
Posts: 166
Location: Yucatan Puebla Ontario BC
I think a stone retaining wall would look good, improve the usefulness of the area and make things easier on the grass or other.

Diversified Food forest maker . Fill every niche and you'll have less weeds (the weeds are the crop too). Fruit, greens, wild harvest, and nuts as staple. Food processing and preservation are key to self self-sufficiency. Never eat a plant without posetive identification and/or consulting an expert.
Amedean Messan

Joined: Nov 11, 2010
Posts: 909
Location: Burlington, NC, USA - Woodland, Clay - Zone 7
I was just about to say that.


I am a cheap bastard so I naturally neglected to consider if money may have been utilized.
Leila Rich

Joined: May 24, 2010
Posts: 3999
Location: Wellington, New Zealand. Temperate, coastal, sandy, windy,
Aside from the recommended land-use changes, I know many Americans have a negative view of plants in the lawn other than 'grass', but it's worth thinking about branching out. Clover's a very tough legume and handles extremely poor soil, holds steep areas well and stays green much better than any grass I've seen. New Zealand white/Dutch clover is very low-growing.
While I'm at it, plantain and dandelion are adaptable deep-rooted perennials.
Callie Lindsey

Joined: Mar 13, 2012
Posts: 2
Thank you for the suggestions... I really appreciate it. You guys have definitely given me some ideas, which is great.
subject: Any suggestions on getting grass to grow in rocky clay soil?