How to Plant Grass in Red Dirt


Many gardeners have to cope with the worst planting medium there is--red dirt. Clay soil is difficult to work with because it's especially heavy and wet. It is made of tons of tiny particles that cling to each other and attract moisture. There are virtually no air pockets in the red dirt, which makes it challenging for the roots of any plant, including grass, to grow and spread. It's like the roots hit up against a brick wall and have no where to go. There is good news, however. With the right kind of site preparation, you can amend red dirt to make it conducive to planting grass.

Step 1

Pull out weeds and remove debris such as stones and sticks. These will prevent the grass from rooting because seed needs direct contact with the ground to germinate. Rake the area to smooth it out.

Step 2

Add topsoil to low-lying dips in the yard. A level surface is essential because any drastic variations will cause the pooling of water, which can wash away grass seed. The red dirt has enough drainage issues without these sections.

Step 3

Loosen up at least the top 4 inches of soil. Run a rototiller over it until the red dirt is churned up and loosened.

Step 4

Boost the soil pH to make it more neutral. Add 12 oz. of hydrated lime per square yard of red dirt. Test the new pH level with a test kit obtained at a nursery. Continue to amend the red dirt until it's neutral and conducive to growing grass.

Step 5

Improve drainage and make the soil drier by adding compost and sand. Spread 1 inch of each material and combine it with the local dirt using a rototiller. Rake until smooth.

Step 6

Balance nutrients in the clay with a starter seed fertilizer. If you're working on a large space, use a broadcast spreader.

Step 7

Disperse the grass seed evenly across the planting area. Use a hand spreader on small yards and a mechanical spreader for a large spaces. Even distribution is important. Too many seeds cause competition and too few cause gaps.

Step 8

Water the seed thoroughly with a sprinkler for the first two weeks. Apply water for five to 10 minutes twice a day. In hot climates, water three times daily. Decrease watering after the two-week period. Keep the amended red dirt moist to promote grass root growth.

Step 9

Mow the lawn when it's 3 inches tall. Cut it down to 2 1/2 inches.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not walk on grass seed until it is established. Avoid watering in the evening because it can cause fungal growth.

Things You'll Need

  • Rototiller
  • Rake
  • Top soil
  • pH test kit
  • Hydrated lime
  • Sand
  • Compost
  • Fertilizer
  • Broadcast spreader
  • Grass seed
  • Mechanical or hand spreader
  • Water
  • Mower


  • All About Lawns: Getting to Know Your Lawn
  • Texas A&M University: Mowing
  • This Old House: How to Seed a Lawn
  • The Garden Helper: How to Test and Adjust Your Soil pH
Keywords: grass red dirt, plant grass, grow grass clay

About this Author

Kelly Shetsky has been a broadcast journalist for more than 10 years, researching, writing, producing and reporting daily on many topics. In addition, she writes for several websites, specializing in medical, health and fitness, arts and entertainment, travel and business. Shetsky has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from Marist College.