How to Grow Grass on Poor Soil


Poor soil is a drawback to any property owner, as it can make it difficult to plant grass and other plants in your garden or yard. Grass lawns are particularly susceptible to problems caused by nutrient-poor soil, as many common turf grasses show stress by browning, wilting or tendency toward disease and weediness. To fix poor soil, you may have to deploy several lawn care tactics over time, as the soil will need ongoing improvements.

Step 1

Test your soil with a nutrient test kit, which will measure both the acidity and the nutrients present in your lawn. This will let you know what the soil is lacking and what you should be addressing.

Step 2

Add topsoil, if possible. In an existing lawn, this may not be possible, but if you are reseeding or starting from scratch with poor soil, spread a layer of topsoil 6 to 8 inches deep over the lawn, and about 1 foot deep over rock bases.

Step 3

Add organic material to boost the soil quality and nutrient content even further. Depending on your soil test, add peat moss, compost, chicken manure, cow manure, leaf mold or rotted sawdust. Spread it evenly over the lawn at a rate of 1 to 3 cubic yards every 1,000 square feet.

Step 4

Add fertilizer and lime, if needed or desired. If you prefer chemical fertilizers, choose one that boosts the specific nutrients your soil is lacking, whether it is nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium, and mix it with the top 1 to 3 inches of the topsoil and organic matter. If necessary, mix lime-based fertilizer in the top 3 to 5 inches of the soil.

Step 5

Water lightly to help the amendments and additions mix in well and settle. If you have light, sandy soil, use a light touch of a roller or grader to firm and even the soil before seeding or reseeding. If your soil is heavy or clay, skip the roller to avoid too much soil compaction.

Step 6

Seed your lawn with a hardy grass suited to your climate. In southern states, use a warm-season grass like zoysia, Bermuda or centipede. In Northern areas, use a cool-season grass like fescue, bluegrass or perennial rye.

Things You'll Need

  • Soil testing kit
  • Topsoil
  • Organic material
  • Fertilizer
  • Lime
  • Roller or grader
  • Grass seed


  • Walter Reeves: Lawn Soil Preparation
Keywords: poor soil, grass problems, growing grass

About this Author

Kim Hoyum is a Michigan-based freelance writer. She has been a proofreader, writer, reporter and editor at monthly, weekly and daily publications for five years. She has a Bachelor of Science in writing and minor in journalism from Northern Michigan University.