Clay – Groomed Pretty but Useless

20 years ago, when we first moved to Virginia, we didn’t have horses.  That’s what I like to call, “The Good Ole Days” but the horses make my wife happy.  I don’t ride but I don’t mind the work that comes with having horses.  Building stalls inside our barn was kind of fun.  Throwing hay bales around is no big deal.  But it’s the frustrating part of home ownership and horse ownership that drives me up the wall.  

Dirt ONLY

When my wife’s horses were delivered, we had these big (temporary) pens set up for them.  For a few days, they were fat ‘n happy.  In no time, all of the grass had been destroyed.  Between them eating everything in sight and driving the remaining blades of grass 8 inches below the surface, I was left with a straw and mud swampy mess.  

I got rid of the swamp by hauling away a LOT of spoiled straw and mud.  Once the surface got dry enough, I harrowed the whole place.  It was beautiful.  As I looked at the smoothed out (clay) dirt, I was ready to throw some grass seed down and enjoy the bumper crop showing up.  No such crop ever showed up.  To say, not one blade of grass sprouted sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s not.  We got a few minor sprouts in the rest of the yard but the part that needed it showed NO signs of growth.  

Grass?

We had some landscaping done recently putting in a patio and firepit, so I asked the project foreman how one grows grass on Virginia clay.  He said, “You can’t now.”   I planted over 50 lbs. of grass seed in the SPRING.  Is there a better time to plant than SPRING?  He’s recommending planting in September after the summer heat passes.  It worries me that if I fail in September, I’m looking at a muddy swamp for the winter.  In my mind, after the harrow project and all of the grass seed I put down, I should be looking at a yard similar to Augusta golf club.   

Dirt

Like you, I tried going to YouTube to see if there was any advice there for growing grass on Virginia clay.  One guy showed a lush yard that he’d grown on clay by putting down compost.  While I’m told I can’t grow ANYTHING now, I noticed the dirt around a home being built on Robert E Lee turning green.  They’ve got grass growing.  They did the whole straw cover thing.   Farmers are planting stuff now.  Why can’t I grow grass?  

I can’t handle another winter of the horses trying to navigate a swamp.  Luckily we’ve got a barn now so they can be off of the areas being seeded if necessary.  And they won’t be standing in a swamp in a rain storm anymore.  So, give me some advice.  What’s best?  Top soil?  Compost?  Straw?  Lime?  Hydroseed?  Astroturf?  The septic tank drain-field is under all of this so I can’t really bring in a bulldozer to make this work.  But I can have pile of top soil or compost delivered and I can spread it around with a small tractor.  How do YOU grow grass in this environment?   I still can’t believe I got NOTHING out of 50 pounds of grass seed landing on tilled up clay.  My neighbors have horses on grass and there’s no way they hauled in THAT much compost and top soil to cover more than an acre. 

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