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Irrigation for Clay Soil vs Sandy Soil

Posted by Brian Gerber on Jun 4, 2021 8:39:42 AM

What's the difference between sandy soil and clay soil? Soil characteristics play a large role in what your irrigation strategy should be. 

Sandy and clay soil hold and retain water differently.  Water moves slowly through clay soil and quickly through sandy soil.  

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Best Way To Irrigate Sandy Soil:  

Water moves quickly through sandy soil and it retains very little moisture. Sandy soil can absorb water quickly but it can lose this moisture almost as quickly as it absorbed it. Sandy soil is common in coastal areas. 

  • Water quickly and for short periods.
  • Water just long enough to thoroughly wet the root zone.  Anything that gets past the root zone will leach and is a waste. 

Pro tip: Spreading compost or leaving grass clippings is a great way to help your sandy soil retain moisture for longer periods of time.

Benefits of Sandy Soil:

  • Warms up quickly in the spring
  • There are specific grass types that perform very well in sandy soils
  • Drains quickly. Less threat of flooding
  • Bc particles don’t stick together, it’s easier for grass to establish roots in sandy soil.  It’s loose and can be easier to work with. 

Cons of Sandy Soil:

  • Dries out quickly in the summer. Some plants will need to be watered more frequently.
  • Tends to be acidic
  • Does not hold nutrients well - nutrients leach out of sandy soil quickly in the same way water does. 


Best Way To Irrigate Clay Soil:

Clay- based soil is made up of small, compacted, flat particles. You will notice that these particles are slippery when wet and hard when they are dry.  Clay does not let water penetrate it easily, but once it does penetrate, it retains this moisture. 

  • Using the 1-2-3-2-1 technique (see below). This helps reduce soil compaction.  
  • Water at a slow, steady rate. 

1-2-3-2-1 watering technique: 

  • In April water 1 day/week
  • In May ramp up to 2 times/week 
  • In the heat of the summer water 3 times/week 
  • In September drop back to 2 times/week
  • In the fall drop back down to 1/week

Benefits of Clay Soil

  • Holds nutrients and water very well 
  • Works very well when growing plants that need a lot of water

Cons of Clay Soil

  • Tends to compact very easily
  • Takes longer than other soils to warm up in the spring
  • Very slow to drain, more likely to have standing water
  • Usually the soil is Alkaline.

Bottom Line: Both soil types have their benefits and downfalls. Be sure to understand which soil type you have and adjust accordingly. Aeration and proper irrigation are key to a healthy lawn. Be sure to call your local trustworthy lawn care and irrigation professional to make sure your lawn is on the right track. 

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