Many people love the luxurious look of a lush lawn but find it challenging to grow one. That challenge is especially tough if you're dealing with sandy soil, which drains too easily and does not hold moisture and nutrients grass needs to thrive. Choose a variety of grass that does well on this sandy base.
What is sandy soil?
Sandy soil has too much mineral (rock-based) material in it and not enough organic (plant-based) material. You can tell what kind of soil you have by grabbing a handful of damp soil and squeezing it into a ball. Sandy soil will fall apart immediately when you open your hand. (A clay soil will stay in a solid lump; loam, the ideal soil, will hold a ball shape until you poke it.) If you have sandy soil, you'll need to improve the soil before you can grow a healthy lawn, even if you're growing the right kind of grass.
Making soil better
Sandy soil lacks the organic material it needs to support healthy growth, so you have got to provide some---ideally, about six inches' worth. Nutrient-rich compost is the best additive. Peat moss, which is less expensive, improves the texture of the soil but does not add as many nutrients. Top soil has a good texture but the fewest nutrients.
You'll choose your grass based on what kind of climate you live in. There are two categories of grass: cool-season and warm-season. The distinction is based on the growing zones for plant hardiness (follow the link in the Resources section below to find the zone you live in).
Cool-season grasses do best in colder climates. These grasses stay at least somewhat green even through cold winters, though they might go dormant (turn brown) in hot weather if they're not watered.
Warm-season grasses do best in warm climates; these grasses go dormant in the cold but thrive in hot, humid summers.
Fescue is your best bet in for a cool-season grass. There are several different kinds of fescue: Look for tall fescue, which may be sold in a mix that includes red fescue or creeping fescue. Tall fescue is a low-maintenance, slow-growing grass, so you should not have to mow a lot. It can even handle a little shade, though no grass will do well in deep shade.
For warm-season grass, you have two main options. The most common choice is zoysia, sometimes called zoysiagrass. Once established, zoysia forms a thick mat that discourages weeds. It is drought tolerant, which means it will go brown but not die during extended dry spells. It also is salt tolerant and does well near the beach. It can handle some shade.
Centipede grass does well in sandy, somewhat acidic soil, such as the soil found in the southeastern United States. (The southwestern United States has more alkaline soil.) Like zoysia, centipede forms weed-deterring mats, but it is less shade-tolerant than zoysia.
Judy Weightman is a freelance writer and editor from Philadelphia. She writes regularly on gardening, education, health care and sustainability. She's had a flower garden for 20 years and a home full of lush houseplants for even longer. A darned good Scrabble player, her word puzzles have appeared in Games magazine.