Virginia Beach has a long history as a family resort. In the summer, it’s brimming with adults and children, hiking, biking, golfing, fishing, whale watching, and, especially, enjoying the ocean and the beach—38 miles of beach. Thirty-eight miles of a soft place to bask in the sun, stroll along, wait for that next wave to come to shore, and make sand castles. That’s a lot of sand and a lot of fun.
Sand isn’t fun when it’s in your soil. You want to grow fruit trees? Sandy soil is great. Grass? Not so much. Sand particles are irregular or rounded and create air pockets in the soil. The soil can’t store the nutrients that roots need. It does not retain moisture long enough for the roots to absorb it, and it doesn’t provide the stability that roots need.
Sandy soils are a problem for Virginia Beach lawns. Compounding the problem, Virginia Beach lies in the Transition Zone, where warm-season grasses that flourish in the summer tend to get ugly in the winter when they go dormant, and cool-season grasses that enjoy the winter could get scorched in the summer. So we need grass types that will grow well in the Transition Zone and in sandy soils.
Warm-season grasses, Zoysia, Bermuda, and Bahia, have been doing well in the Transition Zone. They tolerate drought well and have the deep strong roots needed for sandy soils.
1. Zoysia Grass
Photo: Flickr / Forest and Kim Starr
Zoysia does very well in highly porous sandy soils. Its deep roots, once established (it’s slow growing), make it drought tolerant and not overly dependent on the fertility of the soil. It’s a fairly accommodating grass that forms a thick, lush lawn that stays green longer than some other grasses and is one of the first to green up in the spring. Even when it’s dormant, it’s a not-unpleasant golden brown. It prefers full sun, but will do fine in partial shade.
Amazoy is the first zoysia cultivar released by the U. S. Department of Agriculture. (Cultivars are plant varieties developed through selective breeding.) Amazoy plugs grow especially well in sandy soil. They like the air spaces, because the roots can penetrate the soil and develop more quickly.
2. Bermuda Grass
Photo: Flickr / Scot Nelson
Bermuda grass prefers well-drained sites, and sandy soil sure is that. Bermuda is an aggressive-growing dense, dark green grass. It can survive both periods of low rainfall and flooding. Unlike Zoysia, Bermuda doesn’t do well at all in the shade. It wants to bask in full sunlight as much as possible.
Yukon Bermuda Grass was developed from five parental plants chosen for their cold hardiness and high turf quality. It can compete with Zoysia for staying green longer before dormancy. Riviera Bermuda Grass is the result of many years of selective breeding for improved turf quality, cold tolerance, and disease resistance. Both varieties minimize the risk of winter kill in the Transition Zone while retaining Common Bermuda’s viability in sandy soils.
3. Bahia Grass
Photo: Flickr / Forest and Kim Starr
Bahia grass has an extensive and deep root system, which makes it perform better than many grasses in sandy soils. It does not require an abundance of water or fertilizer, though it will go dormant and turn brown during extended drought periods. The problem with Bahia is that it doesn’t make a real attractive lawn. The color is dull, and it has an open growth pattern and lacks the density of Bermuda and Zoysia. It’s a good choice for large lots or fields with sandy soils when appearance is not a priority.
Argentine Bahia, an ecotype from Argentina, makes a more attractive and denser lawn with a dark green color.
4. Cool-season Fescue
If you want to try a cool-season grass in sandy soil, Fescue is the way to go.
Photo: Flickr / NC Cooperative Extension Horticulture
Fescue is used extensively in the Transition Zone and is drought tolerant. It has the deepest root system of the cool-season grasses and does well in a variety of chemical soil conditions. In general, Fescue grows in both shade and sun, but grows faster in the shade.
There are more than 100 cultivars of Fescue currently available. For sandy soils, Red, Tall, and Hard Fescue adapt well. Creeping Red Fescue is the most popular; it establishes quickly and fills in empty patches in lawns. Tall fescue provides a medium-quality light green lawn. Hard Fescue is low maintenance. It grows slowly and needs mowing less frequently.
New types of grass are being developed every year. Your local lawn service provider will know the new cultivars and which is best for your Virginia Beach lawn. Also, check our tips for establishing a new lawn in Virginia Beach.
Have questions about lawn care? Visit our Virginia Beach lawn care page or share your thoughts in the comments section below.