Going for the green (lawn) this spring
When you think of March, you probably think of shamrocks and the color green. And you may have visions of a lush green lawn.
To attain a verdant lawn, you may be tempted to sow grass seed and spread fertilizer this spring. Although you can find seed and fertilizer in garden centers, please do not apply them now.
The nutrients nitrogen and phosphorus in lawn fertilizer are major sources of pollution in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Rain causes these excess nutrients to run off down storm drains. They also seep into the groundwater, polluting the Chesapeake Bay’s watershed.
Instead, the Virginia Cooperative Extension recommends fertilizing cool-season fescue lawns in September, October, and November (mnemonic: SON). Autumn is the correct time to seed or overseed as well, allowing time to establish deep roots before winter.
Fortunately, you can apply pre-emergent weed and crabgrass preventer as the soil warms and the forsythia blooms. But what if your yard is more than 30% weeds and you want a dark green, healthy lawn immediately? Choose sod.
Sod can be laid at any time of the year, except when the ground is frozen. It provides instant gratification, and can be used for an entire lawn or in problem areas.
Sod should be available with any type of turfgrass you prefer. Most lawns in the metro Richmond area are tall fescue (cool-season) or Bermuda (warm-season) turfgrass.
You can hire someone who will do the prep and install. Or you can get your hands dirty. In either case, it’s probably best to know the steps for sod success.
Planning is key
Measure the area you want to cover in square feet or square yards.
After you measure, submit a soil test to your County Extension office or a private lab for analysis about a month before planning to lay sod.
Contact a sod grower or a retailer to find out about its services. You may find delivery, pick up of sod on a pallet, or cut-your-own sod. For reference, a pallet contains 50 to 75 square yards of sod, and a half-ton pickup truck holds from 25 to 50 square yards of sod.
Sod is substantially more expensive than seed. According to the Purdue (Indiana) Extension, the cost of seed to establish 1,000 square feet of tall fescue is $12 to $18. Tall fescue sod is approximately $1.50 to $3 per square yard, which translates to $166.65 to $333.30 per 1,000 square feet.
Soil preparation for sod is the same as for initial seeding. Remove existing grass, weeds, debris and rocks. Allow time for the soil to settle, and then grade it to reduce bumps and lumps. The grade should drop away from the house.
Following the results of the soil test, incorporate fertilizer and/or lime (which changes the acidity of the soil), as needed. Rake the area until smooth and remove any uncovered debris.
If it has been extremely dry, lightly water the soil 12 hours prior to installation. Because sod is perishable, it should be installed within eight hours of harvest. Cover the sod with a tarp and keep it shaded until you are ready to use it.
Laying your sod
When sod is installed on relatively moist cool soil, it is more likely to survive. Lightly rake the area to be sodded one last time just prior to installation.
Minimize soil compaction by using nothing heavier than a wheelbarrow to transport the sod on your lawn. If the area will be heavily trafficked, lay plywood boards and run the wheelbarrow over them.
Place the first line of sod along a straight line such as a driveway, sidewalk or string stretched between two stakes. Then, using a brickwork pattern, stagger the sod pieces in parallel rows. The sod pieces may shrink after installation; therefore, push them together tightly, but do not overlap them.
Roll the sod with a heavy roller after you lay it to press the grass roots to the soil.
Nurture your new turf
Saturate the sod with water immediately after installation to a depth of four inches below the sod. Check the soil under several pieces of sod to ensure that the water went deep enough.
Continue to keep the soil moist to a depth of three to four inches. The secret is infrequent but deep watering to produce deep roots.
In weather above 80º F, however, water the sod daily, wetting the soil thoroughly until the sod is well-rooted. Continue to irrigate to prevent drought damage.
As soon as the sod has taken root, you can mow. Make sure the mower has a sharp blade. Never remove more than one-third of the existing grass blade. Tall fescue sod should be cut no shorter than two to three inches.
For more information, see at bit.ly/allaboutsod.
Lela Martin is a Master Gardener with the Chesterfield County office of the Virginia Cooperative Extension.