Lawn & Sod
Make sure that ‘the grass is greener’ in your landscaping plan
A panorama of green grass outside our windows seems to be a basic American right, an essential part of home landscaping.
Lawns and landscaping provide that encouraging sign each spring that life is returning, and in summer, that lush green turf. Maintenance; watering, fertilizing, weeding, and your perfect lawn awaits. Many of us feel that, the labor is well worth these sometimes almost Herculean efforts.
Sod or seed?
Labor has a lot to do with whether you choose to place sod or plant seed, and the basic tradeoff is cost vs. labor.
Brand new homes characteristically have that barren look that many homeowners ache to replace with finished landscaping as quickly as possible.
Using pre-grown commercial grasses harvested in the form of sod is the quickest way to bring green to your home’s exterior landscape. Planting a lawn from seed is less expensive. You can also select from a greater range of grass types by starting your lawn "from scratch."
Planted area of freshly laid sod.
If planting a lawn this way is like buying a "you-bake" pizza, then commercially grown sod is having that pizza cooked and delivered to your door.
With sod you can literally go from dirt to lawn in one day. Commercial growers select the best grass mixes and varieties for your area, cultivate and harvest them by slicing them into rolls, then deliver them by truck.
For many homeowners the payoff is saving the back breaking effort of fertilizing, planting, watering, then watching, hoping pests and weeds will not undo all the hard work. You can use your sodded lawn weeks earlier than one that is seeded and it will immediately help control erosion. Another big plus is that you can lay sod during those times of the year when seedlings won’t grow quickly.
Your landscape contractor looks for four things when purchasing sod: freshness, soil type, thickness, and weed content. Sod, like any crop, is perishable. Your contractor will check to see whether your local sod supplier harvests and stores sod, or harvests and delivers to order the same day. Expect commercially grown sod to run 35 cents a square foot and up.
The best sod should actually contain little soil, allowing the sod to more quickly establish a better root structure. The first few days are critical, however; sod roots are less than half an inch thick, which can dry out faster, and so require more watering while they establish.
The soil used in the sod should be similar to that on your property, because different soil types may drain differently or the roots may not penetrate the subsoil properly. Weeds are another concern.
When commercially grown sod is installed, it should be tight, with varying seams like brickwork. Your contractor should not overlap or stretch the sod, which can shrink as it naturally dries slightly during establishment, forming exposed edges and gaps.
Edges that don’t touch can also die, although it is normal for some browning to occur briefly during the first few weeks.
Sod must be watered more frequently during the first few weeks, at least once a day, and more often in dry climates. Rolling the sod is necessary during the first few days to remove any gaps between the sod and the soil underneath. Avoid foot traffic until the sod is well established.
Mowing should be avoided for the first week or so. Until the sod is well established, plan to mow to a height at least 50 percent taller than you will later want. If you want three-inch grass, you will want to initially mow it to 4.5 inches.
Make sure to add some commercial nitrogen soil amendment one month after planting, and again in the fall. While it depends on the grass variety you choose, remember that taller grass is usually is hardier and more drought tolerant than shorter-cropped lawns.
Homeowner never has to leave the fairway, with outdoor putting green available.
Planting your own grass by seed or by plugs is another way to establish a lawn. Your landscaper should be quite easily able to handle the job of site preparation, seeding and initial care.
You can also plant for your specific need: Will your lawn be planted in the shade or the sun? Will it become a beautiful viewscape, or will your kids make it the local soccer practice field?
Traffic, climate and placement will determine what grass variety is right for your lawn, but in all cases, choose a grass seed variety that germinates vigorously and has a low level of weed seeds or non-grass contamination.
Soil should be raked after planting, so the seeds are adequately covered; and in many climates, experts recommend spreading straw over newly planted areas to protect them from burning or drying out. Use about one bale of straw for every five hundred square feet of lawn; later, the straw will break down and become compost that will help keep grass healthy.
The best time to plant a lawn is in the late spring or early summer, so that your lawn is firmly established and healthy by the time it goes dormant in late fall and winter. Surprisingly, even in mild climates, lawn grasses slow their growth and may become slightly brown in winter months, which is normal.
New grass should reach a height of at least three inches before it is mowed for the first time. Gardeners recommend keeping mower cutters sharp; instead of cleanly cutting grass blades, dull cutters tend to catch and uproot new seedlings.
Adequate site preparation can be the most important factor for success in establishing your lawn and turf, but it is usually the most neglected task.
Site preparation is the same whether you plant seed or sod. The process begins with careful removal of debris, like construction material, rocks and weeds. Be sure to grade about an inch lower where grass adjoins driveways or walkways, so your lawn will be level with them when it grows in.
For better results in thin soil, the top layer should be removed and stored while the ground is rototilled, debris removed and weeds pulled. Afterwards, replace the topsoil or add additional soil.
Soil should be tested for pH levels so the correct soil amendments and compost material may be added to compensate for acidic or alkaline conditions. Once rototilled, soil should rest and settle before planting or sodding, and rain can help this process.
To remove weeds from your soil, water it; watch to see what grows, then remove larger plants and treat the soil with a pre-emergent herbicide. Commercial fertilizers will often contain an herbicide, such as Roundup.
Watering is critical, whether you plant sod or seed. During the first 14 days, water your lawn daily; then, reduce watering frequency but water longer at each interval. Keep foot traffic at a minimum, even after a first mowing.
New lawns generally do not weather drought conditions until they have been established for a year or so, but roots will get a better foothold if the new lawn is aerated after the first two to four months. Used correctly (making 20-30 holes per square foot), punches will open drainage in the soil and allow root paths.
Sods generally control weeds better during initial growth because they hinder germination and block sunlight from weed seeds in the subsoil.
Instead of trying to find each and every weed immediately after planting your seeded or sod lawn, it is a lot easier to simply wait until the following spring when a pre-emergent herbicide can be applied to the entire lawn.
Weed control requires treatments specific to the type of weeds you may encounter; broad leaf weeds like dandelion, for example, are best treated in the late fall. Crabgrass is usually best handled by the use of a pre-emergent.
What kind of grass is the best for you? That depends again on use, climate
If you’re considering a practice putting green, you might consider a thin-bladed variety. One Florida resident planted a slower growing variety because that state’s prodigious rainfall caused such lush lawn growth that he was forced to mow it two or three times a week.
Check with your landscape designer for suggestions on which kinds of turf do well in your area, but in general, the following grass types do well in the areas listed:
--Cool season areas are where hardy Bluegrass, Tall Fescue or Perennial Ryegrass work well. That is why they are popular varieties in the upper Midwest and other areas with colder winters. These grasses also grow well in spring and fall’s cooler weather.
As western populations grow and water becomes scarcer, residents may decide that an alternative to a conventional, water-intensive grass lawn is the best choice. Grasses that do well in Seattle may not thrive in Phoenix, where xeriscaping, or low water-adapted landscaping may be preferable to a conventional lawn. Here are some low water use lawn alternatives:
--Plant lawns with low water demand grass varieties.
--Reduce the square footage of landscape devoted to grassy areas.
--Increase the relative size of patios and decks.
--Plant grass areas to accent, not dominate landscaped areas.
Low water demand lawns and lawn alternatives have added advantages; not only can you cut your water bill, you can reduce the frequency of mowing and fertilizing, even eliminating those tasks altogether.
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