Planting a Lawn
Whether you’ve just moved in to a brand new house with a barren, dusty yard or have lived with a less-than-satisfactory lawn for years, now’s the perfect time to plant anew. The task may seem daunting, but seeding is easier than you ever imagined, and the least expensive option to provide you with the lush, even lawn you’ve always dreamed of.
First things first: have your yard soil tested for acidity and fertility. If the pH levels are below 7, you’ll need to add lime to your soil as well as a nitrogen-based fertilizer. Consult with the experts at your hardware store or the local Cooperative Extension Service office to find out the optimal grasses for your local conditions.
If you live in most regions of the United States (that is, anywhere but the South), you’ll want to seed cool-season grasses in late summer or early fall, when upper soil mean temperatures are 68 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit. This will allow your new turf to establish roots before the dormant winter period begins, while plant growth is vigorous and competition from weeds is at its lowest. If you live in the South, the time to seed is spring or summer, using warm-season grasses such as bahia grass, centipede grass, and buffalo grass. The temperature of the upper soil should be 68-95 degrees Fahrenheit. Consult with your local Cooperative Extension Service to find out the best timing for seeding these grasses.
Other alternatives include sprigging and plugging. Typically reserved for warm-season grasses, sprigging and plugging are used for grasses for which seed is not widely available. These include Bermudagrass, zoysia and St. Augustine grass. Best done at the height of the growing season (spring and summer), sprigging should be done at times other than when most weeds germinate—spring up North and fall in the South.
Plugging is generally a more reliable way to generate a new lawn than sprigging, but sprigging is easier to do and once rooted, sprigs will knit together faster to form turf. In general, sprigs take less time to grow turf than plugs. Plugs usually take six months or more, while sprigs tend to take a few months.
Sodding is the other option. You may need help with this one as it takes some skill. But if you’ve got a small lawn or a small section you want to sod, you should be able to get it done without help. Sodded lawns can be used much sooner than with other options and is better used on sloping lawns as heavy rains can wash seed, sprigs and plugs downhill.
Sod should be laid in the fall or spring in the North and in the spring in the South. You should plant sod during cool, humid weather as dry hot weather will cause the sod to burn out. And don’t lay sod later than one month before the first fall frost so it can establish roots before cold weather sets in. Sod is sold by the square foot or square yard, and you’ll pay about 15 to 35 cents per square foot. You can save 30-50 percent more by installing it yourself. The most expensive sods are slow-growing, specialty gasses like buffalo grass and bent grass, which can cost up to $1.10 per square foot.
Before you buy the sod, till your soil four to six inches deep, checking with your utility companies to make sure you don’t damage lines. Remove all debris and large rocks. Water the soil to make it moist but not muddy. Sod should be laid no more than 24 hours after it has been cut at the farm, because the rolled sod will heat up and begin to biodegrade. Inspect the sod when it’s delivered before the truck leaves to make sure it’s in good shape. Shake it to make sure it doesn’t fall apart or is degrading already.
Ask the truck driver to help you place the sod pallets near where you will be planting. Start by laying the sod along the longest straight line next to your lawn, a sideway, patio or driveway. As you lay the sod, butt and push the sod’s edges and ends against each other tightly without stretching. Stagger the joints in each row like bricks and avoid gaps or overlaps. On sloping areas, place the turf pieces across the slope.
Use a large knife to trim corners and avoid leaving small strips at the outer edges as they will dry out and die. Stay off the sod as much as possible to prevent indentations and air pockets. After installation, roll the entire area with a lawn roller, available to rent, one-third full of water to press the sod roots into contact with the soil. Start watering within 30 minutes of installation, thoroughly wetting grass until it soaks through into the underlying soil. To check penetration, lift a corner of the sod. If it isn’t soaked, keep watering. Once the water begins to run off, turn sprinklers off, let the water soak in. Then water again. Repeat for the next two to three weeks. To test for sufficient moisture, puncture the soil with a screwdriver. If it penetrates easily, your lawn is in good shape; if there’s resistance, keep watering.