Our lawns have taken a beating this summer, receiving only meager amounts of rain and enduring days of triple-digit temperatures. To make matters worse, no doubt pets, children and other summer fun traffic have trampled to near death a few patches.
Besides the impromptu baseball diamonds creating bare spots in our lawns, dog runs are another sad-looking area.
"Dogs run back and forth and wear out that spot," noted Don Kelly, who works in the sod sales department at Pine Family Farms. Other lawn areas that can benefit from sod are those with poor drainage or erosion control and hillsides.
"It is difficult to grow seed on a hill," Kelly said.
Areas requiring a lot of sod also require a lot of effort. You may be better off hiring someone to do it for you. However, for small lawn repairs, like a dog run, homeowners can try to tackle sod installation themselves.
How do I measure the amount of sod needed?
"Sod is sold by the yard," noted Kelly. A roll of sod is 18 inches wide and 6 feet long; totaling one square yard. "Multiply the length and width (measured in feet) and divide by 9 to get the number of square yards needed," he said. Thus, the calculation for an area that is 6 feet wide and 12 feet long is 6 times 12 equals 72. Then, 72 divided by 9 equals 8 square yards.
How do I prepare the soil to receive sod?
"Laying sod isn't gardening," Kelly cautioned. "Loosen the soil with a rake." Generally, deep tilling and turning over the soil isn't necessary. However, if the soil is densely compacted, light tilling may be needed. Remove all debris, including weeds, stones and old grass.
"The root system of grass is very lazy," he explained. "You are transferring a root system to a new location." Installing sod over rocks or other debris causes the roots to work harder, making the new stand of grass be less dense than it otherwise would be.
How do I install sod?
Unroll the sod, placing the edges of the rolls as close together as you can, staggering the seams as you would if laying bricks. Sod being installed on a hillside should be placed with the long seam running down the length of the hill, offering less edge line for water to catch on and flip up the piece of sod. Depending on the grade of the hill, seams may have to be pinned until the sod has taken hold.
"Rent a roller and fill it with water," Kelly advised. Move the roller over the newly installed sod to remove any air that may have been trapped during installation. "Otherwise, the air dries out spots in the root system," he said.
How do I care for sod after installation?
Water the sod immediately after installation until it is saturated and spongy. Keep the sod damp, watering it twice a day for the first two weeks. After two weeks, water deeply every other day. A color change from bright green to gray-blue indicates a lack of water.
Keep all traffic to a minimum to avoid separating the seams.
How can I tell when the sod is established in the lawn?
"Tug a handful of grass," suggested Kelly. "If you cannot lift it up, the sod is established."
Does new sod need to be fertilized?
"Starter fertilizer is not necessary," Kelly said. "Nutrients are a part of the root system." He explained that the irrigation process at the sod farm provides adequate fertilization prior to harvesting the sod. "That grass is healthy. It does not need any additive," he continued. "More than likely, added fertilizer may burn it."
When can I mow newly installed sod?
Within 14 to 21 days after installation or when the grass reaches a height of 3 to 3 1/2 inches, the sod may be mowed. "It is important that you're mowing correctly, that the mowing device is sharp," Kelly said. Sharp mower blades create less stress on the grass. Adjust the mower to a height of 2 1/2 inches. Do not water the sod the day before mowing to prevent matting of the new sod.
What type of sod is best for shade?
"Bluegrass will grow better in shade than fescue," Kelly said. However, he noted that bluegrass grows better in sun than shade. "Sun is an important ingredient for sod to grow." Because sod that is growing in the shade of trees also competes for water and nutrients, he advised, "Think about mulching instead of sod."
Fall is an ideal time to consider replacing those spotty lawn areas with sod. Take advantage of the cooler temperatures of September and anticipated rainfall to give the sod a healthy start.
Carol Boncella is education coordinator at Lawrence Memorial Hospital and home and garden writer for the Journal-World.