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Sod

In this blog post, I will be discussing SOD.  Sod is a good thing.  It is turfgrass that has already germinated and is growing, like a living carpet.  And it already includes a layer of some decent topsoil.  For the most part, it is some mature turfgrass plants that have been professionally grown.  It is usually harvested into slabs, then the slabs are rolled up.  If done correctly, it can be a readymade lawn.  If done incorrectly, it can be a huge waste of time, money and other resources.  As usual, my blog post here is geared toward the “do-it-yourself” turfgrass warrior.  Many sod farms will do delivery, site preparation and installation.  Sometimes, that’s the bulk of the cost…not just the price of the sod.  But, if you did well on your last physical fitness test, installing sod will be no big deal.
 
I have not yet had a customer who has installed a complete yard or lawn of sod.  But, I do use sod quite a bit for repair, filling bare spots, etc.  In some cases, areas where I’ve used sod have been quite large.  I’ve also used sod in areas where there was an infestation of some sort.  Of course, in that area, before any preparation, one must kill or mitigate whatever the problem was in that area.  For example, if you have an area in your cool season turf infested by Bermudagrass or Poa Annua, all that stuff has to be decisively engaged with an herbicide before you start site preparation, much less installation.  Old, dead sod needs to be removed or tilled into the soil.  I’ll get into that.  Let’s say for argument’s sake, in the case of this blog post, that there are no real serious problems and you are just sodding an area because you feel like it.
 
A Few Words About Sod
 
Sodding provides many advantages over seeding:
 
§ Creates an instant green lawn or recreational surface.
 
§ Gives immediate erosion control.
 
§ Eliminates dust and mud.
 
§ Eliminates weed control during establishment.
 
§ Can be used quickly.
 
§ Can be established almost year round.
 
§ Can get the best turfgrass varieties from producers.
 
§ Can be used for total installation or repair of smaller areas.
 
Selecting the Type of Turfgrass
 
This goes back to my earlier blog posts on turfgrass selection.  A quality lawn results from using the right grass species and/or variety, proper planting and establishment, and sound management.  Planting the right turfgrass for your site reduces the need for pesticides and other amendments.  This goes for any method of establishment – sodding, seeding, sprigging, etc.  The most important step for the Turfgrass Warrior is selecting the proper turfgrass for the environment.  Turfgrasses are perennial, so turfgrasses are expected to live indefinitely with proper management.  Because of this, choose cautiously from among the various species and varieties.  Turfgrasses that provide winter lawn color in most areas of mid Atlantic are known as cool-season grasses.  Grasses which go dormant after the first hard frost, and stay brown through the winter months are known as warm-season grasses.  The warm season grasses generally need less maintenance as their water requirements are lower, and their shorter growing season requires less mowing per year.  Turfgrass species will not perform equally in the different climate, soils, and management programs that are found in the mid Atlantic region.
 
What type of sod do you need?
 
Most types of sod being grown in the mid Atlantic are Kentucky bluegrass blends, tall fescue or tall fescue-Kentucky bluegrass mixtures, Bermudagrass, and zoysiagrass.  Each type is best suited to particular uses and geographic areas in mid Atlantic. 
 
Most states in the US have their own organizations that “certify” turfgrass (and sometimes crop) seed.  At the national level, we have The National Turfgrass EvaluationProgram (NTEP).  NTEP has expanded to the evaluation of seventeen turfgrass species in as many as forty U.S. states and six provinces in Canada.  Information such as turfgrass quality, color, density, resistance to diseases and insects, tolerance to heat, cold, drought and traffic is collected and summarized by NTEP annually.   In Maryland, it is the state Department of Agriculture that certifies seed. 
 
Sod in Virginia is grown in the Virginia Crop Improvement Association (VCIA) sod certification program.  This sod must meet established standards of quality, which also qualifies the sod to be marketed under the Virginia Department of Agriculture’s "Virginia's Finest" program.  VCIA certified sod or "Virginia's Finest" is sod of high quality, meeting rigid standards requiring pre-planting field inspections, prescribed varieties and mixtures, periodic production inspections, and a final pre-harvest inspection.  Quality sod contains excellent turf varieties with good sod strength and has no serious insect, weed, or disease problems.
 
Before Contacting Growers
 
What’s the first thing you need to do before you do anything in your lawn or landscape?  You should have a soil sample taken.  Give me a call.  Get that done at least one month prior to preparing the soil so you can follow the lime, sulfur or fertilizer recommendations prior to sod installation. 
 
Measure the area to be sodded in square yards or square feet.  Sod isn’t cheap.  Don’t get more than you need.  Here’s some conversions:
 
1 square yard = 9 square ft.
111.1 sq. yds. = 1,000 sq. ft.
1 acre = 43,560 sq. ft.
1 acre = 4,840 sq. yds.
 
With regard to safety, make sure you have the proper vehicle to transport the amount of sod you need and how many trips you will need to make.  The safe carrying capacity of vehicles varies (in square yards):
 
Medium Size Car: 5 to 10
 
Half Ton Pickup: 25 to 50
 
One Ton Truck: 150 to 200
 
Two Ton truck: 300 to 350
 
Tandem (10 Wheel): 500 to 600
 
Tractor Trailer (18 Wheel): 1,000 to 1,100
 
If the sod is wet, it is real heavy.  Less sod can be carried when it is wet.  Dry sod weighs about 20 to 25 lbs. per square yard whereas wet sod can weigh 30 to 40 lbs. per square yard.  A pallet of sod will contain 50 to 75 square yards (450 to 675 sq. ft.) of sod.
 
When Contacting Growers
 
You need to know how many square yards or square feet of the particular type of sod you want to purchase.  Remember that some sod comes with netting to aid in harvest.  I hate that stuff.  If you ever have to work that area again, that netting is terrible.  Asking about netted sod is an important question.  Netted sod may not be desirable if you anticipate cleated traffic on the sodded area (e.g. athletic fields).  Determine what services each grower you contact can provide and the cost of those services (e.g. pallet charges).  Sod-farm services vary and can include any of the following:
 
  • Cut your own sod, generally sold by the acre.
  • Pick up sod on pallet at farm.
  • Delivery to site.
  • Site grading, fertilization, installation.
  • Post-installation lawn service programs.
 
Once you select a grower, call as far ahead of installation time as possible to ensure the sod will be available when you need it.  And, you want to make sure that the sod was harvested just prior to installation.  Get fresh sod.
 
Site Preparation
 
There are no shortcuts to soil preparation when sodding.  Normally, site preparation for sod is almost identical to preparation for seeding to ensure transplanting success.  Remove existing grass and/or till the soil down to a four inch depth.  Allow time for the soil to settle and then establish the final grade.  To greatly improve the chances for long-term success, incorporate fertilizer and lime/sulfur according to the soil test/lab recommendations.  Rake the area until smooth and be sure to remove stones and other debris.
 
When the Sod is Ready for Pickup or Delivery
 
Prepare the site for installation prior to pick-up or delivery.  If the soil at the installation site is extremely dry, lightly water it 12 hours prior to installation.  Sod is perishable and should be installed within eight hours of harvest!  Wear work clothes you don’t mind getting real dirty.  If you are buying sod by the roll and are concerned about keeping your vehicle clean, bring something on which to lay the sod.  Do not overload your vehicle.  On hot days, when sod will be transported for an hour or more use light, vented covers to reduce drying and heat buildup.  If buying VCIA Certified Sod, request the certification labels with each load you purchase.  In fact, if you buy sod from anywhere, see if they have the certification labels.  That’ll teach ‘em you mean business!
 
Installing Your Sod
 
Lightly rake the area to be sodded just prior to installation.  Sod survival is greatest when installed on relatively loose and moist soil that is cool.  Do not install sod on grass, debris, or rocks.  Lay the first line of sod along a straight line such as a driveway, sidewalk, or use a string stretched between two stakes.  Then stagger the sod pieces in the adjacent rows in a "brickwork" fashion.  Since sod pieces may shrink after installation, push the sod pieces together tightly.  Try to minimize soil compaction in the installation area by using wheel barrows to move the sod.  Plywood boards laid in heavy tracking areas will minimize compaction.  Roll the sod with a heavy hand roller after you lay it to press roots to the soil.  Saturate the sod with water immediately after installation, wetting the soil under the sod to a four inch depth.  Examine the soil under several pieces of sod to ensure proper wetting.  You might need to water it as deep as 6 to 8 inches.
 
Maintaining Your Sod
 
Begin mowing the sod with sharp blades as soon as it is rooted.  That might take a couple months.  Mow frequently enough so that you never remove more than one-third of the existing green tissue.  Mow it high.  Mow Kentucky bluegrass and tall Fescue sods at least two to two and one-half inches and Bermudagrass and Zoysia at one-half to one inch.  From October through April, apply water every second or third day for three weeks, even if it rains. The rule is to make sure the soil is wet to a three to four inch depth.  In hot weather (above 80 degrees F) water the sod daily, wetting the soil thoroughly until the sod is well rooted.  After the sod is well rooted, irrigate to prevent drought damage.
 
Sod can be installed almost anytime of the year.  The best time to lay sod, however, is in late summer and early fall when temperatures are cooler but grass continues to grow.  Spring is the second best time to lay sod and is the preferable time for warm-season grasses such as centipede, zoysia, Bermuda, and St. Augustine that become dormant in the winter.  Avoid installing sod in summer as the extra water required for establishment could result in blight and disease.
 
Sod can be a super resource.  But, you shouldn’t just throw it down and expect it to be beautiful.  Just like anything else, if you just throw it down, it will probably look like you just threw it down.  You don’t want mission failure in this type of operation.  You need to PLAN, PREPARE then EXECUTE.  If you do that, it will pay off in the long run.
 

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