BERTAUSKI COLUMN: Basics of installing sod
Instant gratification is easy to come by these days, and that includes lawns. Your yard can be weeds and dirt one day but turf the very next.
Centipedegrass is the most common lawn grass because it is low maintenance and inexpensive. It can be purchased 12 months out of the year and installed while dormant during winter months. It is a good all-around turf.
Bermudagrass, zoysia and St. Augustine grass typically are not cut and sold when dormant. Bermudagrass requires at least six hours of sunlight, although the Tifgrand variety has demonstrated good shade tolerance.
Bermudagrass may need to be mowed twice a week to maintain a high-quality appearance, but it is very durable.
Zoysia grass is high quality, dense and slow-spreading. It handles a bit more shade than bermudagrass.
St. Augustine grass is the shade-tolerant turf for the Lowcountry, requiring as little as three hours of sunlight.
A soil test can reveal pH problems and nutrient imbalances that need to be corrected before installation. Existing grass and weeds can be sprayed with a nonselective herbicide.
For example, Round-up can be used a week before installation to allow it to be absorbed and synthesized.
Regardless of what herbicide you use, always read the label first.
Rototill the soil and remove debris with a steel garden rake. A 3-foot aluminum grading rake makes it easier to level the ground. Pay attention to low spots and slope for proper surface drainage.
Some local vendors sell sod by the square piece that will cover about 3 square feet. This is convenient for small patch jobs or cutting into smaller plugs and allowing turf to spread.
Sod, however, is commonly sold by the pallet.
A pallet covers 500 square feet, although this can vary with the vendor and species.
St. Augustine grass pallets may cover only 400 square feet.
To calculate the number of pallets required for a job, divide the total square footage of the area to be sodded by the square footage a pallet will cover. A pallet weighs about 1.5 tons.
The average pickup truck will not haul that much weight, so delivery will have to be arranged. In the heat of summer, sod should stay on the pallet only a couple of days.
Heat from microbial decomposition will kill sod, especially the pieces in the center.
Some vendors sell sod in rolls that can cover more square footage than a square piece.
They are heavier but require less bending over.
There is not an advantage of laying rolls versus squares; mostly it's the preference of the contractor.
Soil should be lightly watered before installation to avoid excessively dry conditions.
Lay sod in a brickwork pattern to stagger the seams for a professional look and reduce drying at the ends. Lay sod pieces tightly against one another to reduce shrinkage.
For best results, avoid exposed edges, which are most susceptible to drying. This can be achieved by cutting the edges into the soil or butting against edging.
Once sod is installed, use a weighted roller to remove air pockets and provide good sod-to-soil contact.
Roots will emerge within days and establish much quicker when making immediate contact with soil.
Irrigate as soon as possible. Water should penetrate through the sod and a couple of inches into the soil beneath.
Irrigate daily for at least a week, especially in the summer.
Roots should knit into the soil after a week.
In a hot, dry summer, daily irrigation may still be required after a week.
After a couple of weeks, when the sod is firmly rooted, nitrogen can be applied.
A starter fertilizer contains high levels of phosphorus and is often recommended when seeding turf, but it is not necessary for sod.
Follow standard fertilizer recommendations.
Excessive nitrogen can stunt root growth, which is critical to sod establishment.
Tony Bertauski is a horticulture instructor at Trident Technical College. To give feedback, email him at email@example.com.