Nearly everyone dreams of having a perfectly lush, green turfgrass lawn in the backyard.
A well-managed lawn provides many benefits to homeowners. It is an excellent filter of chemical and nutrient runoff; builds soil through the breakdown of clippings, thatch and organisms that exist in turf systems; is aesthetically pleasing; increases property values; reduces ambient air temperatures; and provides a durable surface for pets and play.
None of these benefits happen if you don’t install and establish sod correctly. Follow these 10 tips to a dream lawn.
Choose the correct species.Not every site is equal. Is irrigation present, or will the turf be on its own? Will you provide a higher level of care, or will you sacrifice aesthetic appeal for lower maintenance?
Do homework before settling on a grass species and cultivar. All have merits and drawbacks. See edis.ifas.ufl.edu/entity/topic/lawn_grasses.
Prepare the site. Ensure the area is weed-free, not compacted and smooth. Several weeks before installation, apply a nonselective herbicide. After existing weeds die, till the area or rough it up with a heavy rake. This alleviates site soil compaction and allows easier root initiation. Finally, smooth the site to ensure good root to soil contact and prevent a bumpy surface.
Buy quality sod. Research where the dealer sources their grass. Buy turf from a respected operation that follows sod production best management practices.
Lay it quickly. Make sure the sod is fresh. Sod quality declines rapidly 48 hours after cutting. Ideally, sod is installed the same day it is cut on the farm, but no later than the next day.
Water during installation. If installing a large area of turf, occasionally wet sod already laid. It was ripped from its home soil, windblown on a trailer en route to your site, laid onto a warm, bare soil surface and is baking in the sun, waiting for you to finish.
Ease the sod’s stress by lightly moistening the site before laying the sod—but avoid making it muddy—and periodically wet as you lay it to avoid brown spots.
Mound soil around edges.This prevents edges of freshly laid turf from drying quicker than the rest of the grass. Take a heavy rake and fill in the gap between the soil surface and the leaf blades. Think of it as hiding exposed roots from the sun and wind.
Pack it down. You can use a drum roller partially filled with water or a rake or tamping tool to lightly tamp the grass down. This ensures good root contact with the soil, prevents dry patches and quickens rooting time.
Water correctly. It takes time for sod to recover and root. Thoroughly water daily for the first 10 to 14 days after installation and then every other day for the next two weeks. After that, regular lawn irrigation intervals should be fine. Don’t miss a day.
Stay off it. Minimize traffic on new sod for several weeks. Roots are establishing and are vulnerable to disturbance until anchored. You’ve come too far to mess it up.
No fertilizer for 30-60 days. Until sod has firmly anchored into place and established a new root system, fertilizer leaches through the soon-to-be root zone and could burn fragile new roots. Avoid using a starter fertilizer for the same reason.
By following these 10 tips, you will be well on your way to a perfect lawn. For more information on these and other lawn care topics, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Agent and consult the Florida Lawn Handbook—a research-based publication written by UF/IFAS Extension specialists at www.edis.ifas.ufl.edu/entity/topic/book_florida_lawn_handbook_3rd_ed.
For help with horticultural questions, contact your county extension office. Note that staff may be working outside offices during COVID-19. For extension information, visit ffl.ifas.ufl.edu