Expert strategies and insights for the landscape professional.
Sod installation projects are nothing new for lawn pros. Nevertheless, they can make or break a landscape—and there’s a lot more that goes into them than simply laying the sod out properly. Taking the correct precautions to ensure turf is successfully installed and maintained avoids unhappy clients and creates a beautiful landscape. Follow the tips below for sod installation secrets and strategies.
Sourcing & Availability
Sourcing and availability can be one of the more frustrating tasks of an installation. If specific grass types are needed, contact companies with multiple grass sources. The rule of thumb, generally, is that the more consistently you work with a turf farm, the more inclined the farm is to work with you.
If you are obviously calling around to shop by price, the farm might be less willing to provide the turf and save it for a more loyal customer. Turf farms prioritize loyal customers and may also offer discounts to landscapers they have good relationships with. Additionally, if a landscaper has a good working relationship with the producer or outlet, it’s more likely s/he will receive better communication about lead times.
Price shoppers will be the last to get availability if there’s a shortage. On the other hand, relying on a relationship with a single farm introduces the possibility of not receiving the grass needed if the farm runs out. Ultimately, it’s best to have an established, loyal connection with a few farms.
Visit The Farm
By regularly visiting a farm, you will have a much better idea what the sod looks like before installation jobs take place. For example, a farm might harvest sod in an area with a lot of muck if they know the installation is residential and save turf growing in better areas for expensive jobs like golf courses. Stopping by regularly betters the chances you will consistently receive quality sod.
In addition to guaranteeing quality sod from a prime area on the farm, it’s good to know the details about the sod itself. Understanding the soil profile of the sod can help determine if it will be successful at the installation site. Does the location need sod that drains well? If the sod is more sand-based, great! If it has a thicker, muckier profile, it might not be the ideal selection.
Also ask about the last time fertilizer or other chemicals were applied. Knowledge about the last time a pre-emergent application was made may provide an idea of how difficult it will be to control weeds.
The mowing height is important too. If the grass is really tall at the sod farm and will be installed at a golf course, mowing it after installation could expose a lot of thatch. If the grass is kept at a shorter height, extra mowing or aerating won’t be necessary.
While customers pay you to get the job done, it’s your job to guide them in making an educated turfgrass choice. A customer may have their heart set on a variety that looks beautiful, but doesn’t thrive in the region. You need to provide customers with suitable options. Having a little knowledge about the turfgrass varieties on the market today can go a long way. Otherwise, the turfgrass may fail at establishing or die shortly after.
Tall fescue is the best cool season turfgrass and St. Augustine is the best warm season grass for shady landscapes. CitraBlue® and Palmetto® St. Augustine are currently two of the leading warm season shade tolerant grasses on the market today.
If the landscape experiences heavy foot-traffic, Bermudagrass may be the most ideal choice. Bermudagrass is also an excellent selection for areas that may experience prolonged periods of drought. Celebration® Bermudagrass is one of the top cultivars for drought tolerance. EMPIRE® Zoysia is also an excellent zoysia grass cultivar for drought tolerance that maintains an acceptable color. EMPIRE’s deep rooting system allows it to survive during extended periods of drought by reaching far beneath the soil’s surface to where such moisture is available.
NorthBridge® and Latitude 36® Bermudagrasses, as well as Innovation® Zoysia, are great options for cold tolerance in the transition zone.
The University of Florida’s newly released CitraZoy® Zoysiagrass in a finer-bladed zoysia cultivar with better winter color and Spring green-up, improved disease resistance, and improved drought resistance.
Finally, a new turfgrass variety released by Texas A&M University, Cobalt™ St. Augustine, offers advanced drought resistance as well as superior shade tolerance, Winter hardiness, and disease tolerance.
Know Your Rights
This is an invaluable tip that can save you a lot of pain and grief. As a landscaper, it’s crucial to read the fine print and know what responsibilities lie with the landscaper versus the carrier if something goes wrong. It can also protect the landscaper’s client rights. For instance, depending on the contract, poor quality sod delivered to an installation site doesn’t have to be accepted.
By contrast, if you are hired by a city, county, or state, the government authority might require a 90-day warranty. So if you install sod in a location where municipal crews fail to maintain it properly and the grass dies, you may have to come back to reinstall new sod. There are also certain legal agreements you can make with farms. Overall, reading and understanding the contract thoroughly can save a lot of headaches should things go downhill at an installation.
Timing can make a big difference in the quality of installation. Fall is the most ideal season to install both warm and cool season grass types, closely followed by Spring.
Contrary to common belief, Winter can be a great time to lay sod in certain locations throughout the southern parts of the U.S., including USDA Zones 8b-11. It may seem like a bad time because warm season grass is dormant and freezing temperatures could potentially kill roots. However, this is not true in all cases and there are actually a lot of benefits to laying sod at this time.
In truth, more sod is actually lost to heat stress in Summer than to Winter’s moderate freezes. The key factor is temperature. Even if outdoor temperatures reach freezing in certain areas, it is still okay to install sod. However, it’s ill-advised to install sod when temps consistently reach the teens on a frequent basis.
Material & Time Estimation
When taking on a new installation project, it’s very important to have enough material to get the job done. Many landscapers will visit a jobsite and walk the property with a measuring wheel, while others can eyeball it and get pretty close. But there are other options out there such as software that uses Google satellite and high-resolution aerial imagery to give landscapers precise area, volume, and perimeter measurements. When preparing, take into account 5–10% of material waste depending on the amount of curves and obstructions.
Before the sod is delivered to the location, having a few tasks completed will make the process as smooth and easy as possible.
- First, it’s always a good idea to collect a soil sample and be informed about which nutrients the soil is lacking. This information will be crucial when it comes to selecting the right fertilizer for the new sod.
- Consider aerating or tilling the soil and applying the fertilizer selection before the new sod arrives. This process ensures the ground has everything it needs to encourage successful turfgrass establishment.
- Remove rocks, lawn ornaments, and other objects that might get in the way of installation. Level the ground as much as possible for a flat, even installation surface and moisten the soil so that it’s damp.
- Last, apply topsoil before (and even after) the installation to promote development of healthy roots and assist in the transition from individual sod pieces to a flourishing landscape. Topsoil also helps choke out weeds that might try to take over as sod establishes.
The job isn’t done after the sod is laid. It’s best to water the lawn as sod is laid out and then ensure it’s properly irrigated for multiple weeks after installation. If a customer has an irrigation system, adjust the watering schedule. If the site has no irrigation system, clearly establish who is responsible for proper maintenance.
After the day of installation, new sod should be watered twice a day for the first nine days—once in the early mornings and once in the late evenings. It’s best that the sod is watered thoroughly enough for it to get down into the roots. Individual pieces of sod may dry out along any exposed edges. On day 10, watering can be reduced to once a day until about the 15th day after installation. Afterwards, begin transitioning to watering about 1″ of water per week.
Other post-installation care items may include fungicide and insecticide treatments. Eliminating possible stressors to the grass promotes healthy rooting and quicker establishment.
Smith is a content strategist with Sod Solutions. Based in Charleston, SC, Sod Solutions has helped develop and release more than 20 turfgrass varieties to the market over the past 27 years including Palmetto® and CitraBlue® St. Augustine, EMPIRE®, CitraZoy® and Innovation® Zoy- sia and Celebration®, Latitude 36® and NorthBridge® Bermudagrass. Smith has a Master’s degree in Professional Communication with a cognate in UX Research & Content Strategy from Clemson University. For more information, visit SodSolutions.com.