Category Archives: Grass Care

How To Lay Sod

When you get ready to plant a new lawn, you have three choices: seeds, plugs, or sod. Which one you choose depends on several factors, including the species of grass you’re going to plant, the price, and whether or not seed is available of the species you’ve chosen.

For some species, such as St. Augustine grass, sod is the only really practical alternative. For other species such as Bermudagrass and Bahiagrass, it’s one of several options.

One thing is clear, however: using sod is the fastest and easiest way to establish a lush, green carpet of grass in your yard. Even those species for which seed is readily available will take most of a growing season to become established and spread, but sod—when put down correctly—will give you a beautiful lawn in just a few weeks. Best of all, you can lay sod any time during the growing season if you’re prepared to water it enough to help it get well established.

Begin With the Soil

If you want your lawn to be successful, you need to do some preparation before you actually start laying the sod. This means preparing the soil so that you have a good foundation for your lawn.

Start by removing any existing grass and weeds, and then spade the soil to loosen and aerate it. You also need to take the thickness of the sod into consideration, so when you rake the soil, its surface needs to be approximately an inch and a half below any sidewalks, driveways, or other hard surfaces.
Then apply a “starter” fertilizer that’s high in phosphorus, and rake the soil again to distribute it well. Now you’re ready to start laying the sod.

Laying Sod

Once the sod is harvested, you need to lay it as quickly as possible so it doesn’t dry out and die. If it’s a big job that’s going to take several days, store the sod in the shade so it stays cool and moist.

Choose the straight edge of a hard surface as the guide for your first row. Place each piece tightly against the last piece so there aren’t any gaps between the pieces of sod, and put the rows tightly together as well.

When you start the second row, cut a piece of sod in half crossways for the first piece in the row. The point here is to stagger the seams like a bricklayer lays bricks. If you’re laying sod on a hill or slope, turn the pieces of sod so they’re perpendicular to the direction of the slope.

As you work, if you need to stand on the sod you’ve already put down, lay a board on top of the sod so your feet don’t dig into the sod you’re already laid. Trim or cut pieces as necessary to go around odd-shaped flower beds, sidewalks, or other obstacles; not everything in your yard will have straight lines, and you want the sod to fit tightly everywhere it can.

When you have all the sod laid down, use the back of a rake to tamp down all the edges so the roots are in firm contact with the soil underneath. The object of this is to get rid of any air pockets that will cause the sod to dry out.

The last task in this process is to water the sod. Plan to water long enough to get the top 6 to 8 inches of moist; this encourages the grass to put down deep roots. Do the same thing each time you water, but space out your watering days so the soil doesn’t get soggy.

Watch it Grow

Try not to walk on the lawn until the sod has rooted well and it starting to grow. The way to tell if it’s getting established is to lift up on the grass. If it “sticks” down, it’s rooting into the soil.

At the end of a month, the sod should be starting to grow well. Apply lawn fertilizer according to the needs of whatever grass species you have chosen, and start a regular schedule of watering and mowing. Enjoy your new lawn!

Buffalo Grass

For extreme environmental conditions, nothing beats Buffalo Grass. Native to the Great Plains, this is a very tough grass that the buffalo thrived on as their huge herds moved from place to place; hence the name.

The western settlers used it also, cutting squares of it to build sod houses against the bitter Plains winters. Although it’s a warm season grass it survives deep cold and high heat, as well as drought conditions. With irrigation it even will grow in desert areas. It’s this country’s only truly native turf grass. Buffalo Grass and curly mesquite look a lot alike and often are found together in the wild, so sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between the two.

If you live in a wet environment, this probably is not a grass for you, as it doesn’t handle lots of rainfall very well. It does best when it receives between 15 inches and 30 inches of water a year.


You can start a lawn of Buffalo Grass either by seed or by sod. It spreads from seeds and stolons or surface runners, so once you get it started, it spreads on its own. However, it makes on a shallow root system so it’s not aggressive in flower beds or other places you don’t want it, and it’s easy to pull up or kill by cultivation.

If you’re going to start from seed, get treated seed; its germination rate is about 90%. Plant in the spring—usually in April and May—when you have good soil moisture and mild temperatures.

Sod also works well for establishing Buffalo Grass, as do sod plugs. Prepare the soil well so plugs survive, and plant them in 18-inch rows from 6 inches to 2 feet apart. Each plug should be at least 2 inches by 2 inches.

Be sure to keep plugs damp while you’re planting them, because they’ll die if they dry out. After you’ve planted them, water them well for several weeks until they get established.

When you plant from seed you will get patches of male and female plants; the male plants produce seed stalks that some people don’t like. When you get sod plugs, you almost always get female plants, since they don’t produce tall seed stalks.

Care & Maintenance

buffalo plush toy
One of the biggest advantages of planting Buffalo Grass is that it takes very little maintenance. However, it doesn’t do well in high traffic areas or whether other turf grasses are planted. It also doesn’t like shade or very wet environments.

Because Buffalo Grass doesn’t get very tall—8 to 10 inches—it doesn’t need a lot of mowing. And because it produces only a thin turf, it’s ideal if you want a “native” landscape; you can mix other native plants with it and create a wildflower landscape with an under planting of buffalo grass.

In a lawn situation, mow Buffalo Grass to a height of 2 to 3 inches. You may need to mow once a week to keep it at that height.

Buffalo Grass doesn’t need to be fertilized, but you can put a light application of nitrogen on it. Don’t over fertilize or overwater it, as both will encourage Bermudagrass to crowd it out.

Varieties Of Lawn Grass

There are many different varieties of lawn grass available but knowing the right one to choose for your area is vital.
varieties of lawn grass for a manicured lawn
Lawns are grown in every U.S. state, but the grasses in the lawns aren’t the same all over the country. Like most plants, grasses grow in some climates and conditions but not in others. It’s very important to choose the right grass for your location if you want an attractive and healthy lawn.

You can plant a new lawn from seed, sod, plugs, or sprigs. If you are planting a large area, seeding is the least expensive choice. The downside of seeding is that it takes a longer time for the grass to become established.

St. Augustine grass, hybrid bermudagrass, and some varieties of zoysiagrass are only available as sod, plugs, or sprigs. Plugs are small squares of sod, while sprigs are pieces of mature lawn grass. They are all more expensive than seeding, but take much less time to establish.

Following are brief descriptions of the major turf grasses, including where they grow in the U.S. Keep in mind that mixes of various kinds of grass seed increase your lawn options.

Types of Lawn Grasses

Bahiagrass is a low maintenance, drought- and shade-tolerant, low quality turf grass grown widely in the southeast.

Bermudagrass is the most popular lawn grass in the warm southern states.

Blue gamma grass is a native grass well suited for growing in the northern plains where summers are very hot and winters are very cold.

Buffalo grass is a native grass that grows well in high drought areas of the west.

Centipedegrass is a warm season grass that thrives in poor, acidic soils.

Creeping bent grass is a soft, tightly knit turf grass well suited to golf greens in northern states.

Fescue, fine – or needle-leaved. Mixed with perennial ryegrass and Kentucky bluegrass this turf grass increases shade and drought tolerance.

Fescue, tall – or broad-leaved. Traditionally coarse-bladed pasture grasses, tall fescue has new varieties that look and feel like Kentucky bluegrass but are more tolerant of low soil fertility and compacted soil.

Kentucky bluegrass is the most important turf grass in the northern half of the United States. It is also grown in southern coastal areas of California.

Ryegrass, annual, is a low-cost choice for overseeding warm season lawns.

Ryegrass, perennial, is often combined with Kentucky bluegrass and fine fescues. Like annual ryegrass, it can also be used for overseeding warm season lawns.

St. Augustine grass is one of the most important lawn grasses of the south and west. It grows fast and has a coarse texture.

Zoysiagrass makes a high quality lawn in subtropical areas of the country.

Choosing the Right Grass

Cooperative Extension agents can tell you which grasses or mixtures of grasses are best for your situation. Every state has a Cooperative Extension service, usually within the state university. You can find the office closest to you from the USDA website. Extension agents can also give you information on how to grow a lawn and help you with insect and disease problems.

Growing A Shady Lawn

grass for shady lawnThe earliest grasses grew on the plains—open areas of full sunlight. If you look around in nature you will see grasses in open sunny fields but not in dense forests.

While some grasses adapt better to shade than others, none will grow in deep shade. By choosing a grass that tolerates shade and that is adapted to your growing area you can establish a lawn in a lightly shaded area that gets several hours of full sun per day.

Shade Tolerant Grasses

Among the grasses that grow in cool areas of the country, called cool season grasses, creeping or red fescue and velvet bentgrass are the most shade tolerant. Used by itself or as a mixture red fescue is good in all types of turf areas, including lawns, parks, ball fields, cemeteries, and airfields. With its fine texture, thickness, and low growing habit, velvet bentgrass is a popular choice for golf greens in the far north.

Rough bluegrass, creeping bentgrass, and hard fescue have good shade tolerance in northern areas, but not as good as red fescue or velvet bentgrass.

St. Augustine grass and manila grass have excellent shade tolerance in warm season areas from the Texas gulf to the Carolinas. St. Augustine grass produces a thick dark green lawn in full sun or moderate shade. Manila grass is a fine-textured, dense type of zoysiagrass.

Maintenance for a Shady Lawn

Mow grass in shady areas one-third higher than in sunny locations. The increased blade surface absorbs more sunlight. Remove leaves and grass clippings from the lawn because they reduce the sunlight that reaches the grass. Trim surrounding trees, especially lower branches, to increase sunlight.

Water deeply and infrequently. Deep watering penetrates the roots of the grass, where shallow watering encourages tree roots to come to the surface and compete with the grass for water and nutrients. Too much water, however, leads to disease problems. Watering a shady lawn is not the same as watering a sunny lawn; it may take time to achieve the correct balance between too much and too little water. A walking sprinkler can be set to put the correct amount of water on.

Shady lawns do not need as much nitrogen fertilizer as lawns that get more sunlight. Use deep root feeding to feed trees in lawns in order to prevent high levels of nitrogen from reaching the grass.

Avoid walking on shady lawns. Foot traffic is more damaging to shady lawns, which are in general more fragile.

Alternatives to Grass for Shady Areas

In high shade areas where sunlight cannot be increased by trimming branches of trees, plants other than grass may be more successful as groundcovers. As with the grasses, suitable plants depend on climate and growing conditions. Possibilities include pachysandra, ivy, moss, periwinkle, sweet woodruff, and many others.

Where no plants will grow straw, woodchips, or mulch can provide effective and attractive cover for the ground. Paving stones, bricks, or gravel are other options that can be incorporated into the landscape in places where plants do not thrive.

Dogs And Lawns

dog catching frisbee on lawnIf you have a lawn and a dog, you understand the problem.

The dog brings you and your family so much joy – chasing balls and Frisbees on the lawn, playing with the children, and squirming around with legs kicking in the air.

Yet, there are problems: dogs dig in lawns and leave things you’d rather not have around. You know what I mean!

Before you give up your dog or your lawn or abandon hopes of a peaceful coexistence, check out the information below.


Dog feces don’t really damage the lawn if you pick them up promptly. If you leave them on the lawn they will shade out and smother the grass underneath. Not to mention that both you and the kids walk in them.

The answer, of course, is a pooper scooper. You can go with the one handed jaw type scoop which most people like because they’re so easy to use one handed. However, a few folk find they have problems with the screws etc so you might prefer the more basic mini rake and shovel type.

And additional problem with not picking the feces up straight away is that your dog can develop the unsavory habit of eating his own doggie does! Nothing worse than having your hand licked by a pooch that you suspect has been eating his own waste.

If you’re wondering just what you do with the dog feces AFTER you’ve picked them up, then take a look at the Doggie Dooley 3000 Septic-Tank-Style Pet-Waste Disposal System.

It is a little work putting it in but is a great solution once you have. It works just like a proper septic tank and is big enough for 2 large dogs or 4 small dogs.

Whatever you do, don’t toss it over the fence! The dogs are yours and so is their poop! Nothing more guaranteed to start a neighborhood war.

Urine is a bigger problem. Urine is high in nitrogen and, while grass needs nitrogen, urine is so concentrated it burns the grass. That’s what causes the brown spots where your dog urinates. Male dogs are less of a problem than females because when a male lifts its leg the urine is sprayed, but when a female sits the urine goes all in one place.

Here’s what you can do to keep dog urine from damaging your lawn:

• Saturate the spot with water within nine hours. The water will dilute the nitrogen.
• Try putting fresh sawdust on the urine spots. The sawdust may absorb some of the nitrogen if you get it on there quickly.
• Replace the brown areas with fresh plugs or sprigs. Dig up the turf, including the roots. Then add some good loam or topsoil if you need to raise the soil level. If you edge your garden beds you may have some pieces of sod you can pop right into the open spaces. You can also seed the damaged area.
• If you are planting a new lawn or replacing a damaged spot use a more urine resistant grass. Perennial ryegrass and fescues are among the most urinate resistant turf grasses, while Kentucky bluegrass and bermudagrass are the least resistant to urine.
• Wait for the lawn to repair itself. Because they spread vigorously by rhizomes and/or stolons, warm season grasses will repair themselves over time.

Like with most problems, the best solution to the toileting problem is prevention. Ideally your dog will “do its business” during daily walks. Of course you still have to pick it up unless you walk them in a truly wild place. If that’s not a possibility or doesn’t work all the time, the next best solution is to set up a bathroom area dedicated to that one purpose. You’ll need to be consistent in showing your pets where you want them to go until they understand. Most dogs are fairly accommodating; they just need to know what you want and get rewards for doing it.


Lots of puppies dig holes in the lawn and many adult dogs do the same. If they are digging to reach a special spot you can put down stones or a barrier to keep them out. But if they are digging here and there around the lawn, it’s a training issue. Some folks say to give them a dedicated area where they are allowed to dig. But it’s best to consult your favorite dog trainer for advice.

If you don’t mind a lawn that shows the wear and tear of family life, you may simply want to accept what your dog does. Of course, for your own sake you still need to pick up the piles your dog leaves behind!

How To Control Lawn Pests

The best way to keep insects, diseases, and weeds out of your lawn is to grow a vigorous, healthy lawn. You will never get rid of all the pest organisms, but you can keep them to an acceptable level without using dangerous chemicals. The truth is, even if you do use chemicals you can’t get rid of all the pests forever.

Your first step is to grow a grass that is suited for your climate and for your specific conditions. Grow a warm season grass if you live in a warm climate.

Plant a lawn that tolerates shade if your spot is shady. When you grow the right grass in the right spot it will be more pest resistant naturally.

Following is information about two of the most common insects that damage turf grass—just in case!

Japanese Beetles

japanese beetle damage

Japanese beetles have a wide-ranging diet that includes turf grass (and 300 other species of plants). By some counts Japanese beetles cause more damage to U.S. lawns than any other insect. Adult Japanese beetles feed on leaves, flowers, and fruit. It is the larval (or white grub) stage of this beetle that feeds on the roots of grass, causing major damage to lawns.

By chewing on the grass roots the Japanese beetle grubs make it harder for the grass to take up water, making the turf more vulnerable to drought and heat. The consequence is large dead patches of lawn.

Methods to control Japanese beetles include the following:

• Water deeply and infrequently. Roots will get the water they need but the top inches of soil will be too dry for beetles and grubs.
• Pick off adults and drop them in a bucket of soapy water.
• Apply milky spore, a pathogen that kills adults and grubs. It takes 2-4 years for the milky spore to become effective, but control lasts for 15 years.
• Apply parasitic nematodes when grubs are small, watering before and after the application.
• Use diatomaceous earth, which is ground up fossilized algae with very sharp edges that destroy the shells of crawling insects. Diatomaceous earth does not hurt earthworms and larger animals.
• Apply pesticides. Pesticides will be effective only if the proper pesticide is applied correctly at the right time. Pesticides differ for adults and for white grubs.
• Dethatch lawns to eliminate hiding places for grubs and make it easier for pesticides and other treatments to reach them.

There are a number of other grubs that damage Japanese beetles and can be controlled with these methods.

Chinch Bugs

Chinch bugs are tiny insects that feed on lawns, leaving irregular dry, brown patches. They show up as small red dots. Chinch bugs favor dry conditions.
The standard control methods for chinch bugs are to:

• Overseed with clover to make the turf grass less vulnerable to chinch bugs.
• Remove thatch in the fall to eliminate overwintering and breeding habitat.
• Vacuum chinch bugs off lawn.
• Replant with plants that are not susceptible to chinch bugs.
• Keep soil moist.

Other Lawn Pests

Moles, ground hogs, weeds, and a number of other insects also damage turf grass. For all these pests prevention is the best cure: Grow the healthiest, strongest lawn you can and you will have fewer serious pest problems.