Tag Archives: lawn 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!

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.

Understanding Soil pH

soil ph
Understanding soil pH is essential in growing a good lawn or garden.

You’ll often see a reference to “acid” or “alkaline” soil in plant descriptions, planting directions, or plant care tips. What this refers to is pH, or a measure of the acidity or alkalinity of the soil. To put it in kitchen terms, vinegar is a weak acid and chlorine bleach is a weak alkaline, or base.

Some plants grow better in an acid soil, and some grow better in an alkaline one. A few plants, such as Hydrangea, will tolerate either; however, their flowers change color depending on whether they’re in acid or alkaline soil.

On the pH scale, a value of 7 is neutral, a pH of less than 7 is acidic, and a pH of more than 7 is alkaline. The soil pH affects how many plants grow because it can change the chemical form of soil minerals and the number and kind of soil microorganisms.

Determining Soil pH

The best way to determine soil pH is through soil samples. Your local Cooperative Extension Service can tell you where to submit soil samples for testing in your area. Or text your own soil with a Soil PH Meter.

Once you get the results of your soil test, you can decide which plants and grasses are best for the soil you have. Most landscape plants and some trees do well on a variety of soils; many lawn grasses do as well. Vegetables gardens are best planted where the pH is 5.8 to 6.3, especially on sandy soils.

If your soil is between 5.5 and 7.0, you probably can grow most common plants without much trouble. If you want to grow acid loving plants such as blueberries, gardenias or azaleas, though, you may need to adjust the pH to make your soil more acid.

Changing Soil pH

Although it’s possible to change soil pH a certain amount, you’re frankly better off to grow plants that do well on the soil you have. That said, if you really want to grow something in particular that needs a soil pH that’s different from what you have, there are some things you can do to adjust soil pH. Keep in mind, though, that this is a temporary remedy, and you’ll have to do it over and over again to keep the soil pH at the level you want.

Raising pH

To raise the pH of an acid soil, you need to add lime in the form of dolomite or calcium carbonate. Be sure to test for lime requirements before you add any lime; this test will tell you how much your soil will resist changes in pH, and give you an idea of the application rate to use and how often to apply lime.

If you’re just establishing a garden or lawn area, mix the lime thoroughly into the top six or eight inches of the soil. If you’re applying lime to an existing garden or landscape, apply it to the surface and water it in, but don’t water so much that you make the soil soggy and waterlogged.

If you need to apply a lot of lime to an already established garden or landscape, you may be better off to divide the amount you need to add into two or three applications. Apply them a week to ten days apart.

Lowering pH

Although it’s relatively easy to raise pH by adding lime to the soil, lowering the pH of very alkaline soils can be very difficult or even impossible. If you’re on a soil formed from limestone or another material with a lot of calcium in it, you will not be able to permanently lower the soil’s pH. You really are better off growing plants that are suited to a high pH soil.

By adding elemental sulfur, you can temporarily lower a soil’s pH. Soil microorganisms convert the sulfur into sulfuric acid, which temporary reduces the alkalinity of the soil. This is a temporary change, and is limited to the area where you’ve put the sulfur. If you want to keep the soil pH down, you will need to re-apply sulfur frequently. This can damage your plants, so watch for indications that your plants aren’t happy.

Never apply more than 7 pounds of elemental sulfur to 1000 square feet of lawn or garden at any one time. This will help prevent damaging or burning plants.

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.

How To Overseed Your Cool Season Lawn

Your cool season lawn may not look its best after a hot summer. Heat, weeds, insects, drought, neglect, and diseases take a heavy toll on cool season lawns.

You can make your lawn healthier and more attractive by overseeding, which for a cool season lawn involves sowing seeds over existing lawn to cover spots where the grass is patchy. If at least half of your lawn is fairly healthy and strong, overseeding is a good way to revitalize it. In fact, you may want to overseed your cool season lawn every year to keep it looking great. However, if more than half your lawn looks worn out and weak it’s best to start over with a new lawn.

Preparing Your Lawn for Overseeding

If you haven’t had your lawn soil tested in few years do that before you overseed. The test results will give you recommendations for fertilizer or amendments for growing a healthy lawn. Cooperative extension services all over the country provide inexpensive and convenient soil testing.

Grass seed needs sunlight and good contact with soil to germinate and grow. When you sow grass seeds over a lawn the blades of the existing grass shade them, plus thatch and clippings create a barrier between the seeds and the soil. You can help the new seeds by mowing lower than usual before overseeding to reduce shading. Even if you don’t usually remove grass clippings, bag or rake the clippings before overseeding so they don’t interfere with the seeds.

Work the soil lightly with a verticutter or power rake to loosen 1/4 inch of soil. Or use a core aerator to remove plugs of turf and give seeds places to germinate.

If you have protruding roots or rocks you may need to add a layer of topsoil before overseeding. By raking in a 1/4-inch layer of screened loam or topsoil you can increase the depth of the topsoil.

Overseeding cool season lawns in September gives the new seeds time to grow before winter sets in. Tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass are good turf grass seed choices, either on their own or in mixes. Sow 6-8 pounds of tall fescue or 2-3 pounds of Kentucky blue grass per 1,000 square feet of lawn using a rotary seeder or drop seeder. The tall fescue will germinate in 2-3 weeks, with the bluegrass following a week later.

Apply a slow release nitrogen fertilizer when you overseed. Six-eight weeks later apply a quick release nitrogen fertilizer. Water at least daily to keep the seeds moist until they sprout, then reduce watering after about three weeks.

When the grass is three inches high mow it to two inches and keep mowing it to this height for the rest of the season.

Long after the blades of grass stop growing the root systems of the turf grass will continue to get stronger, in preparation for a lush, green lawn in the spring.

Choosing the Right Warm Season Grass

If you live where summer temperatures regularly reach 80-95 degrees and want to have a lawn, you need to choose a warm season grass. Warm season grasses share several characteristics in addition to thriving in warm or hot climates. Because they grow very actively in the summer they have fewer problems with weeds, diseases, and insect pests. But during the winter they brown up at the first killing frost, going dormant for four or five months until they start to grow in mid-April or early May. Warm season grasses do not have heavy irrigation needs; in fact, they need 30 percent less water than cool season grasses.

Major types of warm season grasses are bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, centipedegrass, and St. Augustine grass. Let’s take a look at the positive and negative qualities of these four.


Bermudagrass is a good choice for athletic fields, golf course fairways, lawns, and parks because it withstands heavy traffic extremely well. It also holds up under extreme heat and drought and has low water needs. The highest quality bermudagrass is only available in sod, although some types can be seeded.

Bermudagrass grows laterally both above and below the ground, making it a very aggressive creeper—hard to keep out of flower beds. It does not tolerant shade at all and needs frequent mowing in summer.

The recommended fertilizer application rate is 1-4 pounds of nitrogen (N) per 1,000 square feet per year. As with other grasses, how much you use depends on your needs and expectations for your lawn. Mowing height is 1 ½-2 inches.

Read more on Bermuda Grass.


Zoysiagrass grows more slowly than bermudagrass and is more tolerant of shade. This dense turf grass stands up well to traffic, but its stiff blades make it very hard to mow. You need a powerful mower with sharp cutting edges to keep it ½ to 2 inches high.

An all-round, well-adapted turf grass, zoysiagrass has outstanding cold and drought tolerance and few weed and pest problems. Recommend nitrogen application is 1-2 pounds per year.


Centipedegrass grows very slowly, which means it does not invade flowerbeds but is slow to establish from seed. Compared to zoysia, this warm season grass is not as hardy but equally shade tolerant. Because centipedegrass has poor traffic tolerance it’s a popular choice for cemeteries, utility turf, and golf course roughs. It can work in lawns and parks that are more for show than walking on.

Centipedegrass tolerates drought and low fertility. Of all the warm season grasses it needs the least mowing (1 ½ to 2 ½ inches mowing height). Its nitrogen needs are also low (1 to 2 pounds per year). Overall, centipedegrass is a high quality and low maintenance warm season grass.

St. Augustine Grass

Wide-bladed St. Augustine grass is an aggressive grower that invades plant beds, but it’s not as aggressive as bermudagrass. While no grass grows well in dense shade, St. Augustine grass is the most shade tolerant warm season grass on the market. It does not, however, have good cold tolerance and has more pest and disease problems than other warm season grasses.

Like centipedegrass, St. Augustine grass does not tolerate heavy traffic. Homeowners value St. Augustine grass for the thick, lush turf it creates with relatively low maintenance. This turf grass needs 1-3 ½ pounds of nitrogen per year and a mowing height of 3-4 inches.

Choose the Right Grass

These four turf grasses provide a range of options for warm season growing. The right choice for you depends on your growing conditions, usage, and expectations for your lawn.