For a variety of reasons this is the year that thousands of gardeners are making big changes in their lawns, landscapes and gardens.
Oh, that monstrous cold spell of two months ago deserves a lot of the credit, but we also spent an entire year looking at things close-up and personal during the pandemic, and that brought a lot of needed changes into clear focus.
Shrubs to replace and those lost to the cold have been prime on our minds, but folks are also asking about turfgrass. Now that we’re able to gather as families, we want lawns where people and pets won’t track mud and debris back into the house. This is the time to plant or replant, so let’s outline the facts.
Start with what you have
You may have enough grass to get the job done already. There’s no point in starting over unless you have to. If you have a couple of pieces of your desired grass the size of a matchbook in every square foot, and if the grade of the ground is smooth, you’re probably ready to roll.
You’d be better advised simply to fertilize, water and mow regularly to encourage the existing grass to fill in and cover. It will do so more quickly than if you spray to kill existing vegetation, rototill, rake, seed or sod and start over from scratch.
There’s one assumption in that statement that does need to be noted, however. Hopefully the grass is not in a state of regression because of dense shade trees. If that’s the case, you may not be able to get it to cover, but you also would not be able to get new sod to establish and thrive, either. If you don’t have six hours of direct sunlight, turfgrass isn’t going to be possible and you’ll need to switch to a groundcover.
Now on to planting new grass
If you have an area that needs to have new grass planted, late spring is the best time to do so. Soils are beginning to warm, yet it’s still cool enough that keeping the new planting watered properly won’t be a nightmare.
Start by determining the best grass for your tastes and needs.
Bermuda can be grown from seed, sod, plugs or by hydromulching. It stands pedestrian traffic better than any other turfgrass. However, it’s also invasive into flowerbeds and groundcovers. Many gardeners have allergies when mowing bermuda due to the fungal spores it traps. And bermuda is more likely to develop thatch. But it’s still the turfgrass of choice for many. Improved varieties are available.
St. Augustine is our most shade-tolerant grass, but even it must have 5-6 hours of direct sunlight daily to thrive. It’s planted from sod or plugs. It is our least winter-hardy choice, and it has more insect and disease problems, but many like its fresh green look in the summer and it is least likely to cause allergies.
Zoysias are gaining in popularity. Intermediate in many ways to bermuda and St. Augustine, zoysias are slower to cover, therefore are usually best planted from sod. They’re more expensive, and they’re brown longer through the winter. If you’re considering zoysia, ask your sod dealer for a few referrals who have had lawns in for a couple of years. Contact the homeowners to ask of their satisfaction.
Preparing the ground
Whether you’re planning on seeding, sodding or hydromulching, your soil preparation should be the same.
Spray with a glyphosate-only herbicide to kill existing vegetation. Glyphosates do not contaminate the soil, so you only need to wait long enough for the herbicide to kill the weeds and unwanted turf, usually 12 to 15 days.
Rototill with a rear-tine tiller to a depth of 2 inches. In most cases you will not need to bring in topsoil, organic matter or any other soil amendment. The new grass will eventually have to grow in your native soil anyway.
Use a standard garden rake turned upside-down to establish a smooth grade that drains gently away from your house and garage and out into the storm sewer.
Do all of this soil-prep just before planting. Lay sod early in the day. Arrange to have help to let you finish the job quickly. Carefully position all the pieces of sod in place against one another and pat them down smoothly and firmly, then water them immediately.
Once you have finished sodding the entire lawn, water deeply, then plan to water lightly morning and night for the first 10-12 days. Gradually cut back to daily, then every two days.
If you are seeding bermuda the bed preparation will be the same, but then you will sow seed at the rate of 2-4 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Mix it with equal amounts of corn meal to facilitate equal distribution across the entire lawn. Sow half of it going east and west and the other half going north and south. That will help you avoid missed areas. Water lightly twice daily for the first couple of weeks. The small seedlings will have very shallow roots and could easily dry out and die.
If you are trying to convert from bermuda to St. Augustine you can use plugs, either grown in trays or cut from pieces of sod. Plant 4x6-inch plugs on approximately 16-inch centers across the lawn. Set them into shallow holes at the same depths at which they were originally growing. Water them by hand for their first couple of weeks and they’ll take it from there. Since St. Augustine is the more dominant grass, it will spread and crowd out the bermuda.