I stood on the beach and inhaled deeply, reassuring myself that the lingering sweetness in the air was not some kind of olfactory hallucination; but honeysuckle, after all. Walking down the sidewalk, I noticed the purple tip of a crocus just beginning to push out of the ground. Later, instead of a snowy field---I saw something magical, something I didn't expect to see again this century. It was no mirage; but a beautiful bright green, perfectly manicured lawn.
Those of us who have lived in the Northeast have waited a long time for spring this year. Now that it has come, many of us are hankering to do something creative outdoors, to make the most of the blissful sunlit days before we are left in the cold. We remember years we did not plan correctly, procrastinating until it was too late.
Fear not, armchair landscapers, there's still hope. No matter where you live in the country, this is a great season to grow a new lawn from sod. Dig those gnarled prickle vines and butt ugly yellow grass clumps out of the lot. Put on some work gloves and throw the pork ribs and beer bottles discarded from your last barbeque away. Uproot that tree you were afraid was going to fall on your children during the hurricane. Envision a new space you no longer have to douse yourself with bug dope to walk through. Imagine yourself walking barefoot over a springy new lawn.
Sod is a procrastinators dream. While sod needs to be well cared for, you don't have to be Rumpelstiltskin to create it. It is delivered and/or installed to your house already grown. It is a carpet of dense, pest and disease resistant, well established young grasses (as opposed to seedlings you have to weed around and fret over). If you follow a few simple rules, it will be magically transformed into a beautiful, hardy new lawn.
Five Tricks for Spinning Sod into Lawn.
1) Test and Prepare Your Soil First--Sod has to be laid right. Test soil in the selected area to make sure PH levels, and amounts of nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous make good ground for sod. Optimal soil for sod is rich in nutrients, well aerated, and has a mildly acidic base (Ph around 7).
Don't worry, if the soil is not ready, you can amend it to alter acidity and nutrient bases. You can get a DIY testing kit from most landscape or garden supply shops. You can also ship your soil to your county extension service for analysis. Simply dig up a bunch of circular holes, about 6 inches deep, from different areas, put it in a baggie and ship it off. To find your county extension service, click here http://npic.orst.edu/pest/countyext.htm
2) Know what you are buying--The quality of sod is only as good as the farmer who grows it. Sod has to be nurtured for between 12 and 18 months before it is able to be rolled out in a yard. Any way you look at it, it is a relatively expensive investment (with prices ranging from $400 upwards), so it is well worth it to choose your source wisely. If you are installing the sod yourself, it is better to buy from a local sod farmer or nursery than a big box store. Read this article about local vs big box nurseries for more insight. http://www.nytimes.com/2003/03/13/garden/garden-notebook-great-plants-don-t-always-come-in-big-boxes.html
3) Prepare the ground--Whether you are using a sod installation team or doing it yourself---it is helpful to use a few tricks to prep the soil first. After amending your soil (if necessary) Remove rocks and any other leftover junk. Add about 1-2 inches of sand, which will allow roots to grow deeper. Add fertilizer, if necessary. Rototill your soil at least 5 inches deep. Add your sprinkler system ½ inch above grade while the soil is still pliable. Then rake and carefully roll the surface grade. Water the soil for a few days to create a firm surface before laying sod.
4) Know your grass. It is of the utmost importance that you choose climate appropriate grass. You can't install centipede grass that requires large doses of heat and humidity in Connecticut or Kentucky Bluegrass in Hawaii.
Choose a perennial variety if you want it to last more than a year. For example, it is common knowledge that some contractors in New England lay down fast sprouting annual ryegrass seed in the summer when they are trying to sell a house. It achieves its purpose, looking pretty and lush all fall but is not hearty enough to survive the harsh winters. Read the fine print.
Examine the upkeep the variety of grass you are considering will require, and what level of commitment you are willing to make. For a nitty gritty guide to grass click here http://www.sodgod.com/grass-guide/
5) Water, water, water. Make sure you water your sod conscientiously, religiously and immediately after installation until it is established. This will ensure that the lawn roots well, and helps it have an extra-long shelf life years down the line. If you want to slack later on, it's okay. Be sure you take good care of your lawn for the first few months, at least.
Water the sod a half hour after it is put down, watering but not drenching it, applying about one inch of water so that it soaks down three and a half inches or so. A good trick is to pull back an edge of the sod carpet and push a sharp tool like a knife into the soil. If it pushed in easily, and is surrounded by moisture, you're golden.
Keep this up every day for at least two weeks. Make sure it doesn't dry out.