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Grass, Planting & Sodding

Grass planting techniques can be quite simple or waste huge amounts of money. If you follow these simple techniques, your lawn establishment can be enjoyable and affordable.

Preparation should include the removal of weed tops, debris, and rocks over 2″ in diameter from the surface. Rocks within the soil are no problem because they actually aid positive drainage. Till to a depth of 1″ and rake topsoil into a smooth grade. Deep roto-tilling is unnecessary and a waste of money unless the soil is heavily compacted.

Add a thin layer of compost ¼" - ½”. The addition of native topsoil isn’t needed. Imported topsoil is a waste of money and can cause a perched (trapped) water table and lawn problems, unless there are low spots to be filled.

Sloped areas should have an erosion protection material, such as jute mesh, placed on the soil prior to planting. Follow the manufacturer’s recommendation for installation. Some people recommend and use herbicides to kill weeds prior to planting. I don’t! These chemicals are hazardous and damaging to the soil biology.

Seeding and hydromulching should be done so that the seed is in direct contact with the soil. The seed should be placed on the bare soil first and the hydromulch blown on top of the seed. One of the worst mistakes I see in grass planting is mixing the seed in the hydromulch. This causes the seed to germinate in the mulch, suspended above the soil, and many of the seeds are lost from drying out.

Night temperatures must be 65° - 70° for Bermudagrass or centipede germination and no lower than 40° in the fall and winter for cool season grasses.

After spreading the seed, thoroughly soak the ground and lightly water the seeded area 2 - 4 times per day. Fertilize with a 100% organic fertilizer sometime before the first mowing. As the seed germinates, watch for bare spots. Reseed these bare areas immediately. Continue the light watering until the grass has solidly covered the area. At this time, begin the regular watering and maintenance program.

Spot sodding is done by planting 4″ × 4″ squares flush with the existing grade, 12″ to 18″ on center. Grading, smoothing, and leveling of the area to be grassed is important. Organic fertilizer should be applied after planting at the rate of 10 lbs. per 1,000 sq. ft. Regular maintenance and watering should be started at this time. This is not a planting procedure I recommend, because it is slow to cover, and often results in an uneven lawn.

Solid sod blocks should be laid joint to joint after first applying a thin layer of compost. Grading, leveling, and smoothing prior to planting is very important. The joints between the blocks of sod can be filled with compost to give an even more finished look to the lawn. Thoroughly wet the top and bottom of each sod piece before planting. Roll the sod to remove air pockets.

Cool season grasses such as fescue, ryegrass, bentgrass, and bluegrass (Poa trivialis) should be planted in October, or anytime during the winter when the temperature is above 40°. Seeding rates are shown below. In all cases, the newly applied seed should be watered at least twice daily until the grass has grown to the point of covering the ground.


Some of the worst installation mistakes I see on both residential and commercial projects are:

1.  Failure to prepare and mulch beds properly.

2.  Planting plants (especially trees) too low in the ground.

3.  Failure to provide proper drainage.

4.  Planting in smooth or glazed-wall holes.

5.  Planting ill-adapted plant varieties.

6.  Installing plants with dry root systems.

7.  Staking and wrapping trees unnecessarily.

Plants for Houston and the Gulf Coast March 2008 - Howard Garrett


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