Whether you're planting seed or laying sod, do it during the prime grass-growing time for your area if at all possible. In the northern United States, late summer or early spring is best. In the South, the best time is late spring or late summer. As a rule, it's okay to plant any time when you can count on about a month of temperate and moist weather to follow. That should give your grass enough time to get off to a good start.
If you need a lawn in a hurry, but it's the wrong time to plant, sow a temporary crop of annual ryegrass. The turf comes up fast. While it won't survive a freezing winter, it can help prevent erosion and discourage weed seeds from sprouting until you can replace it with a permanent lawn.
Most people assume that starting a lawn from sod is easier, faster, and more reliable than seeding. Well, at least one of those assumptions is true: It's faster. With sod, you can have a great-looking lawn in one day. But sodding (installing sod) requires just as much soil preparation work as seeding and even more aftercare. On the other hand, if you plant sod properly and nurse it through its establishment period, your lawn will start out entirely free of undesirable weedy plants, such as dandelions and thistle.
When it comes to installing sod, follow these two important rules for best results: Get the soil thoroughly moist and work quickly. It's also a good idea to get the ground as level as possible and make sure that the soil is good to go before the sod arrives. You don't want to let it sit and dry out in a heap.
^ If for some reason you can't install the sod immediately, store it in a cool area out of the sun and cover it lightly with a tarp to keep it moist until you can ■ f(|l| install it. Mist it with water, if necessary, but don't soak it. Wet sod is heavy to work with and may fall apart.
To lay the sod, start at a straight edge, such as a driveway or sidewalk. Lay the sod pieces end to end, making sure that they butt up against each other tightly, with no bare soil showing. When you finish one row, offset the beginning of the next row so that the starting ends of each row are staggered instead of in a line.
Caring for your sod
Even after the entire area has been covered, your job is far from over. Aftercare is critical for success. Follow these steps:
1. Roll the entire area with a lawn roller to make sure that the sod is in good contact with the soil beneath it.
The sod needs pampering until the roots dig deep into the soil to forage for their own water. Don't let the sod dry out for four weeks.
4. Mow the grass when it starts growing vigorously.
If you start your lawn with seed, weeds can and will sprout along with the grass. That's the major disadvantage of seed versus sod. But you have many more improved varieties of seed to choose among. Choosing seed also allows you to add the seeds of other desirable lawn plants, such as clover and white yarrow. Seed is much less expensive than sod, too.
How much seed do you need? That depends on the type of grass you're planting. Use the number on the box to figure how much you need, and buy about one-quarter more than you think you need.
Prepare the soil as described in "Preparing the Soil," earlier in this chapter, and then go over it one more time with a rake to remove all rocks and make the surface as level as possible. Water the area thoroughly.
You can sow the seed with a broadcast or drop spreader. A broadcast spreader spins the seeds out in a wide pattern. A drop spreader places the seeds in a band between the wheels. If the lawn area is small, you can also sow the seed by hand. No matter how you do it, be careful to get uniform coverage. Here's how:
1. Divide the seed into two equal lots.
To speed germination, mulch the area with organic materials, such as finely shredded compost or dried manure, topsoil, finely chopped straw, or even a thin layer of sawdust. Apply it no more than % inch thick and as evenly as possible. Avoid hay, which contains weed seeds.
Letting the tender grass seedlings dry out will kill them. For complete germination, you must keep the top layer of soil constantly moist. Soak the soil to a 6-inch depth after sowing; then lightly sprinkle by hand or with a sprinkler as often as three to four times daily until the young grass is established.
Allow the young grass to reach its maximum recommended height before mowing. Read "There's more to mowing," later in this chapter, to find the best mowing height for your lawn grass.
Maintaining turf without chemicals requires that you understand a little bit about the habits of grass and the problems that plague it. Fortunately, proper mowing, watering, fertilizing, and aerating can go a long way toward preventing pest problems, especially diseases.
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