Installing turfgrass takes more than just planning

March 23, 2006
CHARLIE NEUMEYER - Victoria County Master Gardener Intern

The builder is finished and the much-anticipated move-in date is nearly here. You have carefully chosen wall finishes, flooring and window treatments to create a special place for you and your family or business associates.
But what about the outside? Have you made those important decisions concerning how your exterior living space will look and function?
Establishing a new lawn requires a great deal of planning. After a design is sketched, ground preparation can begin. The next major step is choosing a turfgrass that will meet your needs. The final step is the actual planting.

While the process may seem intimidating, breaking it down into small chunks will help you complete the task with relative ease.

The first step You should decide how much of the lot will be used for lawn, how much for flowerbeds and how much for hardscape items such as sidewalks, patios and driveways. In deciding the amount of lawn you need, consider several factors. Do you need a play area for your children? For pets? For a business, how much space will be walkway and/or parking? How much will be just aesthetics? How much time do you want to spend mowing? Will there be a sprinkler system, or will hand watering be the main system of irrigation?

Answered these questions then measure your lot and draw in your home or office building, the driveway or parking area and other hardscape items. Next, detail your flowerbeds. The area that is left will be the lawn.

Ground preparation You should remove the debris, control the weeds with a herbicide, cultivate/till your soil, maintain or create proper surface drainage contours, and level the soil. Remember that you want the lawn to drain away from your house. If you do not have at least 6 inches of soil for your lawn, now is the time to have loads of topsoil brought in to be sure that you establish optimum conditions. This is also the time to install a sprinkler system if that is included in your plan and your budget.

Choose a turfgrass Some factors to consider in this decision are the number of hours of sunlight the lawn areas will receive, the amount of traffic (children and pets as well as the adults), the amount of water required and the frequency of mowing.

According to Roger D. Havlak, extension turf specialist in San Antonio, there are six major types of grass suitable for this area. They are St. Augustine, Bermuda, centipede, buffalo, seashore paspalum and zoysia.

Generally, St. Augustine grasses have the highest shade tolerance. Zoysia grasses have the highest traffic tolerance. Buffalo and centipede grasses only have to be mowed every seven to 14 days, and buffalo has the lowest water requirement.

For a more detailed look at the characteristics of these grasses, go to the Texas A&M University Official Aggie Turf Web site

(http://aggie-turf.tamu.edu/) and select "Answers 4 You."

Planting grass There are three common ways to establish lawns. You could choose to sow seeds on your prepared site. This method is the least expensive, but seeds are only available for some grass types and some strains may not "come true" if grown from seed.

A second method is planting from sprigs. This method costs more than seeding, but less than sodding. The sprigs are planted individually in the lawn and eventually will solidify into a lawn. St. Augustine should cover in three months with adequate water and fertilizer. Bermuda should cover in two months, while zoysia may take an entire growing season or longer.

The most expensive way to establish a lawn is by sodding. There are two ways this may be accomplished. You can order the sod by the pallet or by the roll. To determine the square feet of sod that you will need, go back to your initial plan and determine how many square feet of your lot will be lawn.

Next, go to a nursery or other landscape service or log on to the Turfgrass Producers of Texas Web site www.txsod.com and find a local supplier. Order your grass and schedule the delivery for a day when you can begin planting.

Tools you need When the turf is delivered, have the supplier place the pallets or rolls in various spots around the lawn. You may use a wheelbarrow to move the pieces of sod to the area in which you are working.

Start installing the sod along a driveway or sidewalk pushing the edges together tightly. You will need a sharp knife, spade or machete to trim the edges to fit. Try to stagger the joints so that you do not have continuous seams.

At this point, you may want to use a roller to be sure that the roots have good contact with the soil. Check with your supplier to see if they have this equipment available for rent. After you have finished a section, begin watering immediately to be sure that the grass does not dry out. Initially, you will need to water lightly and frequently, but as soon as the new grass is rooted, begin a deep, infrequent watering program. Mow as soon as the grass begins to grow and always mow at the correct height for the variety of turf you have chosen.

A beautiful, well-maintained lawn enhances the value of your property both financially and aesthetically. It is labor intensive and expensive initially, but doing it the right way from the start will pay off in the long run.