Turf grass remains the most popular landscaping material. There are a wide variety of lawn grasses available from water efficient buffalo grass to the every popular Kentucky bluegrass. Many experts now recommend planting grasses native to your specific region. Seeds and sod for native grasses may be more difficult to locate, but the results can be beautiful, unusual, and much more water efficient. It is best to use native grass seed from stock that originated from no more than 300 miles of your location, preferably from within 100 miles. This is not always possible. Check with a horticulture expert in your region to determine the most appropriate grass for your lawn.

Minimize Turf Areas

To maximize water efficiency, minimize the lawn areas in your landscape plan. In particular beware of narrow strips of grass near sidewalks or fences – these strips are often darn near impossible to irrigate efficiently. Proper ground and soil preparation will improve efficiency and greatly enhance your landscape. Soil preparation probably the most important and most ignored element of landscaping.

Turf Installation For New Landscapes

[su_highlight]Soil Preparation [/su_highlight]

Prepare the ground with these goals in mind:

  • Good drainage
  • Smooth contours for even growth
  • No high spots or ruts for mower wheels, as this will cause scalping.
  • Good topsoil

You should slope the ground away from buildings and grade to one inch below driveway or sidewalk level.

When possible use mulch or gravel borders to avoid turf areas that are difficult to irrigate efficiently.

[su_highlight]About Topsoil [/su_highlight]

Well drained fertile loam is the ideal soil for lawns. Sandy or gravelly soils dry out too quickly. Heavy clays are hard to work, and may become water logged and compacted. If your soil is unsuitable, you may need to buy good topsoil, but most topsoil is useable. Heavy topsoil can be improved by adding sand or organic matter, or both. Clay or silt and organic matter can be added if the topsoil is too light.

[su_highlight]Improve Your Topsoil [/su_highlight]

Available organic matter can be used to enhance the quality of your topsoil. There are several sources of organic matter. The one to use depends upon local availability and cost.

Commonly recommended soil additives include:

  • Mushroom manure, well rotted
  • Chicken manure with sawdust, should be composted
  • Peat moss
  • Peat and sand mixture
  • Any readily available compost

After adding topsoil and/or soil additives, bring entire yard to a rough grade, be sure to distribute the improved topsoil evenly over the entire yard. Generously apply lime. Use three times the amount recommended for an established lawn.

Roto-till the soil to a depth of 4 to 6 inches. Finish grading:

  • Start ground leveling by raking the high spots into the lower areas. A home made float (a 6 x 6 beam with a rope attached) will work if the soil has been well prepared. Use a string line to check ground levels.
  • Roll the soil lightly during the early stages of preparation. This will show up variations in ground level. Continue to rake and roll until the contours are smooth and all high and low spots have been removed.

When you rake and grade, remove debris such as old sod, plants and rocks. Stones less than one inch in diameter can be left ‘when you are laying turf.

[su_highlight]Planting [/su_highlight]

You have two basic choices when installing grass: sod or seed. Sod will give you a green lawn area right away, but is more expensive. Seed takes time to grow, but is much less costly.

[su_highlight]Installing Sod [/su_highlight]

Measure your Lawn
If your yard is an odd shape, divide the area into rectangles or triangles. The formula to determine the number of square feet in a rectangle is: length times width (feet). The formula for a triangle is: 1/2 the base times the height (feet). If you wish to know the area in square yards divide the number of square feet by 9.

Ordering Sod
Typically you need to call and order your sod one week before you want to lay your sod. Sod is usually cut just prior to delivery or just before you come to pick it up. It doesn’t survive long once it has been cut. Make sure the ground preparation is complete before the delivery date. Sod should be laid as soon as possible after delivery, especially in hot weather. The quicker the sod is transplanted the better your odds of success. You should never leave turf rolled up for more than 1 or 2 days after delivery.

Laying the Sod

  • Apply root fertilizer uniformly to the prepared ground just before laying the sod. Some sod producers recommend a high phosphate root starter such as 10-20-10. Next, moisten the soil. Your turf will root on damp soil more than twice as fast as it will on dry soil.
  • Lay the first row of sod on a straight line along a curb, driveway, or taut string. Make sure that ends are butted close together – but not overlapping. Indent the second row from the first like brickwork. Avoid stretching the sod because it shrinks on drying, and leaves spaces that are easily invaded by weeds. When all the sod has been laid, roll it with a lawn roller to ensure good contact between the sod and the soil beneath.
  • If the ground is very soft, use sheets of plywood or wide planks to spread your weight to prevent sinking in. Roll the lawn when the ground is firmer.
  • Water thoroughly and do not allow the sod to dry out. You may even have to water during the course of the installation. If the sod is laid in mid-summer, it should be watered lightly at noon each day for a week or two in warm dry weather to prevent excessive loss of moisture from the grass. At least until the roots have taken hold and begun to draw moisture from the soil below.

Planting Grass Seed

Once you have prepared your landscape area, it is best to follow the planting instructions that come with your grass seed. Different types of grass seeds have different requirements and native grasses may require substantially less water. Here are some general guidelines applicable to standard grass seeds.

Once the soil preparation is complete as specified above follow these steps:

  • Apply the seed at recommended rates with a drop spreader or broadcast spreader.
  • LIGHTLY rake the seed into the soil (1/4 inch). Seed needs to be bedded in the soil to germinate quickly and uniformly.
  • Apply a mulch such as straw or futerra netting on sloping areas to hold seed and soil in place during heavy rain or watering.

Watering Grass Seeds

Initial Watering – The first watering should be heavy, wetting the soil to a depth of 6-8 inches. This will allow developing roots to better penetrate the soil. Daily waterings will also be more effective with a heavy initial watering. Care should be taken to not allow runoff.

First 3 Weeks – Daily watering is recommended for the first 3 weeks. The objective is to keep the surface moist. The amount of water applied each time will be small. However, in hot weather, two or three daily waterings may be necessary. With dew available many mornings, midday is often the best choice if only one watering can be made. You should not saturate the soil in this period, as potential seedling disease problems are lurking.

Fourth Week – As the seedlings develop, the surface may be allowed to dry out, but the root zone must still be kept moist. Change from light daily waterings to heavier waterings every other day.

Fifth Week – Two heavy waterings to maintain soil moisture for root development and later germinating seedlings.

Sixth Week – At this point resume normal watering procedures for your lawn.

Air temperature, ground temperature, available moisture, and sunlight affect the germination times of seed. Most ryegrass and fescue will germinate in 7-14 days. Kentucky bluegrass germinates in about 20-25 days.

Seeded areas with existing grass can be mowed as needed. Do not let clippings accumulate on the lawn, as smothering of new seedlings may occur. New lawns should be mowed as the lawn gets to normal mowing height. For Ryegrass, Bluegrass, and Fescue this should be in the 2.5″ to 3″ range.

Lawn Disposal and Recycling


Grasscycling is the natural practice of leaving clippings on the lawn when mowing. This can save time, money and other resources like landfill space. The clippings quickly decompose, returning nutrients to the soil. Grass clippings do not have to be removed from a home lawn unless they are excessively heavy.

William Lowe
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