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There is something magical about a carpet of pristine grass outside a home, setting it in a sea of green not only gives it curb appeal but makes the environment so much more pleasant. However, getting that look can take time or money, and more than not we don’t have the time. It can take a year or more for grass to properly root from seed, and most homeowners would prefer to be able to see the fruits of their labors a bit quicker. That’s why laying sod is the most practical alternative to getting a new lawn.
If you go down the route of laying sod for a lawn, you can expect it to take three or four days to complete, depending upon the amount of work needed to prepare the soil. If you do it yourself, then best to plan to do it over a couple of weekends, one to prepare the ground, and the next to lay the turf. Otherwise, bringing in a contractor will cost more money, but it should be done in over a less extended period. There are advantages to bringing in the professionals, as they have the equipment and expertise to lay a smooth lawn with no gaps.
When going to the expense of laying a lawn, then it is also advisable to install a watering system to keep the grass in tip-top condition. Needless to say getting the perfect lawn is not cheap, but if laid correctly, it will last for many years.
The cost of laying sod primarily depends on how big an area you intend to cover with grass. To get some idea of the cost accurately measure the area you wanted to be grassed over. Sod is usually sold by the square foot, so take measurements in feet and inches. The price of sod can vary depending on the grade, and the type of grass, and we will look at that in a bit more detail a little later, as the cost can vary from as little as $0.35/sq.ft. to more than double at $0.85/sq.ft. If you intend to use a professional to lay your sod, then they will charge for preparation and laying based on the square footage of the area.
They may also make additional charges if the area to be covered is sloped, or if there is limited access to the site. So if you are going to employ a professional budget of $0.90/sq.ft. to $2.00/sq.ft for a turnkey job of preparation and laying depending on the quality and type of sod used. When buying sod, most comes available palletized, with 450 sq.ft per pallet.
Sod is graded by the strength and health of the root system. If you choose the cheaper economy grade option, then it will need more nurturing care and may be more prone to some of the common diseases. As a guide, economy grade sod runs at about $0.30/sq.ft, mid-grade at $0.50/sq.ft., and high grade at $0.80/sq.ft. High-grade sod will have no more than an inch of soil attached, as too much soil can prevent the roots attaching to the prepared soil base, and too little means the root system can get damaged. Another thing to look out for in the higher grade grass is that is more mature, with blades at least two inches long, and have a consistent color. Also, if you want your sod to arrive in perfect condition the time between cutting and laying should be no more than eight hours.
In the United States, there are four types of grasses that are typically used to turf new lawns. The varieties often depend on where you live, and which grass is most suited to your climate.
Zoysia – Is a Far East native slow-growing grass, and does well in all wet and warm climates. Because it is slow growing, it does not need to be mowed quite so often, however, it will take longer to recover from any damage. Expect to pay $0.40/sq.ft. for economy grade sod, to as much as $0.60/sq.ft for high grade.
Bermuda – Is fast growing and invasive, and some people regard it as a weed, while others love it as a lawn. With a deep root system, down to as much as six feet, Bermuda grass is very drought tolerant. On the flip side, it can be extremely difficult to get rid of should you wish to change. Expect to pay $0.35/sq.ft. for the lower grade of sod, up to $0.85/sq.ft. for the highest.
St. Augustine – Is ideal for beachfront and desert properties as it handles heat well, and is both drought and salt tolerant. The fast-growing grass needs frequent mowing, although it can suffer if cut too short. It does not work well in high foot traffic areas or where the temperature can get down to well below freezing. These shortcomings are often overlooked because of its rich green color. Expect to pay $0.30/sq.ft. for economy grade sod, up to $0.70/sq.ft. for premium grade.
Fescue – Is one of the most common grass species, with more than 500 varieties. The famous Kentucky grass is one of these subspecies. The taller varieties handle foot traffic well and stay green all the year around provided it is maintained properly. As a low maintenance grass clippings can be left to add nutrients. Expect to pay $0.25/sq.ft for low grade sod, and $0.65/sq.ft for high grade.
All the experts will tell you that the secret of the perfect lawn is the preparation. Getting the soil ready or the sod can take much longer than laying the turf and be just as expensive. The aim is to give the new turf best start, and that needs soil that is well-aerated, slightly acidic, and rich in nutrients. If you are not sure how your soil stacks up, it’s worth spending about $15 for a sample to be tested. You are looking for soil with a pH acidity of around 6 to 7.5. Your local garden center will be able to advise on the best type of grass for your soil.
The top six to eight inches of soil needs to be aerated with a rototiller. If the ground is rocky and full of stones, then it would be advisable to remove as many as possible, as they can damage the tiller. Tree roots are another obstacle for preparing the soil. The rototiller can cut through the roots and kill of young trees, and thick roots from older trees can damage the rototiller blades.
Once the soil has been worked over, a couple of inches of compost can be added to improve the nutrient content, and if the soil is clay-like, another couple of inches of sand should be added to improve drainage. All this should be tilled into the ground. The results of the soil test should give you an idea if at this stage fertilizer should be added to the soil, or lime to correct the acidity.
Once the soil has been given its feed and aerated, it’s time to level the surface. This can be done with a rake, making sure the surface of the soil is at least an inch lower than any walkway or driveway. If the land you are intending to grass has a slope, then it may be worth considering having the area professionally graded. Laying sod on a steep slope requires a different technique and takes more time
The trick to laying a good lawn is to pick the longest straight edge and work from that. It can often be a boundary line, such as a fence line. The sod should be rolled out making sure it is well patted down to the soil underneath, and there are no air pockets. Once the sod is rolled out keep off, as it should not be walked on for a couple of weeks to ensure the roots have time to establish themselves. After the first row of turf is laid, then stagger the seams so any joints will not be visible. The pattern should remind you of a brick wall, where the joins are not uniform. Remember to cut holes for any watering system, and using a sharp sod knife to trim pieces around planting and paved areas. Once the lawn is covered, make sure it gets a good watering.
After about a couple of weeks, the lawn grass should have grown to about 3 inches high. It is not time to cut it back to about 2 inches. The clippings should be bagged, and try not to use a heavy lawnmower as the lawn will still be delicate. A couple of weeks later when you mow a second time it’s a good idea to add fertilizer as the heavy watering schedule on a new lawn can wash away some of the nutrients. Especially when a lawn has just been laid, the watering should be frequent. Use a soil probe to check on the moisture content of the soil, as it should be damp up to four inches below the surface to promote healthy young root growth.