Nearly everyone dreams of having a perfectly lush, green turfgrass lawn in the backyard. Indeed, lawns provide many benefits to homeowners! A well-managed lawn is an excellent filter of chemical and nutrient runoff, builds soil through the breakdown of clippings, thatch and organisms that exist in turf systems, is aesthetically pleasing and increases property values, reduces ambient air temperatures and provides a durable surface for pets and play! However, none of these turf benefits can be realized if you don’t install and establish sod correctly.Remember these ten tips when planning, installing, and establishing sod to realize your perfect lawn dream!
Choose the Correct Species for Your Site. Not every site is equal. Is irrigation present, or will the turf be on its own? Are you willing and able to provide a higher level of care or will you sacrifice some aesthetic appeal for a lower maintenance turf? These and other questions need to be answered before you buy! Do some homework before settling on a particular grass species and cultivar; they all have merits and drawbacks.
Prepare the Site. Ensure the area you’ll be installing your new sod is weed-free, not compacted, and smooth. Several weeks before installation, apply a non-selective herbicide to “clean” the site of weeds. After existing weeds die, it’s a good idea to till the area or at least “rough it up” with a heavy rake. This helps alleviate site soil compaction which allows easier root initiation from sod to soil. Finally, smooth the site to ensure good root to soil contact and prevent a bumpy surface later.
Time for some water! ‘Tiftuf’ Bermuda sod ready for a mid-lay watering. Hot and dry conditions demand sod be kept moist. Photo courtesy of the author.
Buy Quality Sod. Research where the dealer you purchase sod from sources their grass. Ensure you’re buying turf from a respected operation that follows Sod Production Best Management Practices. Not all farms are equal.
Lay it Quickly. If buying from a retail dealer, make sure their sod is fresh. Sod quality declines rapidly after 48 hours from cutting. Ideally, sod is installed the same day it’s cut on the farm, but not later than the next day.
Water periodically during installation. If installing a large area of turf, periodically wet sod you’ve already laid. Think about the day the sod you’ve laid has had. It was ripped from its home soil, windblown on a trailer en route to your site, laid onto a warm, bare soil surface and is currently baking in the sun waiting on you to finish laying the rest. That’s stressful and a good way to have a crispy brown patch in the new lawn! Ease the sod’s stress by periodically wetting as you lay it. It’s also not a bad idea to lightly moisten the site prior to laying the new sod. Avoid making it muddy.
Mound Soil Around Edges. This prevents the edges of freshly laid turf from drying quicker than the rest of the grass and browning out. It doesn’t have to be a lot, just take a heavy rake and fill in the gap between the soil surface and the leaf blades. Think of it as hiding exposed roots from the sun and wind. Trust me, this step keeps you from having a nice brown ring circumventing your new green lawn!
Pack it Down. You can be fancy with a drum roller partially filled with water or simply use a rake or tamping tool to lightly tamp the grass down. This helps ensure good root contact with the soil, prevents dry patches in the establishing sod, and quickens rooting time.
Almost finished! Remember to tamp down and mound soil around the roots of the edge pieces. Photo courtesy of the author.
Water Correctly. Your new sod needs to be thoroughly watered daily for the first 10-14 days after installation. Remember how stressful the sod laying process is to turf. It takes a little while for sod to recover and initiate rooting into its new home. Don’t miss a day! Following this initial 10-14 day period, back off to once every couple of days for another two weeks or so. After that, the sod should be rooted in nicely and be able to rely on regular, as needed, lawn irrigation intervals.
Stay Off It! Minimize traffic on new sod for several weeks after installation. Roots are establishing during this time and are extremely vulnerable to disturbance until anchored. I know you’re ready to enjoy your new lawn, but you’ve come too far now to mess it up!
No Fertilizer for 30-60 days! Plants without roots have a hard time taking up nutrients. Therefore, it makes sense that until sod has firmly anchored into place and established a new root system, fertilizer application should be withheld. Fertilizer applied during the initial establishment period will likely be wasted and leach through the soon-to-be rootzone and could even burn fragile new roots. Also, avoid using a starter fertilizer for the same reason – there aren’t any roots to take up the nutrients.
‘Tiftuf’ Bermudagrass sod being watered after installation is finished. Do this daily for 10-14 days following installation. Photo courtesy of the author.
By following these ten tips, you’ll be well on your way to a perfect lawn! For more information on these and other lawn care topics, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Agent and consult The Florida Lawn Handbook, a research-based publication written by UF/IFAS Extension specialists.
As temperatures lean more toward summertime highs, conditions can sometimes leave a landscape looking sad. Water issues can be a major source of headaches for homeowners when they cause plants to decline. The cause is not always readily apparent.
Footprints remain in droughty grass. Photo courtesy of Taylor Vandiver.
Water is something not even the meanest cactus in the driest desert can do without. Too little, and plants start to develop symptoms of drought stress. These symptoms include more than just wilting; stunted growth, curling or rolling leaves, fruit or leaves dropping, and yellowing or browning especially at leaf edges are all clues that a plant is thirsty. In lawns, underwatered grass may not spring back when stepped upon, leaving visible footprints in the turf. Long periods of drought stress can cause grass to thin. Plants exhibiting symptoms such as these may require extra water. A layer of mulch around landscaping can also help to retain moisture if soil dries out too quickly. Newly installed plants are particularly susceptible to drying out, and hot weather dries out all plants more quickly.
Plants can also be overwatered, however. Even with the well-drained, sandy soils that are present in much of the Florida Panhandle, it is possible to put too much water on a lawn or landscape. This can lead to problems that may be similar to those caused by underwatering – stunted growth, curled leaves, wilting, limbs or leaves dying, and increases in fungal disease can all occur. Lawns may become patchy and weeds, especially those that enjoy damp conditions such as sedges or dollarweed may establish themselves.
Improperly calibrated sprinklers. Photo courtesy of Evan Anderson.
Stress of any sort can also leave plants more susceptible to pest and disease issues. A healthy plant is better able to compete with weeds and fight off infestation or infection. If you notice problems with fungal disease, increased insect populations, or weed issues, it could be made worse by over- or underwatering!
To help avoid watering issues, make sure plants with similar water requirements are planted near one another. If you have irrigation for your lawn or landscape, it is important to calibrate it regularly. Make sure the system has a rainfall shutoff device and check systems for damaged or malfunctioning emitters. And remember, if you are having trouble with your lawn or landscape, contact your local Extension office for help!
Your lawn will likely need supplemental water during the growing season. Instead of setting your irrigation system to come on every few days, learn exactly when your grass needs water with Turfgrass Talk from your UF IFAS Extension Panhandle Horticulture Team. You may then apply water when it is needed by the grass, helping to prevent turf issues from overwatering.
Members of the Phyllophaga genus are found throughout Florida and most of North America. One of them is the May/June beetle. Adults are most active during the rainy season. So in parts of the country where the wetter months are May or June, the common name of this insect makes common sense. But, when an area experiences extra rain earlier in the spring, the May/June beetle may emerge from the ground in March or April. That is what has happened in the western Panhandle this spring. May/June beetles have been leaving the soil and flying to the lights of people’s homes.
The life cycle of these beetles varies from one to four years. Eggs are laid in soil each spring by females. In 3 to 4 weeks, small grubs (larvae) hatch from eggs and develop through three stages (instars), with the first two stages lasting about 3 weeks. The larvae will move closer to the surface and back deeper in the soil as the soil temperature changes. While close to the surface, larvae feed on grass roots about one inch below the soil surface. Damaged grass turns brown and increases in size over time. Heavy infested turf feels spongy and moves when walked upon. The last larval stage remains in the soil from the fall through spring. The cool soil temperatures drive the larvae deeper in the soil where they remain relatively inactive. Typically, on the third year, white grubs pupate 3 to 6 inches deep in the soil and emerge as adults.
Larvae, called grubs, vary in length from ¾ to 1 ¾ inches depending on the stages. Grubs are white with a C-shaped body with a brown head and three pairs of legs near the head. Adults have ½ to 1 inch long, shiny bodies that are dark yellow to brownish-red in color. Adults do feed on the foliage of several species of ornamental plants, but the damage is typically only aesthetic; not causing long-term harm.
Monitoring of and managing emerging adults can help with deciding on the need for insecticide control for the grubs. To catch and remove adult beetles, place white buckets containing soapy water near plants that have chew marks or areas with lights at night. Leave it overnight. The beetles can easily be disposed of the next day. If there are more than 12 in the bucket be prepared to monitor the lawn for grubs. Extra rain or frequent irrigation during the adult flight time may attract more egg-laying females.
To inspect for grubs, turn over sod to a depth of at least two-inches. If there are an average of three or more per square foot, an insecticide treatment may be needed. To confirm that they are May/June beetles inspect the darkened rear of the grub. Locate the anal slit. It should be Y-shaped with two rows of parallel bristles that point toward each other. This is referred to as the raster pattern. All grub species can be identified using their unique “butt” features.
The most effective time to control this pest is summer or early fall when the larvae are small. Remove as much thatch as possible before applying an insecticide. Spot treat the off-colored area plus the surrounding 10 feet with products containing imidacloprid or halofenozide in early summer. Follow up in the fall with insecticides such as trichlorfon, bifenthrin or carbaryl if grubs persist.
With our warm weather, many homeowners are looking to create a beautiful lawn for the year. There are so many products in the home improvement stores and nurseries that promise to make your lawn into a green paradise. What to choose?
Photo UF/IFAS Extension. Spring is a good time to check the water flow and direction of a pop-up irrigation system and make adjustments as necessary.
UF/IFAS Extension provides advice based on scientific research. This is what the science says:
Wait to apply lawn fertilizer in north Florida until mid-April. Lawn grasses don’t have sufficient root growth and capabilities to use the fertilizer until then. Applying fertilizer earlier in February and March feeds the winter weeds or is lost to leaching down into the soil below the grass roots. Here’s more detail on fertilizing your lawn.
Weed and feed products are not recommended. Instead, spot treat weeds when they are small before they mature and set seed. Consult our Weed Management Guide.
Preemergence herbicide, if applied correctly, can cut down on the weeds. Apply in late February or first of March for summer weeds and October 1 for winter weeds. Now in late March – Early April is still a good time to use a preemergence herbicide for those weeds that have not yet sprouted. It is crucial to apply the product correctly, following all label directions. Measure your lawn and make sure the right amount of product is applied. This is a convenient way to measure your lawn from your armchair.
Sharpen your mower blades! A clean cut on the grass blade cuts down on lawn stress and diseases setting in.
Water efficiently. We see more damage to lawns from overwatering than underwatering. Overwatering leads to increased weeds, disease, insect pests and weakens grass roots. Lawns need ½” to ¾“ of water and this will tell you how to determine when to water. The root system is healthier and stronger when watered deeply only when it needs it. Learn how long it takes your sprinkler system to deliver that amount.
The University of Florida provides more advice and information at:
Ground-dwelling bees get a lot of attention in late winter and spring as they create large numbers of small mounds in local lawns and landscapes.
Many people become concerned as they see these bees hovering close to the ground out in their lawns and landscapes. But these bees are interesting, docile, beneficial and are unlikely to sting.
These bees are known as andrenid bees or mining bees. Andrenid bees are solitary. As the name implies, they live alone. However, they may nest in close proximity to one another but they do not form a colony or hive. They produce individual mounds with a small entrance hole. The bees are approximately ½ inch in length with a black body.
Richard Sprenkel, retired UF/IFAS Entomologist, explains their biology in today’s article.
“After mating in late winter and early spring, the female selects a site that has dry, loose soil with sparse vegetation. She excavates a vertical shaft in the soil that is approximately the diameter of a pencil and up to eighteen inches deep. Off of the main shaft, the female will construct several brood chambers that she lines with a waterproof material. The female bee provisions each brood chamber with pollen and nectar on which she lays an egg. The pollen and nectar sustain the larva until fall when the overwintering adult is formed. Early the following spring, adult bees emerge from the ground to begin the cycle again. There is one generation per year.”
The small mound of soil that is excavated from each burrow brings additional attention to the activity of the bees. As males continue to hover in the area of the burrows looking for unmated females, the bees appear more menacing than they actually are. Andrenid bees have a tendency to concentrate their nests in a relatively small area. The openings to the underground burrows may be no more than three to four inches apart.
The threat of being stung by these bees is usually highly overrated. The males cannot sting and the females are docile and not likely to sting unless stepped on, handled or threatened. While entrances to the tunnels and excavated soil may appear disruptive to the lawn, they usually are not damaging. It may appear that the grass is thin because of the bees but it is more likely that the bees are in the area because the grass was already thin. Control is usually not necessary. Because the andrenid bees forage to gather pollen and nectar, they are actually beneficial. They serve as pollinators this time of the year.
**** Photo Credited to UF / IFAS Extension Jackson County courtesy of Josh Thompson****