The heat is on to fill bare spots or start a new lawn.

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Your lawn may suffer bare patches or have devolved into a weedy mess, but that doesn't mean you have to surrender your pride. Here in the South, you still have plenty of time to enjoy splendor in the grass. The best way to make that happen is to put down sod.

Why sod and not seed? Several reasons.

  • Sod provides an instant lawn or an instant patch. You just put it down, keep it watered for a couple of weeks, and it's done. Seed, however, is problematic. It takes months to fill in and has to compete with weeds that sprout with it.
  • Attentive watering is critical for seed. If germinating seed dries out for even an hour in daytime, it dies.
  • Birds eat grass seed sown atop the soil.
  • If sown seed isn't lightly covered with straw, heavy rain could wash it away.
  • It's too warm now to seed cool-season grasses like bluegrass and fescue. You need to wait until fall. Seed of warm-season grasses like Bermuda and St. Augustine need the warmth, but germinate sporadically nevertheless.
  • Seed isn't cheap. Enough seed to cover 1,200 square-feet can cost upwards of $30. And you'll need to seed again and again to achieve a thick lawn.

(FYI – Beware of grass seed labeled for use in dense shade. Some grasses like fescue and St. Augustine tolerate light shade, but all prefer sun and none grow in dense shade.)

Laying Down Sod
Credit: Steve Bender

'Zeon' Delights

Judy and I just finished replacing 420 square-feet of crummy, thinned-out Bermuda grass beside our driveway with a new kind of Zoysia called 'Zeon.' It's fine-bladed and beautiful deep-green; you might mistake it for the popular selection, 'Emerald.' 'Zeon' fills in quicker than 'Emerald,' though, tolerates light shade better, and is more cold-hardy (USDA Zones 6 to 10). Plus, its blades lack prickles on the tips and won't make your bare feet itch. It's truly a joy to walk on, as Judy's lovely tootsies, shown above, will testify. Fortunately, we have a good sod farm nearby, so we made several trips in our SUV to pick up and the sod and laid it ourselves. Cost: A couple of hundred bucks. You can also order delivered sod from lawn and landscape companies.

Tips for Laying Sod

Before installing new grass, kill the old grass. Spray all the grass and weeds according to label directions with Roundup. (No, this won't sterilizde your entire county despite what you've read on Facebook, so don't bother me with hate mail.) Next, after about a week when the vegetation is brown, set your mower on its lowest cutting height and buzz-cut the former lawn. Rake off twigs, rocks, and other debris. Fill dips, holes, and eroded areas with topsoil or sand to produce a fairly even surface. Now you're ready to lay sod.

Sod typically comes in strips 24-inches long and 16-inches wide. When buying, look for green, tightly knit strips that don't break into pieces when you lift them. Lay them in rows either east-west or north-south, staggering the joints between strips so they don't line up with those of rows on either side. This keeps rain from carving little streambeds before the grass fills in. Alternating joints means you'll have to vertically cut a few strips in half to fill out the ends of some rows. A sod-cutter tool available at home centers makes this easy. If you're sodding a slope, sod across it, not up and down.

Now, water – thoroughly. If it's a small area, soak it by hand using a hose. Big areas will need a sprinkler. Water long enough to wet both the new sod and the soil beneath it. This encourages sod roots to grow into the soil. Keep the soil and sod constantly moist for at least three weeks. Don't let the grass turn brown.

Should you fertilize new sod right away? No. Lawn fertilizer contains lots of nitrogen that encourages blade growth. You want root growth now. Besides, the sod was already fertilized at the sod farm. Wait at least six weeks to fertilize new sod. And don't treat it for weeds until next spring.