By SHANNON HATHAWAY – Picture this: you hire a company to install sod, and you have an image in your mind of a perfect, solid green lawn, similar to having new carpet installed in the home. Seems reasonable, right? But within two days, the lawn looks stressed; there are some areas doing better than others, and the seams between sod rolls are noticeable. Within two weeks, weeds start popping up. You panic! What went wrong?
Nothing went wrong. A new lawn is not at all like new carpet because it is alive, harvested, and in shock. Weeds are opportunists, and they will come up despite the fact that the existing vegetation was killed prior to sodding. It’s a question of understanding the process and having realistic expectations.
The sod installers come out and spray the lawn to kill the existing vegetation. This is done with a post-emergent weed killer, meaning it kills vegetation but not seeds. Seeds can only be killed with a pre-emergent during the germination phase. Applying a pre-emergent prior to sodding will severely damage the new sod roots, so you must wait six weeks after applying pre-emergent before you can safely lay sod. Moreover, you should not apply pre-emergent on a new lawn in its first growing season. And the seeds that were not in the germination stage when the pre-emergent was applied will still be viable. Weeds are survivors! The realistic expectation is to anticipate quite a few weeds in the first year.
Once the existing vegetation is dead, the next step is to loosen the soil 2-3 inches deep with a tiller or a power rake and remove the dead vegetation. However, some weeds have very deep root systems, and tilling too deeply would result in a soupy mess of soil base that would never settle evenly. Limiting the disturbance to 2-3 inches keeps the base soil structure intact and gives a much better grade result. The grass roots will easily penetrate the first 2-3 inches and then work their way into the base gradually. When a topsoil/compost or pure compost layer is added, you will have a layer of nutrition on top of the loosened soil, giving the sod a kickstart. This is a great way to get the new sod off and running, but it looks pretty good to the weeds too. The realistic expectation is that the weed seeds will use that loose soil and nutritious compost to germinate. Any root left behind will also take advantage of this improved soil and spring to life.
When your sod is laid, you will begin an extended process of watering to get it to root properly. The weed seeds and roots will love this abundant water too!
Your new sod is harvested from a field, and the main root system is left behind in the field to regenerate and produce the next harvest. The sod will come with a root base of about 1 inch. Its root system has been severely cut, and the grass is in shock. When it is laid down on properly prepared soil, the sod will focus all of its energy on rooting right away. It will take energy away from leaf and stem production to ensure root survival, so you may see evidence of stress in the leaves because all the energy is going to work underground. The realistic expectation is to expect the lawn to look worse before it looks better. Be patient. If you are following care instructions, it will get better soon!
When the sod is laid, care is taken to butt the seams up against each other. Often, the grass on the edges of the sod roll has been completely severed in harvesting, and you will see small pieces along the edges dry up and blow away. This is normal. Again, be patient. The root system is hard at work and will regenerate grass along the edges. The realistic expectation is that it can take a month or more for the seams to close up. If the sod is laid late in the season, you may still see the seams into the following spring.
While the sod is rooting and the seams are slowly closing, weeds, those pesky opportunists, will take advantage and spring to life. You can hand-pull them or wait until you have mowed three times (about six weeks after installation) and apply a post-emergent weed killer that is safe for your specific grass variety. Always read chemical labels carefully and thoroughly, and follow directions! Make sure to mow at the height and frequency recommended for your grass to keep weeds in check so they have a hard time going to seed. This will give you an advantage next year.
The key here is patience and diligence in following the care instructions. Your new grass is like a new puppy, and you can expect a period of adjustment when the new addition needs extra patience and care. And speaking of puppies, please keep foot traffic – human and canine – to a minimum during the first month. The sod needs time to root, and the soil needs time to settle evenly.
Get In Touch
Hang in there! We are here to talk you through this transition period. To get in touch with us, give us a call at 919.205.4256, or simply fill out a form and our team will gladly answer any questions you may have.