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DALY: Avoid installing sod until spring

I recently observed a landscape company installing bermuda sod to a lawn in my subdivision. It was brown and in a dormant state due to the cold temperatures. The question arises as to whether or not sod installed in winter will survive and green up the following spring.

Transplanting warm-season sod, which include bermudagrass, centipedegrass, zoysiagrass and St. Augustinegrass, in winter is possible. However, the chances of it surviving and becoming established are less than if it is planted during the warmer weather.

In warm season turfgrasses, upon the arrival of cold weather, grass blades stop growing and turn brown. However, the roots and the crowns, which are the structures where the leaves emerge, continue to grow at a reduced rate. New grass blades will emerge when warmer weather returns in spring.

If a warm-season turfgrass is dormant, how will you know if it is alive and healthy? You could be purchasing sod that has not been properly cared for during the growing season, have hidden pest problems, or is dead. You will not know the overall quality of the sod or how much of it is alive until it begins to green up the following spring.

Successful transplanting of dormant sod is dependent on purchasing and planting healthy material. Ideally the sod should be installed within a few days after harvesting and being placed on the pallets. However, dormant sod on pallets may have been sitting for a long period of time in a holding yard.

The ability of sod to survive when installed during dormancy is dependent upon keeping the roots from drying out and avoiding low temperature injury. The loss of moisture is frequently a serious problem since newly transplanted sod has an undeveloped root system. The warm dry winds of late winter and early spring increase the demand for water. However, the combination of low soil temperatures and a limited root system reduces the sod's ability to absorb water. Keeping the sod moist, but not soaking wet, will improve its chances of surviving. Often normal winter rainfall is adequate. However, if supplemental irrigation is needed, then apply roughly one inch of water every two weeks. Check the sod periodically by pulling on the ends and edges of the sod to make sure the underlying soil is moist and the roots are growing into the soil.

Roll the sod thoroughly after laying to eliminate air pockets to help reduce the amount of water loss and improve root contact with the soil. Do not apply any fertilizer until after it greens up in the spring. This can lead to premature green-up thus increasing the likelihood of damage from hard freezes. Under such conditions, turf recovery is possible only from deep growing rhizomes, which newly sodded turf usually lacks. Good soil preparation, adequate soil-to-sod contact, and most importantly, proper water management to prevent the sod from drying out is essential for winter planted sod to survive.

So, if you want to have your lawn sodded during winter, remember installing dormant warm season sod in winter is possible but be aware of the risks involved. You may end up with a healthy attractive lawn in the following growing season, but then again, you may not. The best course of action is to wait until the warmer months for the planting of sod to improve the chances of it surviving and becoming established.

Some excellent plants are available at the 2012 Gwinnett County Extension Plant Sale. Go to the Extension website at www.gwinnettextension.org to download the order form or call the Gwinnett County Extension office for a form to be mailed to you. The deadline for ordering is Friday, March 16. The order pick-up day will be Thursday, March 29 from 10:00 am to 6:30 pm at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds.

Timothy Daly, MS, Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent, Gwinnett County Extension. He may be contacted by phone at 678-377-4010 or by email at timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.