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DALY: Wait until spring to install warm season sod

I recently observed a landscape company installing bermuda sod on a residential property. It was brown and in a dormant state due to the winter weather. 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 includes 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.

Upon the arrival of cold weather, grass blades stop growing and turn brown in warm season turfgrasses. 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 the 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, has 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 cold weather injury. The loss of moisture is frequently a problem since newly transplanted sod has an undeveloped root system. The dry winds of 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. Periodically pull the ends and edges of the sod to make sure that 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. Fertilizer 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 choose 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. Winter is a good time to decide on what to plant in your yard. The Gwinnett County Extension annual plant sale has some excellent plants that are available for sale. If you are interested in purchasing some of these excellent plants, go online to the Extension website at www.gwinnettextension.com, click on events to download the order form or call the Gwinnett County Extension office at 678-377-4010 for one to be mailed to you. The deadline for ordering is Tuesday, March 12. The order pick-up day will be Thursday, March 21 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Gwinnett County Fairgrounds, 2405 Sugarloaf Parkway, Lawrenceville, GA.

Timothy Daly, MS is an Agricultural and Natural Resource agent with Gwinnett County Cooperative Extension. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.