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Fall is the best time for new turf: seed or sod

Gardening column
By: Kurt Voigt Special to The News Messenger
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Now that we are seeing fall weather, this is the best time of the year to install turf. One of the million-dollar questions to homeowners when installing a new landscape or rejuvenating an existing lawn is, “Should I seed or install sod?” It really is a question of instant gratification or patience, meaning do you want turf today or in eight weeks? To me, the costs are similar in the long run. With seed, even though you’re not spending 25 cents a square foot for sod up front, the weeding and reseeding you’re doing over those eight weeks adds up too. So consider these points based on personal experience before you decide. Being in the business for more than 20 years, I’ve laid enough sod to cover Pebble Beach a hundred times over. A lot! However, there is nothing like freshly-laid sod after a hard day’s work. It’s like the DIY Network’s “Yardcrashers’ Before and After.” First there’s soil and then there’s lush, green grass. Many different sod companies are out there so check pricing and if there’s delivery charges. A great California turf is fescue: tall, red or dwarf fescue. It’s more drought-resistant than bluegrass, green in the summer, wide, tough blade and is not susceptible to bluegrass diseases that can get rust and powdery mildew in the spring. It’s also good to get blends like fescue with rye so the turf can recover from damage or, if there is a disease that attacks one turf type, the other one can thrive. You can get fescue in seed as well. Seeding a lawn is very labor intensive, and if you hire a contractor, you will have a lot of call-backs to deal with the weeds and reseed. When you seed a lawn, you are creating a giant “seedbed” for weed seeds to blow in, animals to dig in and leaves to fall on it. All those instances create opportunities for repair and walking on the newly germinated seedbed. Usually after the seeds germinate are weeds that join the group, too. You’ve got to pull them, smooth out the soil and reseed. And you definitely need to make sure your irrigation timer is working. Otherwise, those seeds won’t last a day while you’re at work and they’re not moist. They’ll cook! The prep for both seed and sod is the same. Rototill the existing ground to break the crust and/or hardpan if it’s virgin ground. Bring in an inch or two of a compost and/or planting mix (yards of soil covering the area 1 or 2 inches thick), roll it with a roller to level, compact soil and remove lumps and air pockets. From there, you either seed it or lay sod. For sod, you should also use a “Starter Fertilizer,” something low in nitrogen and high in potassium and phosphorus to help encourage rooting. Use a Whirleybird to broadcast the fertilizer before you lay down your first piece of sod. I highly recommend using sod because it is less maintenance while it’s rooting. All you have to make sure is to adjust the timer to accommodate a new turf. Once it’s rooted, by checking the corners of sod and lifting up on the turf, you can mow it and you’re off and running! Or should I say playing! Kurt Voigt is a landscape designer/consultant. He can be reached at kurtrae@gmail.com.