What is the Best Way to Establish a Lawn Along The Emerald Coast?

There are three processes we will be going over for establishing a lawn along the Emerald Coast; seeding, plugging and sodding. Each way has its different challenges and benefits. Our goal is to help you decide which one fits your needs! 

I frequently get asked about establishing a lawn or filling in bare spots with grass seed. Unfortunately, warm season turf grasses that grow well in this area are either difficult or impossible to establish from seed. Bermuda, zoysia and centipede are the only varieties of warm season grass types that seed is even available but they are difficult to get to germinate, requiring precise temperature and moisture windows. If you are planning on giving this a try, the best time to seed warm-season grass is during the late spring and early summer months. You will want to avoid applying pre-emergent weed control on seeds as it will inhibit their growth. Another thing you will want to consider is the quality of the seeds you purchase. There are regulations set in place requiring seed product companies to disclose their purity and germination percentages. Look for seed that has a purity rate of 90% or higher and a germination rate of 85% or higher. Lower cost seed products may save you money up front, but in the long run they may cost you more because they have more weed seeds and are less likely to produce successful seedlings. Soil preparation is important when it comes to seeding a lawn. The ground should be soft, level and free of weeds. If the ground is not level, you may find that erosion occurs causing uneven areas. If you need to hand water the seeded areas, do so with light watering so the seeds do not pool and wash away. Even if you successfully hone in on the perfect growing conditions, seeding doesn’t usually yield a lot of success. If seeds do germinate, it can take one or two growing seasons for a lawn to be established. You may have noticed that new home builders always lay sod down. If lawns could be reliably established from seed, builders, who are always looking for ways to cut costs, would seed new lawns instead of sod. The bottom line is, grass seed just does not work well in this area.

What about plugs? 

Plugs are a cheaper alternative to sod. They have well developed root systems and typically come in a tray of 18-24 and can be planted in phases using a hand trowel. Plugs are a great alternative to sod when you have smaller areas to fill in. Although you can plant a whole new lawn with plugs, it will take some time to grow together. 

As I gave my son a ride to school every day, we passed by a home where the owner was establishing a new lawn with grass plugs. Over the course of several weeks, I watched as a load of sand was delivered and spread over the area to be plugged. After the sand was spread to fill in low spots and cover the root competition from the pine trees, more and more plugs appeared every few days. One day as we drove by, I saw the home owner working on the project and stopped to talk to her about it and ask permission to take pictures as a perfect example of how to establish a new lawn with grass plugs. As we spoke, she told me she started by purchasing trays of grass plugs but found it was much cheaper to buy sod squares and cut them into plugs. She said she could get 24 plugs out of one piece of sod. She had fertilized the plugs with 10-10-10 and was watering by hand on regular basis. As you can see from the pictures, there are new runners being produced after only a few weeks!  If properly cared for, these plugs should knit together and form a lawn by the end of this summer! 

Lastly, we will go over the process of laying new sod. 

If you are replacing sod that has declined, you will want to make sure you identify the reason the grass died in the first place and fix it. I’ve spoken to dozens of people who have re-sodded 2 or 3 times in a row because they never identified the cause of the grass decline in the first place! If there are underlying diseases or soil issues that are not being addressed, you may be laying new sod, that within a short time could develop the same problems as the previous sod. 

Prepping the soil for new sod is only a matter of making sure the ground is loose enough for the new sod to root into. Tilling the whole lawn up is a lot of work and usually not necessary. Most of our soil around here is sandy and loose enough it doesn’t need much more than a stiff raking. Renting a power rake or a sod cutter is an option for removing what’s left of the existing lawn and fluffing the top inch or so of soil. Be sure to top dress areas with root competition from trees with a couple inches of sand. Do not apply fertilizer to the soil before laying the sod or afterward until the sod is established and rooted in. The root system on the new sod is so shallow it can absorb very little in the way of nutrients plus fertilizing the sod right away will stress it. Make sure the sod does not dry out while it gets established. If the weather is cool, watering once or twice a week would be sufficient. If it’s in the heat of the summer, water the new sod 1 or 2 times a day for the first couple weeks until it gets rooted in, then back off to once a day. As the sod is establishing itself, watch for disease and insect activity and treat accordingly.

Whichever route you decide to go, remember that the grasses we plant here are not native to this area and will continue to need care and attention to keep them beautiful. If you need more information on this subject, request a copy of our free book to help you along your DIY journey! Not into doing it yourself? Give us a call to schedule a free consultation.  850-939-9868