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GARDENING : Get an Instant Lawn Off on Solid Ground


You can purchase strips of sod, which is lawn grass with an inch or so of attached soil, to create an "instant lawn" to cover bare ground or to repair existing lawn. Cool, moist weather is ideal for establishing sod.

Sod is sold in strips of a few feet long and 12- to 24-inches wide. Quality sod should be free of weeds and pests and be of a type of grass adapted to your site.

Arrange for delivery no more than a couple of days or so before you are going to lay sod. Occasionally sprinkle stored sod strips with enough water to keep them moist but not saturated.

You cannot expect sod simply placed upon the ground to grow -- the site must be prepared first. Before working the soil, pick up a clump and squeeze it to make sure that it is at the correct moisture level.

The clump should crumble with slight pressure. If the soil wads up, it is too wet; wait for it to dry out a bit. If the clump is rock hard, it is too dry; sprinkle it the day before you begin. If the ground is covered with heavy weed growth or existing lawn, strip it off with a shovel or a rented sod stripper to make subsequent rototilling easier.

Before tilling, also cover the ground with any lime or sulfur needed to adjust the soil pH and a three-inch layer of some organic material such as rotted manure, spent mushroom soil, compost or peat moss. Also spread a high phosphorus fertilizer, such as 10-20-20 or 5-15-15, at the rate of 25 pounds per thousand square feet.

Rototill the area lengthwise and crosswise, loosening the soil to a depth of six inches. Do not overtill; your objective is to leave the soil in pea-sized granules, not dust. Next, rake the surface smooth, discarding rocks and other debris. Roll the surface lightly with an empty lawn roller, and you are ready to lay down the strips of sod.

Lay the first row of sod along a straight line in such a way that the sod strip is not buckled or stretched at any point. Use your driveway or a path as a guide. Otherwise, use a string stretched tightly between two stakes. Unroll each sod strip, taking care to avoid tearing, and press it firmly into position.

Sod will shrink slightly after it has been laid, so do not stretch it as you put it down, especially where edges meet. If the weather is hot, periodically sprinkle the sod with water.

Lay a plank on the first row to distribute your weight as you begin on the next row. Snug the next row, once again to allow for shrinkage. To avoid concentrating breaks in the sod in one area, stagger the joints between the pieces in the row so that they do not align with those in the first row.

Continue subsequent rows similarly, standing on a plank as you work, staggering joints and sprinkling with water if the weather is hot. When you reach an edge of your lawn, cut the sod to size either with a sharp spade or a serrated knife, such as a bread knife.

Once the whole ground is covered with sod, go over it with a roller weighted just enough to get rid of air pockets and to ensure good contact between the sod and the underlying soil. Roll first at right angles to the strips, then in the direction of the strips. After rolling, gently fluff up the grass blades with a bamboo rake.

You are now finished laying down the sod. But don't just walk away from your new lawn after giving it an admiring look.

The top inch of sod must not dry out until the roots knit to the underlying ground, so set up your sprinkler and apply enough water to wet the soil six inches deep. And on every sunny, warm day for the following few weeks, water lightly.

Pay special attention to sod near pavement, because those areas dry out quickest and may need heavier spot watering. As roots from the sod grow into the soil below, approach a normal watering schedule.

If possible, keep off the grass for the few weeks it takes sod to establish.

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