I get a lot of questions on GardenLine about replacing sections of a lawn – or even an entire lawn.
Here’s a mnemonic device to help you remember the steps for a healthy solid-sod transplant: KILL, TILL, FILL and SOD.
Following those steps is very important because of all the dead grass that needs to be replaced following damage from freezes, droughts, sod webworms and chinch bugs.
And there’s also the “tale as old as time” … the question I get from scores of Gulf Coast transplants or new listeners to the radio show: “Randy, what’s the best grass seed I can plant?”
Bermuda is the only grass seed for the months of April through July in this region. That’s also considered the ultimate window for getting Bermuda seed to germinate in this part of the state. So, if you’re not using solid St. Augustine, zoysia or Bermuda sod, the Kill, Till, Fill and Sod method becomes Kill, Till, Fill and SEED (with Bermuda only).
When is the best time to replace grass? The simple answer is whenever you can find solid sod. We are fortunate in Southeast Texas to have scores of turf grass farms producing supplies year-round. So, you can just as easily re-sod in November or December as any other month. I prefer replacing sod on cool days because it is hard work. But it’s best not to transplant on days when the temperature is too cold.
The following process for KILL, TILL, FILL and SOD will work for St. Augustine, Bermuda and zoysia grass.
KILL — The area that needs a transplant most likely has been overgrown with weeds and unwanted wild Bermuda grass. So, my advice is to first square off the area, marking it with rope or string or whatever. Then spray it with a non-selective herbicide that will kill everything in the square. (Use products like Finale, Killzall, Eraser and Roundup that will not leave any residual in the soil.) Now, wait for the death and destruction. In most cases, everything will die within a week.
TILL — If you have a small area, use a steel-tined rake. If you are replacing an entire yard, you’ll need a motorized tiller. In either case, work the dead grass and weeds into and out of the soil. As you do, you’ll be beneficially loosening the dirt. After tilling, it is normally easy to rake the dead grass and weeds from the loosened soil.
FILL — Even though you have broken up the soil somewhat, re-sodding will have a better chance of succeeding if there is a fresh layer of soil in which the roots can set up shop. Topsoil is good for this, as well as specially designed mixes from soil yards. I am an advocate of a few in particular, especially if they are described as “enriched topsoil,” “healthy soil compost,” “turf mix” or “turf pro mix.” It should be a blend of soil, sand and compost that can be spread atop the existing soil - the soil you just tilled up. Till or rake it in, making sure there are no low areas and that there is a camber (an ever-so-slight drainage curve) so rain will go to the sides and drain toward the street.
SOD — This is the back-breaking part, but it is the easiest in the sense that there is little to do but lay the sod where you want it. You must water it in and keep it well-watered for two to three weeks after transplanting. The continual watering helps break down the muddy clay in which the grass was grown. Once it melts away, the roots will set up shop much quicker. It is not always necessary to fertilize immediately following a re-sod but putting down granular iron a week after the prolonged watering period will help keep it green.
In substituting SEED for SOD, making contact with the soil and keeping it moist are the two most important aspects. And when you buy the seed, make sure it’s Bermuda only! Here’s an article from 2016 warning about grass seed you may see marketed nationally on TV and the internet at this time of year.