Lawn care FAQs, especially for new sod

posted by Randy Lemmon - 

Considering the many questions I’ve received recently about replacing sod after Harvey’s floods, sod webworms and our twin freezes, I figured an FAQ sheet might be in order.  

What follows are answers to the 14 most often-asked questions. We have many new listeners and blog readers, so I think the Q&A may help. You can also pass them along to help neighbors or friends who may be putting in new sod.

Q: After being ravaged by sod webworms and last summer’s drought, my lawn has not bounced back. So I’m following your “kill-till-fill-sod” method.  Once the sod goes down though, do I just pick up your fertilization schedule at that point?   

A: Most turf farms fertilize their grass quite often, so if the sod looks healthy after installation, wait 30-45 days before applying any new fertilizer. But if the grass doesn’t look very hardy once installed, pick up the schedule at that point immediately.

Q: My fertilizer spreader’s settings don't have rates applicable to regional fertilizers, so what do you recommend?

A: For fertilizers, set the spreader’s setting a notch or two above the halfway mark. For fungicides, herbicides and insecticides, put it a notch or two above the ¼ mark. So, on a spreader with 20 increments, fertilizers would need to be set on 11-12, and pre-emergent herbicides on 6-7. This does not apply to hand-held spreaders, however.

Q:  I’m going to put down new sod since I have more weeds than grass.  After I kill the grass following your “kill-till-fill-sod” method, is any additional soil prep needed?

A:  Fill.  You should always try to improve the soil by tilling in an enriched top soil.  Or, if you believe the soil is pretty decent, till in a finely screened compost – such as the types used for top dressing. About two inches is good.

Q: Aside from keeping new sod well-watered for the first few weeks, do you have any other tips?

A: Since you are watering a lot, the soil’s iron will leach out rather quickly. But new sod will quickly green back up with an iron supplement. It's a great trick, and in an area with nothing but new lawns, you can always tell who was smart enough to add some iron. Plus, I suggest a bi-weekly application for two or three months of a soil activator like Medina. It will help break down the mud the grass came in and get the roots to establish quicker in the dirt below.

Q: What's your favorite weed killer?

A: It's not about which broad-leaf weed killer works best, it's about adding a surfactant to it when mixed with water. Our water is so hard in Southeast Texas that many herbicide sprays just bead up and roll right off weed leaves. A surfactant helps break the surface tension, soften the water a bit, and create a sheen on the leaves. For more information, check this tip sheet about surfactants and this one on the Top 10 Rules of Heraicides. Three of the best on the market and readily available along the Gulf Coast are Fertilome Weed Out, Bonide Weed Beater for Southern Lawns, and Monterey’s Weed Whacker.

Q: After I used a broadleaf weed killer, my grass turned distinctly yellow. Then, I read the label and it said not to use it on St. Augustine lawns. Why would such a product be sold in an area dominated by such turf?

A: Not all broadleaf weed killers are made for southern grasses. That’s why it's vitally important to read the label before application. I’ve warned for years about buying garden products from mass merchandisers. Most all chain stores nationwide get shipped the same products, and many weed killers like Ortho's Weed-B-Gone are actually not to be used on Floratam St. Augustine grass. While some national manufacturers - including Ortho - do indeed have a formula designed for southern turf grasses, it's not always specifically ordered by regional stores. Meanwhile, the local Bonide distributor knows to carry only the Weed Beater version designed "For Southern Lawns."

Q:  I want to make a change from St. Augustine to Zoysia.  Does your schedule work on Zoysia too?

A:  My schedule is perfect for St. Augustine, Bermuda and Zoysia!  But with Zoysia, you can eliminate one or two of the feedings in a year because, once established, it requires less of everything:  fertilizer, water, insecticides, etc.

Q:  I understand the importance of pre-emergent herbicides, but the label on a bag I just applied says not to use it on newly sodded lawns.  Mine is just a few months old. Did I kill it?

A:  You didn’t kill anything, but it’s a good question. With grass laid as solid sod, the pre-emergent herbicides on my schedule are perfectly safe and won’t deter the new growth, because they mostly just block seeds from germinating.  Manufacturers use lots of “CYA” language on their product labels in case some knucklehead applies the product once a month for three months straight. Too much at one time will negatively affect the turf, but my schedule spreads the three applications over a full year.

Q: I've followed your schedule for a year, but I don't see any significant improvement. What can I do now?

A: As I mentioned in the turf chapters of my last two books, I assume you have decent soil when you start the schedule. If your soil stinks, nothing in the world will help. So, first you’ll need to aerate and add compost or enriched top soil. The products on my schedule work best in a healthy root system and a healthy soil profile. If you’ve got clay or compacted dirt, the nutrients have no place to go and will just wash away.

Q: How often can or should core aeration be done?

A: If it's never been done, try it once or twice a year for a couple of years. With healthier soil, it can be done every two or three years. The best spring months for core aeration are April and May, and September and October for autumn.

Q: I have St. Augustine runners growing on top of the grass. Can anything be done, other than yanking them up?

A: Yes, but rip up the runners first. Step on the anchored end and yank the loose end untill it snaps at your foot. To cure the problem, perform a core aeration.  The runners are an indication that there’s too much compaction in the soil below.

Q: I had an infestation of sod webworms for the last two years. How can I prevent them this year?

A: Many seem to think that throwing down a bunch of granular insecticide will prevent bugs. While that may seem logical, you would have to time it just right and be consistent with three weekly applications.  I prefer the method we’ve used for chinch bugs: three to five applications of liquid insecticide every 5-7 days to break the egg cycle.  Sod webworms, however, are not a consistent problem year in and year out - they usually cycle in hard about every 7-9 years.  So, I’m very hopeful that, since we had the buggers two years in a row and got some hard January freezes, they will not be back this August.  We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

Q:  I just installed new grass but missed the 15-5-10 Early Green-Up per your schedule. Where do I begin?

A: Pick up right where you are.  My spring and summer fertilization recommendations are perfect as a “new lawn starter.” Just wait until you’ve done a bona fide mowing before you put down a typical fertilization.  Also, remember to assume there’s about 30 days of fertilizer still left on new sod if it’s green. 

Q: You don't like those national lawn-fertilization services, but what if I don't have time to do the work myself?

A: First, if it ain't broke, don't fix it! If you're using a service, and you're happy with the results, keep on keepin' on. But if you are unhappy with the results after all the money you've forked over, try my schedule and see if it makes a difference. All I'm asking for is one application of something each month. That shouldn’t take too much of your time. Plus, you will save a bunch of money. But two companies can do my schedules for you.  The Nitro-Phos schedule is done by Year Round Lawn Care of Houston and the Organic Schedule is done by Green Pro.     

Visit to Katy Ace Hardware

On Pin Oak Road, right smack between Highway 90 and Interstate 10, is Katy Ace Hardware, and that’s where I will be 11 a.m.-1 p.m. this Saturday.  

Considering all the calls and emails GardenLine gets from the Katy area, we couldn’t have picked a better time to visit my home away from home. More important, it’s a chance I can be that “pair of eyes” to identify weeds, bugs and diseases on samples you bring me 

Plus, you can get your hands on a new Lemmonhead shirt!  We will have a brand new batch to give away while supplies last!

And, for the first time this year, I’m giving away some weed killing products from our great partner, Bonide. We’ve been blessed to give away lots of fertilizer products since early February, but I asked our Bonide friends if we could reward a bunch of Katy listeners with some freebies because this year has been one of the worst I’ve seen in two decades for broadleaf weeds.  We should have a wide array of broadleaf weed killers, organic herbicides, sedge herbicides and the all-important surfactant that helps weed killers do their job. 

I will also decide early Saturday morning whether we will draw-to-win these great Bonide products, or if we play a “key words” game. So, be tuned in.

Of course, Katy Ace Hardware will have everything you could need for my fertilization schedule – products such as Nitro-Phos Super Turf, and pre-emergent herbicides like Barricade.  You need them now, since we are right in the middle of their scheduled applications.

If you’ve lived in Katy for long, and you remember the old Katy Hardware on Avenue B, this is the same family-owned store.  They just hooked up with Ace and moved to a new building at 555 Pin Oak Road - just a hop, skip and a jump from their previous location.

Katy is an old stompin’ ground for me, and it’s where my wife and her siblings were raised. I love getting out there as often as possible and hope to see some old familiar faces … plus a ton of new ones, too! 

GardenLine with Randy Lemmon

GardenLine with Randy Lemmon

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