It may seem counter-intuitive to think about growing grass in the off-season, but sod installations are surprisingly durable. Technically, sod can be planted any time of year—as long as it’s well taken care of after planting. Temperature, soil conditions, watering schedules, and other environmental changes influence how quickly a cut of sod acclimates to an existing lawn. If you’re planning on putting in sod, it’s important to take the necessary precautions to ensure its success considering the environment it’s being placed into. Here are some tips on cultivating sod during the cold season:
Planting Sod in Fall
Many landscapers suggest that spring and fall are actually the ideal times to plant sod because the weather is cooler and wetter. In the summer, new sod installations require an intense watering routine to combat extreme heat and dryness. In winter, freezing temps can damage grass roots. In spring and autumn, temperatures are mild and rain comes more readily, which makes sod maintenance easier. Generally, spring is a good time to plant warm season grasses like Zoysia and Bermuda, and fall is better for cool season grasses like ryegrass and fescue. In Southwest Virginia, cool season grasses are generally more popular than warm season grasses, which means that fall is prime time for sod installation.
Caring for Sod
Though fall may be the ideal time to install sod, new sod still requires a regular maintenance routine, especially late in the season when temperatures can drop suddenly and dry spells are more common. Ensuring successful sod growth starts before an installation even begins. For sod rolls to acclimate properly, the soil beneath them needs to be thoroughly combed and leveled out. Sod will struggle atop rocky, debris-covered soil. If soil conditions are poor, ass soil amendments to existing soil to encourage healthy root growth.
Once the underlying soil is prepared, sod installation should proceed quickly and without much interruption. Ideally, install sod 24-72 hours after it is first harvested. When it is laid down, it should be dark green and cool to the touch. If it is dry or browning, it will likely keep deteriorating after it’s planted. The whole installation should take approximately one day. Any sod left unplanted could dry out if it is not kept in a cool, wet place.
Once sod is planted, water thoroughly twice a day for two or three weeks: once in the morning and once in the afternoon until roots are established. If the weather is unusually dry, water more frequently. If the weather is unusually warm, the sod might need to be watered earlier and later in the day to avoid evaporation. In winter, dormant sod can be planted just like regular sod. However, dormant sod will not root completely until temperatures warm up in the spring, and is thus especially vulnerable to drying out/freeze damage. In Southwest Virginia, hard freezes are rare at this time of year. Even if you wait until December to install sod, you will probably still have enough time to get roots established. To check on the sod’s roots, pull lightly and test for any resistance. Strong roots will keep the grass tight against the ground.