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How green was my sod

An instant yard, simply by installing sod, can increase your home’s value in one day

Posted: February 20, 2009 9:05 p.m.
Updated: February 21, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Gary Vallen, general manager of Superior Sod's Castaic farm pulls up a strip of freshly-cut sod. Super Sod includes 10-percent bluegrass.

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Question: What weighs about 3,000 pounds, ships to you overnight and turns your yard into an appealing green oasis in hours?

Answer: A pallet of sod.

“For about $500, including the sprinkler system, you can have a whole new backyard,” said Gary Vallen, general manager of Superior Sod’s Castaic sod farm. “It’s an inexpensive way to do property improvement.”

So, once our rains let up and the ground dries out a bit, this is a great season to install sod, giving it a chance to root before hot weather arrives. Yes, even now, in winter.

When it comes to Superior Plus sod, Vallen said, “This grass, in Santa Clarita, should be green year ’round, if it is cared for properly. It shouldn’t go dormant, even in the winter months.”  The proof of that was the many acres of sod — newly-planted and otherwise — green, growing and being harvested at the Castaic farm this past Thursday.

And you can see it yourself because the farm is right up against Interstate 5 in Castaic.

Vallen is a licensed landscape contractor and a member of the California Landscape Contractors Association. He has been in the business 40 years and has an extensive background in soil science. All of this comes into play in the day to day operation of the 255-acre Castaic farm, which Superior Sod took over in April of 2008. The company has other farms as well and supplies sod to much of Southern California and beyond, either directly or through nurseries and chains such as Home Depot and Lowes.

The company doesn’t undercut its distributors, so if you purchase Superior Plus sod, your price per square foot will be the same whether you get it at Home Depot or order directly through Superior.

But whether it’s thoroughly informing direct customers, or thoroughly “training” distributors so they can inform customers, Superior emphasizes proper installation and care of its sod.

“If you do it right, it works. If you don’t, if you try to cut corners, it’s not going to turn out as you expect,” Vallen said. “Sunlight, water, mowing and feeding — if you can put those together, you don’t have to worry.”

Superior Plus sod
Vallen explained that, typically, fescue seeds sprout into individual plants which don’t propagate by sending out rhizomes, or runners, through the soil. In other words, one seed grows one plant, and when that plant (and those around it) dies for any reason, say because of dog-damage, the lawn can’t easily fill in the space.

Superior Plus is a hybrid fescue sod with “self-repairing turf technology.” Vallen said this is because it has 10 percent bluegrass mixed into the seed, and that the bluegrass does propagate through rhizomes.

The bluegrass adds color, texture and self-repairing ability, he said.
 
Preparation
If you are going to install sod, the first step is to kill your existing lawn and remove it. You don’t want Bermuda grass or weeds or whatever growing up through your new sod. Vallen recommended that you take samples of what you want to get rid of into your local nursery and get their recommendation on how to kill it.

After everything is dead, you scrape up your old lawn. “Don’t just rototill it into the soil,” Vallen said. The next step is to measure and calibrate the amount of sod you will need. “We don’t recommend going wall-to-wall with lawn,” Vallen said. “Plan before you put it in.” He noted that grass does not grow well in dense shade. “It should have at least six hours of direct sunlight.” If you will be installing any sidewalks or planters or if you will be painting your house, Vallen said to get these projects done before you work on the lawn.

Next, prepare your soil, including adding necessary amendments (not too much) and rototilling the soil to break it up. Clean out rocks and things and roll the soil to smooth and flatten it.

At this point you plan or update your irrigation system for proper coverage. You don’t want to be watering the house or sidewalks. Vallen suggested putting out identical cups at various locations around your yard.

Turn on your sprinklers for 10 minutes and see how uniformly the cups get filled in that time. This will let you know where you need more or less sprinkler coverage.

“Adjust the sprinkler heads before the lawn goes in,” Vallen said. “The last thing you do is put the lawn in.”
 
Installation
Vallen said Superior delivers sod seven days a week and you should plan to have your sod delivered on the day you will put it down. “Sod is perishable, a living product,” he said. “And remember, it goes green-side up,” he quipped.

Once you have put your sod in place (following proper instructions), use the roller again and water the sod thoroughly.

Care
“No grass is care-free,” Vallen said. It takes proper watering, mowing and feeding. Vallen said to water your lawn “as needed.” Not only is over watering wasteful, it can damage your lawn. “The variety of sod we offer uses 50 percent less water than before. It’s more heat tolerant and you can go longer between waterings.”

Approximately 10 - 14 days after your lawn is installed, you will need to mow it for the first time. If you can grab the grass with your fingers and you can’t easily lift the sod, it is rooted and ready.

“Always use a sharp lawn mower,” Vallen said. “And ‘new’ doesn’t always mean ‘sharp.’” He added that you should never mow more than half of the existing height of the lawn at a time — regardless of how tall the grass is.

“We recommend picking the clippings up,” Vallen said. That is because most people mow more than one-eighth inch off at a time and that is the maximum clipping length that should be left in the lawn. Longer clippings don’t decompose fast enough and lead to insects and fungus and other problems in your grass.

Four to six weeks after your lawn is installed, you should fertilize, and “maybe every six to eight weeks thereafter for the first year,” Vallen said.

He suggested using half the amount of fertilizer recommended on the bag or less. For one thing, the grass will only use what it needs, and the rest is wasted. And there are environmental concerns with over-fertilizing.

“After 40 years of being in business, I worry more about environmental damage and harm to families caused by over-use of chemicals and fertilizers,” Vallen said.
 
Get your sod
You can order your Superior Sod at Home Depot or other distributors, or you can order it directly from Superior. Either way the cost is about 40 cents per square foot. Superior offers free delivery on orders of two pallets or more.

If want to pick your sod up yourself, Vallen said you must call an hour before you come in to be sure it will be ready. (That’s after the order has been made and paid for.) And he noted that a small pickup truck might require three to four trips to transport two pallets of sod, as a pallet-full can weigh up to 3,000 pounds. “We don’t want them driving home with their front wheels off the ground,” he said.

Superior Sod’s Castaic farm is at 27200 Tapia Canyon Road in Castaic. Though you can see the offices from the freeway, you should ask for directions if you are coming out to pick up sod. (661) 702-1196, www.superiorsod.com.

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