Dormant Sodding Possible But Chancy

Thomas J. Koske  |  12/22/2005 11:29:50 PM

News You Can Use For January 2006

Mid-spring through summer is the best time for sodding, but dormant-season sodding can be successful, according to LSU AgCenter horticulturist Dr. Tom Koske. Planting dormant grass is simply riskier.

In some cases, risks have to be taken. For example, if a golf course or game field has to be ready by spring, dormant sodding will give the earliest start to grass establishment. Some construction contracts require sod to be laid within 30 days or before house completion. Sod supply and contractor availability will be highest in this off season, too.

Sodding at any time is beneficial in reducing soil erosion, keeping mud from being tracked all over, reducing weed infestation and presenting a finished appearance to the landscape.

Warm-season turfgrasses turn brown or mostly so when dormant.

"There is a difference in brown dead sod and brown dormant sod," Koske says, pointing out, "Dead sod will still be dead in spring. Buy sod from a reliable source that will stand behind it."

Cold weather brings on dormancy. Warm-season grasses grow slowly in soil below 70 F and stop growing below 60 F. Without growth, roots will not re-establish, and rooting is the measure of establishment. The risk of freeze damage from an extreme cold spell is higher for sod that is not well rooted and has not been slowly prepared for winter. Without many roots, winter desiccation (lack of water) damage is also a higher risk, but this can be avoided with adequate irrigation as needed.

Dormant sodding should be done with fully dormant sod. Sod that is in fall transition is more delicate to begin with. Thus, Koske recommends sodding at least 40 days before the first hard frost or waiting until after when the grasses are mostly brown.

Recommendations for grass establishment given on the AgCenter Web site ( also apply to off-season sodding. The tract should be well graded and lightly tilled. There should be no trash, rocks or weeds in the sod bed. Delay fertilizing dormant sod because it is not growing and is poorly rooted. As such, unused fertilizer will be released into the environment. Incorporate lime or sulfur prior to laying if the soil test recommends either to adjust the soil's pH.

Lay sod slabs tightly together and arrange rows perpendicular to the slope. Stagger rows to create a brick wall pattern. Roll the completed lawn to press out air pockets and reduce root loss from desiccation. Water the sod well and repeat as needed to avoid sod loss to desiccation – remember this sod will not have good roots until well after spring green up. Do not play on or stress the lawn until at least mid spring.

Do not overseed a ryegrass for green color. This overseed will compete with the short-rooted grass and make spring re-establishment more difficult.

Apply no herbicide that interferes with rooting, which includes most of them. If winter broadleaves appear, use a phenoxy type, 2,4D broadleaf weed killer, but don't apply the typical weed-and-feeds in the spring.

At green up, apply a starter fertilizer that is high in phosphorus (the middle number on a fertilizer bag), or choose an analysis of at least a triple13 type of blend. The soil test results should be followed for best results. Extra phosphorus is not needed if the soil tests high for it.

More landscaping information is available at your local LSU AgCenter office. In addition, look for lawn & gardening and Get It Growing links in the LSU AgCenter Web site:


On the Internet: LSU AgCenter:
On the Internet:

Source: Tom Koske (225) 578-2222, or

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