While spring is ideal for laying turfgrass, sod can be installed in winter throughout much of the Southeast. Even dormant, warm season varieties will green up in the spring after a winter installation. Optimal product choice, careful preparation and proper maintenance, which are important practices any time of the year, become especially critical when installing sod in winter.
Unlike trees and shrubs, turfgrass roots lie near the soil surface where soil temperatures and moisture fluctuate widely, making them more susceptible to desiccation (extreme dryness) and low temperature injury. Taking the steps to mitigate these threats will help ensure new sod survives the winter and greens up in the spring.
Choosing high quality sod is important during any season, but can make or break a winter installation. During summer, the health of the grass is more obvious, but quality can be difficult to determine when sod is dormant and brown. For the best results, select premium sod from a trusted supplier and confirm that the sod is fresh cut, not stored on pallets for days at a time.
Analyze environmental conditions and identify the appropriate turfgrass variety for the site. Consider premium varieties, such as TifTuf™ Bermuda, Zeon® zoysia or Rebel® Supreme tall fescue, each developed for enhanced performance.
Proper preparation of the root zone is crucial when installing sod in winter. Take soil samples and make the recommended amendments prior to installation to ensure ideal pH levels and adequate nutrients to support establishment. Waiting until spring to apply nitrogen will help discourage winter weeds.
Loosen the soil at least three to four inches deep to allow air, water and nutrients to circulate properly. Then level and smooth the soil surface, removing any debris, rocks or weeds and filling in any dips or depressions. Moisten but don’t saturate the soil just prior to sod installation.
When installing sod in winter, ensure that the turfgrass is laid within 24 hours of delivery, and keep the sod moist at all times, even while on the pallets. Although heat is not an issue, dry air and freezing temperatures can cause just as much damage. Once on the ground, radiant heat coming up through the soil helps protect the new sod.
Lay pieces tightly together, avoiding gaps at the seams to help protect the roots from the cold, and roll the turfgrass thoroughly with a sod roller to ensure proper root-to-soil contact. Water during installation to keep sod moist, and after installation, irrigate until the sod and top two inches of soil are damp.
Care and Maintenance
Sod Irrigation in Winter
Water can evaporate surprisingly fast from turfgrass and soil due to winter’s low humidity, even with only a light breeze and pleasant temperatures. New sod can suffer damage from desiccation within the span of only a day if left too dry.
Ensure a new lawn receives at least one inch of rain or irrigation every two weeks throughout winter, and frequently lift the corners of the sod to check for moisture. Once the edges won’t lift, push a screw driver through the sod instead. It should push in easily and come back damp two or three inches from the end. If not, water accordingly.
Hard freezes can damage or kill turfgrass crowns, stolens and rhyzomes. A fully established lawn benefits from rigorous development during the growing season, since the deeper rhizomes and more extensive root system aid in recovery from winter stress. For new lawns, with shallow rhizomes and less hardy root systems, rain or irrigation before hard freezes can help protect the turfgrass from low temperature injury.
Top Dress a New Lawn
Top dressing a new lawn may also conserve moisture, retain heat and fill seams, all of which are especially helpful when installing sod in winter.
Avoid overseeding warm season lawns, since the seeded grass competes with the sod for water, nutrients and light. Overseeding can also interfere with spring green-up, potentially causing delayed greening, turfgrass damage or, in severe cases, even death of the turfgrass.
Mowing Sod in Winter
Mow cool season lawns as needed, setting the mower at the high end of the recommended range for the variety. Mowing warm season grass will not be necessary in winter.
To achieve a lush green lawn when installing dormant sod in winter, consider painted sod. The vibrant, natural color puts a finishing touch on any project and creates instant curb appeal with no overseeding necessary.
NG Turf’s painted sod is delivered to the project site with a green color that stays green for two to three months. It arrives dry and colorfast from the farm, so there is no mess, and the color won’t bleed or fade.
The lawn pigment is nontoxic, making it absolutely safe for children, pets and wildlife. It is also biodegradable and 100% environmentally safe.