We recently caught up with NG Turf VP Jutt Howard to get the scoop on the latest at the farm. He shared some interesting news about new grass varieties, plus a few helpful hints for homeowners.
What’s happening at the NG Turf sod farm this spring?
It’s been an extremely busy season so far. This time of year, everyone is actively working in their yards and doing projects, so we’re full scale harvesting grass and supplying grass. It’s also a time when we’re preparing fields and replanting to get fields back into production, so around the farm it’s a very busy time of the year.
Any special projects in the works?
We’re proud to partner with the University of Georgia (UGA) on some new grass varieties in their breeding program. We’re currently underway with some new zoysia varieties that UGA is testing.
In general a new sod variety takes about 10 years once a breeder comes up with a certain trait to produce, whether it be shade tolerance or water conservation. They will start with thousands of variety crosses, and sometimes you end up with a winner and sometimes you start over.
We like being a part of that final stage when they get down to four or five potential new varieties that we grow and test here. We watch them on the farm for a year or two and expand them into production—see how they hold together during sod harvest. The goal is to make sure the new variety performs with the traits as you expected.
We’re working also with UGA’s Dr. Patrick McCullough to establish some base guidelines and recommendations for herbicides, fertilizer and all those important maintenance concerns for some new bluegrass varieties that we’re going to be offering in the fall.
What’s happening in the broader green industry these days?
The economy is doing really well right now with a lot of building and a lot of renovations to existing homes, and that’s affecting not just the green industry but the construction industry in general. Demand has been extremely high. We ended the year with a nice inventory of Bermudagrasses and zoysiagrasses, and we’re doing everything we can to keep a good quality supply for the market.
When the sod industry is faced with an increased demand, sometimes supplies of sod run low, and suppliers are pressured to get into a field and cut it before it reaches maturity. But at NG Turf, we do our very best to make sure the grasses that we’re harvesting are good quality, mature sod. Sometimes we have to achieve that through pricing or by limiting availability, but our goal is to make sure the product we’re putting out there is a premium product.
Do you have any tips for homeowners installing new grass?
Every situation is different. In a perfect situation, I would recommend homeowners go ahead and collect soil samples and send those off to your extension service for soil testing. The University of Georgia will send you the results with recommendations on what nutrients you need to add to the soil before your sod installation. Then we recommend tilling the sod four to six inches, getting a good bed.
More than anything, it’s critical to get that sod installed immediately after delivery, definitely the same day. One key that makes NG Turf different than a lot of suppliers is that we’re harvesting locally. We’re close to the market so we don’t have to harvest as early as a lot of farms in order to get it on a truck and get it delivered. Even though our sod might be fresher, it’s still critical to get it installed immediately.
What about watering new sod?
Watering is also extremely critical. If you have a big job with several pallets and it’s really hot, stop installing when you get a couple pallets down and water the sod. Watering intermittently as you install keeps the newly laid sod from getting stressed. In the dormancy period and early spring, watering is still important, but when you get into 85° days, it’s critical to water during installation.
We have some drought tolerant varieties like TifTuf that use less water, but I want to be clear and make sure people understand, that is only after establishment. So all new sod needs ample water for the first few weeks to get it established.
Watering early in the morning, and then go out around lunchtime and lift a piece of sod up to make sure there’s still good moisture on the ground. If the dirt underneath the sod is dry, you need to let the system run longer and give a deeper soaking in the mornings and you may have to water again in the afternoon. Water is probably the most important factor for a good installation.