Does Sod go dormant? Or is it dead?

darrel's picture

(If lawn/sod qquestions aren't allowed in here, apologies! I'm coming from Fine Homebuilding's forums and thought this might be a good place to ask...)

We got new sod about 2 months ago. They put down some new topsoil, graded (sort of), and then I began watering. I watered every day for about 3 weeks and have since been doing about 40 minutes every other day.

We just got back from vacation (left sprinklers on timers) and now I have two rather large areas that are completely brown. It's been hot and dry, so at first I thought it just might have gone dormant, but considering I've watered pretty much the entire yard evennly, I assume I just now have dead spots.

Any reason to wait until spring to see if it returns or is it safe to assume it's just dead and time to open the checkbook and buy some new sod (and this time, lay it myself)?

the country gardener's picture

(post #9126, reply #1 of 18)

There's a few possibilities going on here.  First check to see if the soil in the dead areas is compacted. Dig in and see if the water is penetrating the soil there.  If not, work it over and add some organic matter to it; this will help the water penetrate and help the soil retain some of that moisture.  Second, check to see if the sprinklers are watering that area as well as the rest of the lawn.  The best way to do this is to lay out a few tuna fish cans or cat food cans and run the sprinklers for about fifteen minutes.  When they shut off, see if there is the same amount of water in all the cans.  If there is noticeably less in the dry spots, that's your problem.  Note, this is a good time to see how long you need to run the sprinklers for. Lawns need about an inch of water per week (more in hot weather and drier climates).  When you run your sprinklers for fifteen minutes, check to see how full the cans are.  Some simple math will then tell you how long to water to produce one-inch.  Set the timers to run for half that time twice a week and you're there.  When it gets hot just add a day.  Finally, give your contractor a chance to make good on the dead sod (it's new; it shouldn't be dead already, and he should stand behind it).  Good luck, and let me know if you have any other questions.

Marty


"The plants have been good to us."  Lester Hawkins

Marty

"The plants have been good to us."  Lester Hawkins

darrel's picture

(post #9126, reply #2 of 18)

My thinking is that this is really an installation issue moreso than a bad sod issue.

When they put in the new topsoil it was misting heavily all that day. As such, it seems that the topsoil got rather compacted with their bobcats. I have a hunch the brown stuff just never had a chance to fully root.

When they laid the sod, they had about 200' extra, which I then used for part of my front yard. That part also gets full sun, same watering schedule, but is as green as can be. I'm guessing it's because I turned that soil by hand with a pitchfork and isn't as compacted.

The brown spots are in areas that also have green areas under the same sprinkler.

I had originally asked them if they guarantee any of the sod and they said 'no', as it's such a volatile thing at the mercy of the homeowner properly watering (which, perhaps naively, I thought was a valid point). I'm going to call them tomorrow and insist they come out and at least offer some advice as to what's going on. If they insist that they aren't liable at all, should I pursue this further? It's not a huge yard, but we did pay about $2200 for the sod and their labor and with at least half of it going brown, I'm looking to be out at least a grand here.


Edited 7/3/2007 12:44 am ET by darrel

the country gardener's picture

(post #9126, reply #3 of 18)

Darrel -


I can offer my advice as a licensed landscape contractor in the state of Oregon. As such, I believe any worthy contractor should stand behind his work, but not all do.  Yours has at least been up front about not guaranteeing the work.  I am not familiar with how contract rules work in your state, so I cannot advise you about pursuing the matter further. 


Part of what has made Bobcats so popular in the trade is their light footprint, but in damp weather and with buckets full of topsoil any piece of equipment is going to compact the soil. If that soil has much of a clay content it would have compacted a lot under the conditions described.  And that could create the problem you're experiencing.  I abandoned using "topsoil" many years ago.  It's a generic term without any certainty of quality.  Topsoil is what's on top, and that can be anything from a beautiful loam to rock or clay.  I prefer to ammend the existing on-site soil with organic matter unless the existing soil is unworkable or has some other problem that ammending won't cure.


That said, someone would have to visit the site to confirm with any certainty (with the certainty needed to pursue this further) the full cause of the problem. It could be compaction, it could be the irrigation system, it could be the topsoil, you could have picked up a fungus or have an insect pest working in there. Or any combination could be involved 


If I were you I would determine exactly what the problem is before you fix it. In spite of the fact that your contractor has said he doesn't warrant the work, I would give him the opportunity to make good on it. If he won't and you can ascertain the problem is due to his work, then you can "pursue it further". 



Marty


"The plants have been good to us."  Lester Hawkins

Marty

"The plants have been good to us."  Lester Hawkins

KimmSr's picture

(post #9126, reply #4 of 18)

All grasses want to go dormant when the weather gets hot and dry and there just is not enough soil moisture to keep nutrients moving around in the plant. But if, as in your case, only some places are browning then it is an installation issue.

West central Michigan along the lake shore


A sign of a good gardener is not a green thumb, rather it is brown knees.

West central Michigan along the lake shore

A sign of a good gardener is not a green thumb, rather it is brown knees.

WayneL5's picture

(post #9126, reply #5 of 18)

If the sod was fine for two months, it definitely rooted fine.  Grass does go dormant and looks dead, but it takes quite a large number of weeks of being parched to die.  So if the grass was ok before you left, then it is likely to be dormant.

darrel's picture

(post #9126, reply #6 of 18)

If dormant, will more watering bring it back yet this season? Or is it just a matter of waiting until spring? (I'm in MN, by the way)

the country gardener's picture

(post #9126, reply #7 of 18)

If it is dormant, water will bring it back.  But it shouldn't have gone dormant to begin with.

Marty


"The plants have been good to us."  Lester Hawkins

Marty

"The plants have been good to us."  Lester Hawkins

LIBugGuy's picture

(post #9126, reply #8 of 18)

If it doesn't start growing once the weather drops a few degrees, it won't be there in spring... cool season grasses may go dormant in the hottest part of the summer, but start growing again in Sept.  Warm season grasses (such as Zoyzia) go dormant in winter, but shrug off summer heat.  Don't know about your area, but around here (LI NY) sod is usually Bluegrass, a cool season grass.


One thing you can do for a quick check- find a corner of a piece of sod in the middle of the brown area and pull- if it comes up easily, it never rooted properly. 


One thing that might have occured is that the sod never rooted into the soil, but watering was sufficient to keep it green until really hot weather hit.  At that point, the roots did not have enough reserves to keep the grass going and it either went dormant or died.


 


 


Selling plants from an orange box, and doing a bit of design on the side- LI NY, Zone 7ish...

Selling plants from the Orange box, and doing a little garden work on the side.

LI, NY, almost zone 7, but it's been warmer of late :)

darrel's picture

(post #9126, reply #9 of 18)

Thanks! Yea, I've done some more snooping.

A majority of the brown spots definitey did not root. A 2' x 4' strip here and there are still easy to pull up. They're still somewhat green (from watering) but I assume these are a lost cause and I should just pull up these areas, till up the soil a bit, and relay some new sod.

If I do that, is that something I could still do this year (I'm in MN) or is it best to just wait again until spring?

WayneL5's picture

(post #9126, reply #10 of 18)

When you water, water deeply and less frequently.  Use a container as a rain gauge and apply at least one inch of water with each watering.  Summer is a bad time to plant seed, so I wouldn't do anything except water.  In the fall if the grass were to come back you'd see it reinvigorate.  If it didn't then you could seed or sod in the fall.  About the best time to seed is when you have about one week of summer weather left, probably mid August for you.  You have to keep the seed watered every day, but after a week when the weather cools and the rains come you can water less and the grass really grows well.


If you seed, use the same type of grass or it will look very different in the patched spots.

hortist's picture

(post #9126, reply #11 of 18)

You can re-lay your sod right now as long as you can keep the water on it.  Sod will need daily watering for the first 2-3 weeks that it is down, until the roots actually begin growing down into the soil below and the sod is firmly "attached" when you give it a gentle tug.  For the first couple of weeks, the only moisture the roots can actively take up into the plant is what is in the thin 1/2 to 3/4-inch layer of soil on the bottom of the sod and it will dry out very quickly.  After a couple of weeks, you need to starting watering less often and more deeply, as has already been suggested.

Troy

www.troybmarden.com

"The great wonder, in gardening, is that so many plants live!" Christopher Lloyd

 

darrel's picture

(post #9126, reply #12 of 18)

Thanks again for all the advice. I'll post some pics this week.

Here's the overall situation with the sod followed by a few 'what should I do next' questions...

The Good:

- 4" of new top soil was put down after the old turf was removed.
- Plenty of daily waterings for the first 5 weeks.

The Bad:

- The sod wasn't rolled after laying. The Sod guys insisted that it wasn't really necessary as long as I watered every day. I've since learned that the general consensus is that they were wrong.
- It was misting the entire day they were laying sod. As such, the new soil was compacted more than it should be IMHO.
- I think I screwed up the watering. My daily waterings went too long. I probably went 6 weeks. I then went with an every other day watering. I think this is where I screwed up. I should have gone to a very thorough once-a-week watering. I've since switched to that but it might be a bit too much too late.

So, as it now, here's what I'm seeing:

50% of the yard is lush, green and healthy as can be.

25% of the yard is dead. Completely dead. These seem to be areas that never rooted at all. I'll be cutting out these areas (mainly two larger 100 square foot patches and about 3 2' x 6' rolls elsewhere) and replacing with new sod probably later in the year when I also put some new sod in the yet-to-be-landscaped front yard. I'll probably wait until September for this to get over the major heat months.

My main question is what to do with the remaining 25%. This remaining part seems rooted, only about 50% green. It's an even mix of green and brown. I'm now doing less frequent but much deeper waterings (1"). Is this grass done for and am I just wasting money on water? Should I just wait and see? Would overseeding this area help at all (I'm guessing at this point, no, as it's now regularly 90 degree days).

If It should be torn out and replaced, I'm fine doing it, but, of course, if there's a way to save this last 25% I'd be happy.

hortist's picture

(post #9126, reply #13 of 18)

I would say--and hopefully Marty and some other folks will jump in here, too--that the sod that is half dead and half alive, if you can keep the part that's a live looking good, could be overseeded later this fall.  I don't really see any point in putting seed down until the weather cools off, though.  The challenge is going to be that you now have a fairly thick layer of dead "thatch" that is not going to allow the grass seed to come in contact with the soil like it needs to, so when you do get ready to over seed (if that's what you decide to do) I would be inclined to give it a really thorough raking and get as much of the dead grass out as possible, then overseed, keep the water on it until the seed germinates and then go from there.


You have about 6 more weeks before really good grass seed sowing weather gets here (usually around Labor Day).  That should give you time to get the grass that is alive into as good a shape as possible and then you can overseed and re-sod as needed.  Although I typically would not feed this time of year, I'm wondering if might not be a bad idea to give the grass a very light feeding of something organic, like fish emulsion, that could be sprayed on through a hose-end sprayer.  I definitely would not use a "hot" chemical granular fertilizer at this point, as you may burn up the rest of the lawn you have, but it seems that if you could give it a little boost with something mild, it certainly wouldn't hurt.

Troy

www.troybmarden.com

"The great wonder, in gardening, is that so many plants live!" Christopher Lloyd

 

the country gardener's picture

(post #9126, reply #14 of 18)

(Marty will jump in too)


 


I agree with Hortist's advice.  Given what you've communicated about the soil condition, I would want to try working those areas up a bit to break up the compaction.  Do that just before you overseed.  It would help to scalp mow the dead spots and aerate if you don't actually work the soil over. Other than that, follow hortist's program and timing;  it makes good sense.  Kimm Sr might chip in on this one and tell you you should do a soil test to see what's missing if anything.  I wouldn't argue with that advice either; it's sound. 


Did you ever get any satisfaction from the contractor? 


Marty


"The plants have been good to us."  Lester Hawkins

Marty

"The plants have been good to us."  Lester Hawkins

darrel's picture

(post #9126, reply #15 of 18)

I haven't called the contractor yet. Would you say that they should be responsible for part of this? Ultimately, I'll probably ask them but won't pursue it if they protest. I'm not sure it's worth the headache. I figure I might have 300 square feet at most of completely dead sod, so it shouldn't cost that much for me to just replace myself.

As for the dead areas, I'm definitely just going to replace with new sod. I'll tear out the old, turn/till the soil, rake and then lay the new stuff and roll it this time.

The big question was the half-dead/half-alive stuff. I think hortists' advice makes sense. I'll take care of it until labor day and see where we're at. If the half-alive stuff is doing great, I'll then dethatch it all and over-seed.

If that fails come spring, I'll worry about that then. At that point, I may purchase green spray paint and a FOR SALE sign. ;o)

Here are the photos:

http://www.darrelaustin.com/stuff/sodpics.jpg

(Apologies for the size...it might take a while to load)

darrel's picture

(post #9126, reply #16 of 18)

I suppose I should describe the photos...

Front Yard: I put this sod down myself. fully turned the soil before doing so. Full sun. Looks good except for one strip of sod in the upper center part of this photo that looks like it might not make it.

Side Yard: Mostly very healthy, except for some dead spots in the back. Part sun.

Close up...: the close up of the dead area in the side yard. I'll likely be tearing that out come fall and resodding.

Dead Spots on Hill...: full sun. Dead. Replacing as well.

Back Yard + Back Yard Closeup: full sun. No dead spots, per se, but overall it's an even mix of dead and alive grass. It does seem rooted. This will be the area I'll just have to watch and see how it looks come fall.

the country gardener's picture

(post #9126, reply #17 of 18)

Darrel -


I think you have the right idea, ask but don't pursue.  A contractor with experience is not going to want this on his reputation.  Dissatisfied clients hurt a good business.  I was surprised that he doesn't back up his sod work.  I used to not warranty if there was no irrigation system, but that didn't look good either so I stopped installing if there wasn't an existing system that covers adequately or a new system isn't being put in.  You said you have a system, so there's no reason not to back the work up.  That said, if he refuses, it's usually not worth the headache to pursue it. 


My only concern at this point, having looked at the photos, is that we still haven't determined why the sod looks this way.  While my instincts tell me it's either compaction and/or a watering issue early on, I wouldn't rule out pests or diseases.  I'd hate to see you put more into it only to have the same result. Of course, if it is disease it should improve or get worse by the time overseeding time comes along in September.


Keep me appraised. I'd like to know how this one plays out (I collect contractor stories).  Oh, and don't worry about the picture files; I have DSL, so it downloads in seconds. 


Marty


"The plants have been good to us."  Lester Hawkins

Marty

"The plants have been good to us."  Lester Hawkins

LIBugGuy's picture

(post #9126, reply #18 of 18)

When you talk to the contractor, maybe compromise and get a credit for the sod that died and let the labor slide?


A few more thoughts:


  When you overseed, use the same type of grass as in the sod- here on Long Island, all the sod is 100% bluegrass, but might be different by you?


I have seen green spray paint marketed for 'greening up' your lawn in summer (or in winter for warm season grasses)


If you need a quick green up in spring tho, overseed w a contractor's mix.  Mostly annual rye, a contractors mix will go from seed to mowable lawn in the fastest time.


Selling plants from an orange box, and doing a bit of design on the side- LI NY, Zone 7ish...

Selling plants from the Orange box, and doing a little garden work on the side.

LI, NY, almost zone 7, but it's been warmer of late :)