Sod This.
January 12, 2010 10:38 AM   Subscribe

Sodding a bare patch of lawn (for the cheap and lazy).

I have received a Sternly Worded Letter from the jackbooted bullyboys who run my mother's homeowner's association. The letter informs me that the lawn doesn't meet their exacting standards. And that I have to fix it.

It's a narrow strip of (what should be) green between the street and an area kept "natural" (ie, untended). Much of it is in the shade. It's all sitting on top of hard red clay. The area is approximately ten feet wide and twenty-five or thirty feet long.

See, the thing is, I couldn't give less of a fuck about the lawn. Having it revert back to clay means to me that I don't have to mow it. I don't see why I should encourage grass to grow somewhere it just doesn't want to. But, I guess I have to do something or they'll come and take away my Suburbanite License or something.

So. What's the cheapest, easiest, most hassle-free way to fix this, short of green spray paint? I know nothing about lawn care. Nor do I wish to learn an expensive lesson about contracting out lawn care.

Bonus points for specifying the best type of grass to plant, the best time of year to plant it, whether to start from seed or from those mat-like chunks, what to do about the overabundance of shade and the dearth of topsoil, and what the cheapest and least maintenance-intensive option would be. Assume that I have zero knowledge of the subject and speak to me as if I had never ever seen a lawn before.

Thanks. I'll be checking the thread and will happily provide more info if needed. Artificial turf is sadly not an option. I'm in central Alabama, btw.
posted by BitterOldPunk to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
You're first going to have to do something about the clay. That's not a good medium for growing turfgrass. I'd remove a couple inches (at least) of it, then mix in some good topsoil and maybe some manure or compost- you want organic material in there. Even a little bit of sand or sandy loam might work better. Till all this as deep as you possibly can. You may need to rent a tiller for it. I personally would also work some organic fertilizer (like milorganite) into it as well.

Once you've got that done, you can put down some sod. I think that's the best way to go for what sounds like a relatively small area. I think St. Augustinegrass might be your best bet. Here's some information from Auburn about turfgrasses in Alabama.

Put the sod down in late spring, and be sure to water it sufficiently (but not too much) while it establishes. I recommend infrequent but deep watering for turfgrass in general, but it might take more frequent irrigation while it gets started. That will depend largely on temperatures and humidity. You want the roots to go down as deep as possible looking for water. If you give them too much on the surface, there's no reason for them to grow deep. Deep roots will help you out in the Summertime.

When you start mowing it, don't take off more than 1/3 of the leaf blade at a time. Ease it down over a period of a few weeks if you have to.

But the most important thing is doing something about the clay. That will be the hardest, but most beneficial part of this project. Good luck!
posted by Shohn at 10:48 AM on January 12, 2010


What you want is Liatris, also known as Monkey Grass. I live in Houston, with similar soil and weather conditions, and I had the exact same situation with my HOA. You get the kind that spreads by way of underground roots. Just plant a few clumps, and let nature do the rest. The stuff grows anywhere, and is impossible to kill. You don't have to water it, feed it, or mow it. It's considered an ornamental grass, so it looks like you actually made a tremendous effort to beautify, and so should keep the yard-nazis happy. :)

I'm at work, so I don't have the info regarding the place I got mine from, but when I get home, I'll find it and post it. It was the cheapest anywhere, was cheaper than sod, shipping was free, and service was excellent.
posted by fairywench at 11:02 AM on January 12, 2010


Have you considered?
- concrete
- rock garden
- astro turf
- low maintenance alternatives
posted by blue_beetle at 11:05 AM on January 12, 2010


Ooh, fairywrench- monkey grass is a great idea. A dwarf variety would be perfect.

BitterOldPunk, feel free to disregard my labor-intensive advice and go with this gem of an idea.
posted by Shohn at 11:23 AM on January 12, 2010


For shade I like a groundcover like ajuga (although it doesn't do well in full shade). Or do they require it to be grass?
posted by dhartung at 11:25 AM on January 12, 2010


dwarf varieties of any plants grow slower, so your fill-in rate will be much slower, probably requiring more initial planting plugs.
posted by jrishel at 12:01 PM on January 12, 2010


In difficult soils, seed lawns are always better than sod. Sod is comparatively hard to root, and if the soil isn't prepared properly it tends to just mat up on top, requiring tons of water and then looking like crap in about a year.

If you live in a mild area with winter rainfall, the best time to plant is fall before the soil is saturated. Once the soil is wet, working it just compacts it. Obviously this is particularly bad if you have clay soil.

What you want is Liatris, also known as Monkey Grass.

I think you mean Liriope, or if it's the finer Mondo grass, Ophiopogon. Liriope will do fine in clay, Ophiopogon is slower to spread and does better in lighter soil. Neither one is good in a foot-trafficked area, though I can't tell from the question if that's an issue.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:43 PM on January 12, 2010


I think you mean Liriope,

Ah, you're right! Thank you! No wonder I couldn't find the link I was looking for.

It's been Monday all week today.
posted by fairywench at 12:54 PM on January 12, 2010


Even a little bit of sand or sandy loam might work better.

Missed this- don't ever mix sand with clay, unless you like your clay to set up like cement. The only thing that really helps clay soil aggregate (which you want- this creates larger soil particles allowing for oxygen infiltration. Clay particles are problematic because they are flat and charged, so they align with each other and create a plastic, impermeable medium) is composted organic material. Organic material increases aeration, helps balance the pH of basic soils (which is often the case with clay), and produces humic acids which form microaggregates in clay. Mixing in some good organic compost when planting will help improve the soil composition as long as you top dress every spring just as the soil begins to warm. This can be done with grass or groundcover.


If your clay soil is saline, gypsum displaces the salts on the clay particles allowing them to be leached, but gypsum doesn't do anything otherwise, despite what the people selling it would like you to believe.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:57 PM on January 12, 2010


Response by poster: The area does not get a lot of foot traffic. Monkey grass sounds like a great idea. But I've had a lawn planted with the stuff, and it tried to take over. Plus I'm not sure that planting monkey grass would satisfy the Lawn Nazis: I think they want to see "real" grass. I'd happily let it turn to kudzu of I could, but that's not an option. I've let English ivy take over the side yard, and moss take over a permanently shady patch by the front door. I think these look great, serve as good ground cover, and (HUGE BONUS) they're maintenance free (except for pulling the ivy off the stairs every so often, which is no biggie). While I wish I could go with some sort of alternative to lawn grass, I fear that's what I'm gonna hafta use.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 1:09 PM on January 12, 2010


Well, if it has to be turfgrass, centipede grass might be the thing for your area. However, like all warm-season grasses, it is only tolerant of light shade. You'll need to till, whether you plug or seed. This site (the parent site of the one above) has a ton of information; you can search by state or soil, and it will tell you when and how to plant. Sadly, if it has to be grass you'll have to do more work than if they will accept groundcovers.
posted by oneirodynia at 2:34 PM on January 12, 2010


Agreeing with oneirodynia, you do have to do something about the soil, and clay is a real sonofabitch. I've gotten grass going in red hardpan clay by breaking it up a bit and mixing in (well, more accurately layering on) loads of highly composted / organic material. If the area isn't subject to erosion the quickest idea is just to dump some bags of cheap topsoil and manure on top of it to build up a couple of inches, then go with grass of your choice.
posted by crapmatic at 4:56 PM on January 12, 2010


Shohn's advice is spot on. No grass does well in the shade, but I've had much better luck with St Augustine than anything else. Whatever you do, don't let anyone try to talk you into Zoysia, as it will die a slow, ugly death in the shade (look at my folks' side yard the next time you're in Forest Park). St. Augustine can also be cut with a reel push mower,which is cheap, low maintenance, and all you need to cut an area that small.

I've got a few big chunks of essentially unkillable monkey grass of indeterminate variety you're welcome to if you want to give that route a go. We pulled it up somewhere in the yard, and it's been sitting next to a fence on top of compacted clay-gravel driveway in the shade for several years now, quietly thriving and utterly ignored. We've got no place to plant it, but I just can't bring myself to throw it out.
posted by fogovonslack at 6:42 PM on January 17, 2010


Do you have any control over the level of shade itself? Could you have an arborist do something like raising the crown by cutting away lower branches, or do it yourself with a pole saw? (This is something I've been doing and I've reached the limit of what my 18' pole saw can reasonably reach.) Thinning the crown is another option but really requires somebody with experience and safety equipment to get up into the tree.

Ultimately, it may be necessary to remove an entire tree. Would the HOA be OK with that? You could make it their choice: tree, or turf.
posted by dhartung at 10:54 PM on January 17, 2010


Do you have any control over the level of shade itself? Could you have an arborist do something like raising the crown by cutting away lower branches, or do it yourself with a pole saw? (This is something I've been doing and I've reached the limit of what my 18' pole saw can reasonably reach.) Thinning the crown is another option but really requires somebody with experience and safety equipment to get up into the tree.

Ultimately, it may be necessary to remove an entire tree. Would the HOA be OK with that?
posted by dhartung at 10:54 PM on January 17, 2010


« Older Don't need much from a cell/smart phone, and...   |   A Birthday Without a Party Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.