A great sod debate (in my head)
December 2, 2014 11:14 AM   Subscribe

I have a backyard that has been troubled ever since we moved in. It was clear at that time that lawn of some sort was not doing very well. We tried adding new good soil and starting grass from seed that supposedly was the right kind for our area and the fact that the back gets little direct sunlight.

Nothing worked and we gave up. The house underwent some remodel and now it is time to finish that area again and we are perplexed on what to do. We have two very active kids and want there to be a great place for them to romp in the backyard.

We considered gravel, wood chips, play yard custom rubber, none of it seems right or affordable.

Now we are re-visiting the lawn idea and here is the question.

Approximately 700 square feet of space. If we purchased Marathon Sod and install a drip line directly under the sod, is ther ea chance that it might do all right? Is there a better choice than Marathon? Or are we just kidding ourselves?
posted by silsurf to Home & Garden (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
The amount of sunlight the area gets makes a huge difference. I sodded an area that includes areas full-sun and full-shade (with the same sod). The grass in the full-sun area is doing great and the full-shade area is thin and struggling. You'll probably need a shady-area variant if you want grass to work; I doubt anything you do with water will overcome the lack of sun (for grass that wants sun).
posted by achrise at 11:25 AM on December 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, Any suggestions on finding shade tolerant sod? Most places only carry Marathon
posted by silsurf at 11:36 AM on December 2, 2014

Growing turf in the shade - difficult, but not impossible
posted by caddis at 11:37 AM on December 2, 2014

Areas of Best Adaptability:
St. Augustine is well suited to Southern California's varied soils and climate. It is most often used where there is insufficient sunlight for other varieties.

As a Northerner I will admit knowing almost nothing about St. Augustine, but this was from a Southern California web site selling Marathon sod.
posted by caddis at 11:53 AM on December 2, 2014

Where do you live? In California, where I am and where drought is a big concern, I'm seeing more yard with realistic-looking artificial turf. If water is at all an issue, something like that is a good choice for the environment. Or, if you're in a wooded area with trees, it might be nice to let it revert to something more natural, with mosses and rocks and other landscaping.
posted by three_red_balloons at 12:30 PM on December 2, 2014

Have you considered native plants or some kind of alternative plant ground cover that would do better in the conditions?

I live in East LA and a lot of my neighbors do ivy, or something that looks a hell of a lot like ivy.
posted by Sara C. at 12:33 PM on December 2, 2014

In the southeast US, dwarf mondo grass does great in the shade, rarely needs watering, and can handle being tromped on. You could space the clumps of it out a bit to save money, and add mulch. In my experience, St. Augustine is too prone to fungus.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 12:34 PM on December 2, 2014

It looks like Marathon is a fescue blend, which should be somewhat shade tolerant. Fescue is a cool-season grass, though, so if your summers get hot, it might not make it. I don't really know anything about it, though.

I'm not a huge fan of drip irrigation for turf areas, personally. It's becoming more common, though, and I assume that the methodology is improving to provide better coverage. In the past, the problem with irrigating turfgrass with drip lines was that you'd end up with green stripes right over the lines because the water wouldn't spread out enough under the sod. That being said, it can be done, and many people are very happy with it. I think the best solution for residential-grade turf areas is a spray/ rotor hybrid like an MP Rotator. Of course, good irrigation practices like watering at the proper times of day, and using Evapotransipration Rates to set your controller, are always good ideas.

You might look into something called Shadow Turf. It's a buffalograss hybrid that's supposed to be shade tolerant, and to have low watering requirements. I love buffalograss, and I think it's the turfgrass of the future.

St. Augustinegrass is more shade tolerant than bermudagrass, but it doesn't hold up to traffic as well as some turfgrasses. If you have any serious romping going on, you can probably expect bare spots to develop.
posted by Shohn at 1:40 PM on December 2, 2014

We struggled with various sods and seed in our heavily shaded areas. Cutting the trees back was what made a huge difference in getting grass to grow.
posted by heathrowga at 1:56 PM on December 2, 2014

Our landscape designer highly recommends the recent artificial grasses; his clients have been extremely happy, and it is great for kids play areas, unlike mulch/sand/stone. You never need to mow, water, fertilize, weed, etc. There are some designed for high-traffic others, and others designed for moderate traffic. If you use it for pet areas, you do need to clean it up to remove urine build-up. You can buy and install it yourself (see options at Costco for example).
posted by apennington at 2:20 PM on December 2, 2014

N-thing the artificial turf ideas. We had 3 years of pain trying to get grass to grow in our back garden. Replaced it with high quality artificial turf. It feels SO nice underfoot, looks amazingl, and best of all? The rest of the garden has flourished because the patchy grass is no longer sprouting and spreading weeds everywhere else!
posted by shazzam! at 5:02 PM on December 2, 2014

Get your soil tested. Excessive nutrients are very not good, fer example, San Augustine does not like high phosphorus soils. Ph can also play a factor.
Yes, I read you added "good" soil. You'd have to add maybe 6" or more to the whole yard to get the grass roots out of the old soil. And you really don't know what the "good" soil is.
Good soil for vegetables will kill a blueberry bush. DAMHIK.
A county extension agent can probably get it tested, it generally doesn't cost much. Usually the test comes back with recommendations for plantings and treatments to optimize the soil for those particular plantings.
As a point of reference, my elderly neighbor cannot get grass to grow well in his yard. My yard is lush San Augustine. Turns out he used to fertilize it all the time and the phosphorus reading is through the roof, as opposed to just high like my yard.
Because I had my soil tested, I know to not add phosphorus. Really just a touch of nitrogen twice a year keeps the S.A. healthy enough to choke out crabgrass.
posted by rudd135 at 6:54 PM on December 2, 2014

Fake grass, fake grass, fake grass!! Seriously, go to Costco and check theirs out. It looks great, no work to take care of and it's a soft, even clean play area for kids.
posted by saradarlin at 8:36 PM on December 2, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks, these are great suggestions
posted by silsurf at 8:48 PM on December 2, 2014

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