How to Lay Sod in the Desert
When flying over desert communities, whether it’s Palm Springs, California, or Las Vegas, Nevada, a visitor must be impressed with the expansive green lawns and golf courses that seem to thrive in the dry desert atmosphere.
Landscapers in desert communities know the proper way to lay sod, how to keep it green and healthy and how to choose the right sod for the right application and growing zone. Golf courses, with their fairways and greens, use different sod than new lawns, and the variety of weather conditions affecting desert communities needs to be considered before determining the best way to lay sod.
The deserts of North America constitute almost 2 percent of Earth’s terrain and range in above-sea-level heights of -282 feet to over 5,000 feet. Temperatures also vary and range from the cold of Death Valley where December may find winds howling at 39°F to July highs of 116°F.
Only buy sod from a known and reputable dealer.
Local landscapers who know and understand the local temperature swings should be consulted before you buy a pallet of fresh sod from a sod farm or a garden center.
The High Desert
Most of America’s South borders a desert, and within those deserts are two distinct temperature- and elevation-defined ranges. The High Desert comprises America’s Great Basin Desert and the Mojave Desert, and the vegetation that grows in these geographically defined territories differs from that in the Low Desert.
The types of grass that are sod-forming and thrive in the High Desert include:
- Bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon), grown in USDA plant hardiness zones 7 to 10.
- Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis), grown in zones 3 to 7.
- Zoysia grass (Zoysia spp.), familiar in zones 5 to 10.
- Buffalograss (Bouteloua dactyloides), thrives in zones 4 to 8 and is the most heat tolerant of all the grasses.
- St. Augustine grass (Stenotaphrum secundatum), found in zones 8 to 10.
- Seashore paspalum (Paspalum vaginatum), native to zones 8 to 11 and is quite salt tolerant.
Cool-season turfgrasses found in the North fit this definition.
Different from bunchgrasses, sod-forming grasses knit together through rhizomes and stolons and grow roots and stems. Bunchgrasses like tall fescue (Lolium arundinaceum) are familiar in zones 4 to 7, and ryegrasses (Lolium multiflorum, zones 4 to 9) need to be held together through mesh or must include a sod-forming grass in its mixture.
Sod for the Low Desert
Low-growing grasses that don’t need a lot of water include zoysia grass, St. Augustine grass and Bermudagrass. All are high-maintenance grasses that grow best in the warmer temperatures of the South, or zones 8 to 11. Sodding a lawn with any of the above helps prevent weeds from moving in.
To determine how much sod you need, measure the length and width of the project and multiply to get the square feet. Divide by 9 for the yardage you’ll need, as a piece of sod is sold by the yard. An individual roll of sod measures 4.5 feet by 2 feet.
Lay Sod on a Prepared Site
Site preparation is paramount to a successful sod installation regardless of your hardiness zone. Be sure these steps are taken before laying new sod, as unlaid sod has a window of health that is less than 24 hours. The best time of the year to lay sod for a new lawn is during the cool season.
- Remove all debris from the topsoil, including rocks, twigs and roots of old grasses or plants, especially if close to a flower bed. Replacing an existing lawn means treating the site with an herbicide to protect the new grass being installed.
- Use a rototiller to aerate the soil and prepare it for the sod, avoiding any existing sprinkler heads.
- Using a soil sample, perform a soil test to learn its pH and nutrient needs. Amend as needed.
- Grade the site, making sure there are no low spots or puddles or that it‘s sloping away from a house.
- Lightly irrigate the soil.
- Lay the first roll of sod against a straight edge, such as a driveway. This first row establishes your pattern.
- Lay the squares of sod tightly against one another. If necessary, a sod cutter will shape the sod to fit into the allotted space, and a straight edge keeps it straight.
- Stagger the sod pieces to prevent lines between sections. Staggering is preferred on slopes to prevent water from channeling and erosion.
- Water lightly.
- Use a lawn roller over the entire newly sodded landscape to remove any existing air pockets.
Lawn care is minimal with freshly laid sod. Light but frequent watering of the newly laid sod for the first week helps the sod establish itself and put down roots. Once rooted, taper the waterings and follow the weather pattern.
Mow after three to four weeks and 30 to 60 days before fertilizing for a healthy lawn.
Jann enjoys learning about and growing little gardens on her patio. When she walks in the morning, her phone app connects her to unfamiliar flora. Unusual specimens, such as yellow watermelon and pink pineapple fascinate her and are the next inhabitants of her planter boxes.