Lawn Care Questions

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I thought about the questions that have been coming into the N.C. Cooperative Extension, Caldwell County Center this past week. I realized over half of the questions had two common elements. They were related to lawn care and how to quickly have a green lawn.

A quick fix or instant gratification is unrealistic for most lawn issues. Lawn care, and gardening in general, do not lend themselves to instant gratification. It takes time for plants to grow. These are living systems that we are managing, not inert objects to be manipulated.

Sometimes intervals can be shortened. However, trying to “hurry” mother nature gets expensive. For example, establishing a lawn from sod or planting a large caliper tree is expensive. Sowing a lawn from seed or starting a shade tree as a seedling are both much, much less expensive, but it takes time for these to grow.

This is the basic guidance I gave a new a homeowner to the area. She and her husband have just moved to the area from Charleston. She told me she had all the big trees taken down around the house they purchased. No grass was growing under the trees, and now she wants grass. She asked about the quickest way to establish a grass lawn in Caldwell County.

Sod is the quickest way to establish a new lawn, but this is very, very expensive. She said they have a half acre front lawn, so using sod is not a realistic option. It would just be too costly.

We discussed the types of grass that can be successfully grown in Caldwell County. Tall fescue is the most popular grass in the county, but there are other grass species that perform well, too. Typically, tall fescue works best when planted in the fall, but it can be started in the spring if it gets special attention.

I also mentioned zoysiagrass.

dormant zoysiagrass

Right now zoysiagrass is dormant, but it will green up by the end of April. (picture by Seth Nagy)

Zoysiagrass was introduced into the United States from Asia and grows best in the warm months of the year. Zoysia is a very dense/thick sod forming grass and really makes an attractive lawn.

However, zoysiagrass turns brown with the first frost in the fall. It remains dormant during the winter and greens back up in the spring. This is different from tall fescue that basically stays green most of the year.

Zoysiagrass is an excellent turf once established. It takes a low to medium level of management. Several species and cultivars of zoysiagrass are available. “Emerald” is certainly one zoysia variety to consider. “Emerald” is fine bladed, cold hardy, has a medium growth rate, and has good shade tolerance.

As I discussed grass options with this new Caldwell County resident, she said they had a zoysia lawn in Charleston. She liked it. So we discussed the options for establishing a zoysia lawn.

Zoysiagrass is difficult to establish from seed. Typically, it is best to vegetatively establish the lawn from sprigs or plugs. The lawn can be completely sodded, but this is a very expensive option.

zoysia cross section

Zoysiagrass forms a thick sod. (Picture by Dee Shore – NC State University)

A less expensive option is to make the sod into sprigs or plugs. One square foot of sod can provide up to 500 sprigs or 36 two-inch plugs.

A plug is a round or square piece of sod, usually 2 to 4 inches in diameter with a core about 2 to 2 1/2 inches in depth. The term “sprig” applies to a complete vegetative portion of the grass plant. A sprig should include leaves, a stolon (runner), and some roots.

When plugging, place plugs 2 1/2 inches in diameter (larger than 2 inches best) at 8 to 12-inch intervals. Press plugs into a similar size hole to obtain good soil contact. Do not plant the plugs too deep or allow the plugs stick up above ground level.

When sprigging a new lawn, don’t plant into an existing lawn. Sprigs should be planted in a prepared weed-free plant bed. Sprigs are obtained by tearing apart a piece of sod. Each sprig should be at least 3 inches long and contain one or two nodes. Sprigs are planted with one end below the soil and the other end (with leaf shoots) above the soil. Fresh sprigs are planted 4 to 12 inches apart in rows, and 8 to 12 inches between rows.

Zoysiagrass plugs or sprigs are best planted early in the growing season from late April through June. Later plantings may not become established before winter.

Often, homeowners will use plugs to slowly renovate their yard. Complete establishment takes two to four growing seasons to completely fill in between the plugs. However, once established, it is a nice lawn that resists drought and many weeds.

There are no perfect lawn grass choices; they all have compromise. In my opinion, zoysiagrass is the best choice for a warm-season lawn in Caldwell County. However, to economically establish this lawn, it takes time.

To connect with sod farms in North Carolina that can supply zoysiagrass sod, visit the North Carolina Sod Producers Association. There is a directory of sod farms in North Carolina.

Maintaining a zoysiagrass lawn is different than maintaining a tall fescue lawn. To help, we have a zoysiagrass maintenance calendar. This is available online or give us a call at 828-757-1290 and we’ll send you a copy. The N.C. Cooperative Extension, Caldwell County Center is your local connection to the educational resources of the land grant system.