Moving into a brand new home can be one of the most exciting life events for those of all ages. If you’re like us at Sod University, a new lawn and garden is full of possibilities for new beginnings and landscape projects.
Caring for a lawn on a newly established construction site can be a challenge though—especially if you aren’t aware of all the work that needs to go into it. When not properly managed, a new home landscape can quickly turn into one filled with chaos.
Growing lawns on new home construction sites doesn’t have to be extremely difficult though. The first step to making this project as seamless and straightforward as possible is understanding a few common underlying issues. Only then can you begin to take action and grow a thriving residential landscape.
The Problem with Laying Sod or Planting Seed After Construction
The structure of your soil makes a huge difference in the overall success of your lawn and garden. Afterall, the health of your soil means your plants have a healthy environment to grow in.
The ground in which your plants grow in have an organized structure separated into sections called soil horizons. Each horizon is assigned a specific letter—O, A, E, B, C and R. Take a look at the image and find a basic explanation of soil horizons below. Having a basic understanding of your soil’s ideal structure will help you amend issues your newly installed lawn might have.
O Horizon – As seen in the image above, the O horizon is the organic layer that is located near the top of your planting soil. Organic material found in the O and A horizons provide beneficial nutrients and microbes to help plants grow and create a healthy soil ecosystem.
A Horizon – The A layer is a mineral horizon filled with natural topsoil located beneath the O horizon. The A horizon is also filled with rich, organic material, giving it a darker color. This layer should ideally have more organic matter than any other soil horizon.
E Horizon – The E horizon is typically lighter in color than both the A horizon and B horizon, which it is sandwiched between. The E horizon should have a lower amount of clay than the B horizon (located below E) or the A horizon (located above E).
B Horizon – The B horizon is a mineral subsurface horizon filled with clay, soluble salts and iron. When soil erosion occurs, it can sometimes wipe out all the other layers of soil above the B horizon.
C Horizon – This horizon is filled with weathered rock mixed with dirt. Organic matter is usually absent from this layer.
R Horizon – The last horizon, the R horizon, is unweathered bedrock.
Removal of Organic Matter and Carbon
When new homes and communities are constructed, these horizons are often disrupted and centuries of organic matter is removed. O, A and even E horizons are sometimes cleared away during the grading or bull-dozing process, leaving the B horizon as the surface layer for your soil.
Sod is then commonly placed on top of this B layer when new homes are built. In other words, your grass has hardly any access to crucial organic material. The roots your new lawn establishes struggle to grow through the C horizon filled with weathered rock.
Microbes and other beneficial nutrients or organisms are also missing from your soil. Carbon is used for plant growth and development and creates space for water and oxygen.
Healthy lawns depend on healthy soil and healthy soil depends on healthy microbes, which survive on organic carbon compounds and nitrogen for growth. These microbes affect soil structure, protect lawns from stress and break down nutrients to then release them to the root zone of the lawn. Learn more here.
The Timing of When New Grass is Planted
The timing of when new sod is laid or seed is planted depends on the timing of the building project. This can make or break your new lawn.
Early to mid-fall are usually the best times of the year to lay sod and plant cool season grass seed while spring is the best time to plant warm season grass seed. Learn more about the differences between warm and cool season grass seed here.
When sod or grass seed is planted right before the summer season begins, the grass experiences really stressful conditions during establishment.
The heat of the summer has the potential to damage the newly establishing grass while also requiring a significantly increased amount of water compared to other times of the year. When these irrigation requirements aren’t met, the lawn will undergo stress and potentially die.
For all of these reasons, lawns often die. This can become an unnecessary, costly endeavor that can be easily avoided. The next step is preparing the soil before new grass is installed if you get the chance.
How to Prepare the Soil for New Lawns
If you get the chance to start preparing the soil before a new lawn installation takes place, do so as this may help your new lawn establish.
Step 1: Test the Soil
Start by testing your soil as a means of discovering its current pH, the nutrients it has or lacks and then receive recommendations on ways to amend it.
Step 2: Spread Topsoil
As previously mentioned, most of horizons O, A and E are usually removed during the construction process. If this is the case, your soil will more than likely require organic topsoil to get it back to normal.
Sometimes workers will scrape the original topsoil aside during the construction process. If this is the case, you can probably just use this soil to lay back over the area. If not, you will need to buy your own topsoil. Use the soil test in Step 1 to determine which nutrients this topsoil should have.
Be sure to till in the topsoil to help loosen it up so that it doesn’t become too compact. Your new lawn will need to produce roots and grow through the soil. If the soil is too compact, the roots may fail to do so.
Lawnifi® Renew has natural nutrients that help new lawns establish healthier and stronger roots quicker. Renew is a great base for a newly sodded, seeded or plugged lawn.
Step 3: Research Fertilizers
Once the new topsoil has been laid, you can begin researching a fertilizer that will help your new lawn establish. It’s helpful to buy the fertilizer before the grass is even planted as you’ll have it on hand and ready to apply the day of planting.
We recommend selecting a fertilizer with the nutrients your soil test indicated were missing. Do this by reading the labels on various fertilizer products. However, it’s common practice to select a fertilizer plentiful in phosphorus because phosphorus helps with root growth—the main priority for a new lawn.
Before thinking about how green or lush the grass should be, root establishment should take place first. You can’t have a beautiful lawn without an established root system.
For this reason, Sod University recommends the Lawnifi® New Lawn Starter Box. The New Lawn Starter Box comes with three bottles of liquid fertilizer. Two of the bottles are Lawnifi Grow and one of the bottles is Lawnifi Maintain.
This fertilizer program is filled with the perfect amount of phosphorus, potassium, carbon and other nutrients to get your lawn started.
Step 4: Water the Soil
Another step that should take place for planting is taking the time to water the soil. Once the topsoil has been laid, it’s a good idea to water it in so that soil is settled.
Step 5: Select the Right Type of Grass
If you have the option to select the kind of grass you prefer, definitely put some research into this.
Don’t just choose the cheapest or most beautiful option. If the cheapest option doesn’t grow well in your area or in the shade your lawn experiences, you may wind up with a dead lawn and have to invest in a new one.
Learn more about the various grass types here, and read up on tips to determine your lawn’s conditions, budget, maintenance practices and more here. After this step has been completed, you can now get ready for planting your new lawn.
How to Lay Sod on Newly Constructed Lots
If contractors aren’t laying sod for you, you can install sod by yourself with a little guidance. Use our sod installation guide to get started and read about the various tools you may need before the day of installation.
As previously mentioned, the best time to lay sod is in the fall, however, spring is probably the second best time for installation.
The end of the spring season or summer is difficult—not only because of the labor you’ll be doing in the hot sun, but because your new sod will be stressed from the heat and require a lot of water. Contrary to popular belief, there are a few benefits to laying sod in the winter.
Before partaking in the landscape project, we suggest reading up on our Tips for Your Next Sod Job. It’s filled with content on delivery and placement tools, amount of people needed, the right hand tools and more.
Once the project is completed, follow our establishment guide for the next 30 days. Be sure to check out our improved turfgrass varieties by clicking the button below.
How to Plant Grass Seed on Newly Constructed Lots
If you’re planting grass seed yourself, start by referring to our Grass Seed Planting Guide. Use a broadcast or drop spreader during the planting process and try to plant the seed during the right time of the year.
The best time of year to plant grass seed depends on the type of seed you’re using. The best time to plant warm season grass seed like zoysia, bermuda grass or centipede seed is during the spring while the best time to plant cool season grass seed like bluegrass, ryegrass or fescue is during the fall.
It should be noted that if you’re wanting to install a St. Augustine lawn, it can only be installed as grass plugs or sod—there’s no such thing as St. Augustine grass seed.
How to Help Lawns on Newly Constructed Sites Grow
Regardless of whether you planted your new lawn or a professional did, there are a few things you can do partake in new lawn care.
Tip 1: Test Your Soil If You Haven’t Already
If you haven’t tested your soil as recommended in Step 1 of preparation, do so now. This will seriously benefit your lawn as you’ll have a better understanding of the exact nutrients it needs and not waste money on other unnecessary fertilizers.
Tip 2: Water It. A lot.
Your lawn will definitely need water to establish properly, but be wary of also overwatering the lawn as this can result in disease outbreaks—the last thing your lawn needs at this time. Follow our establishment guide to determine how much to water your newly planted lawn. Learn more.
Tip 3: Mow it Properly When it Comes Time
Many homeowners ask about when to mow a new lawn. The first day of mowing should take place 13–15 days after installation, which is generally about two weeks later.
Before mowing, check on the progress your lawn has made with establishment by lightly tugging at the sod. Your sod SHOULD have begun producing little white roots that keep it from being pulled up from the ground easily. This is how you know it is the right time to begin mowing. If your sod still comes up from the ground too easily, consider waiting another few days before mowing. Learn more.
Tip 4: Fertilize It Regularly
Begin applying the right kind of fertilizer for your newly installed lawn on the day of installation.
Applying a fertilizer that is heavy in nitrogen content will not feed your lawn the nutrients it needs as it is trying to establish. Typically, fertilizers made up of a lot of phosphorus and some potassium and carbon are your best bet.
If you follow the New Lawn Starter Box schedule, you can begin applying fertilizer on the first day of installation. The New Lawn Starter Box is a new lawn fertilizer for new sod that consists of three individual bottles of liquid fertilizer designed to help your newly sodded, seeded or plugged lawn establish. Learn more.
Tip 5: Aerate Compact Soils
If you have compact soils, you can help loosen it up by tilling the topsoil applied during Step 2 of preparation. If you skipped this step or still have compact soils, aerate it six months after planting as the roots and seeds will have reached maturity by then. Do not aerate any sooner than six months after planting. When it comes time to aerate, learn more here.
These are some of the tried and true methods for successfully growing a lawn on a newly constructed site. It may take some work, but the labor will be well worth the time and energy you put into it and pay major dividends in the future.
If you think this is too much work for you, there’s always the option of hiring a landscape professional. Regardless of which option you choose, you’ll now know the proper steps that need to be completed before planting a new lawn. Perhaps you can even make sure your landscape professional goes through all these steps.