Contrary to common belief, laying sod in the winter is one of the best times to lay sod in certain locations throughout the southern parts of the United States. There are actually a lot of benefits to laying sod at this time. It may seem like a bad time to lay sod because warm season grass is not actively growing and dormant. After all, freezing temperatures could potentially kill roots and keep the sod from establishing itself into the soil’s surface. However, this is not true in all cases. Sod University discusses the benefits of installing warm season turfgrass sod in the winter such as zoysia, bermudagrass and St. Augustine. We also interview a professional sod installer and landscaper, Mark Lane of Looking Glass Landscaping and Maintenance, LLC., to talk through the benefits of winter installation and winter maintenance practices of newly laid sod. Here’s a video of Sod Solutions owner, Tobey Wagner, as we lay sod here at the office in Awendaw Village near Charleston, SC.
In the video above, we lay EMPIRE® Zoysia at the Sod Solutions office in Awendaw Village near Charleston, SC.
Many homeowners and even some professional landscapers are hesitant to lay sod during the winter while grass is dormant. They’re afraid that newly establishing sod roots could freeze. The newly establishing sod roots originate at the soil’s surface where temperatures closely resemble the temperatures of the air. If the temperatures are freezing, it could mean your roots/rhizomes freeze, harming your newly laid sod. In truth, more sod is actually lost to heat stress in the summer than to winter’s moderate freezes. People believe that when it’s hot outside, it’s safe to lay sod. When temperatures start to exceed 90 degrees, grass dehydrates and could potentially be severely damaged or die from heat stress if not properly irrigated. This happens more frequently in comparison to the winter when temperatures drop. Nevertheless, there are a few tips and tricks you can perform in the winter to prevent damage. Successfully laying sod in the winter also greatly depends on the type of grass you are installing as well as where the installation site is geographically located.
For example, it’s okay to install sod during the winter in areas like US Ag Zone 8b–11. “Here in Charleston, we do it all the time,” says Mark Lane. “We never really stop during the winter. I’ve never had a freeze hurt my grass. I guess it’s a risk I’m willing to take because I’ve never had a problem.”
Mark Lane also went as far to say, “I like to install the grass right now (winter). The grass right now is just awesome. I enjoy working with EMPIRE Zoysia the most, but we also frequently install Palmetto® St. Augustine during the winter.”
Green Acres Turf Farm, LLC., is a turfgrass farm located in the low country of South Carolina. They ship sod as far north and inland as Columbia, SC. Charleston is a coastal location making it an ideal environment for installation, but Green Acres will install sod in Columbia all winter long. Even if the temperatures reach the freezing point in certain areas, it is still okay to install sod—a vast majority of the United States reaches 32 degrees during the winter. However, it is ill advised to install sod during the winter when temperatures start to reach the teens on a frequent basis. A geographic line can be drawn right before Greenville, SC. In fact, some of the best areas to install sod during the winter are located in growing zones 8b–11, which are located in states throughout the lower parts of the US. Take a look at the map below to see where these zones are located. You can see a little bit of green, representative of zone 7b, in Greenville’s general location.
Photo Credit: planthardiness.ars.usda.gov
“I don’t have a problem with any of the freezes here,” says Mark Lane. “I would just make sure it is irrigated properly. The colder it gets, the more you want to make sure it has some moisture on it. The freeze will hurt it more if the grass is dry. A coating of water will freeze the water in place of the plant.”
Winter maintenance practices for newly installed sod somewhat differs from that of any other installation season—there’s no mowing and very little irrigation required. When installing, you may want to pull the seams a little closer together than normal to protect it from colder temperatures as demonstrated in the pictures below.
Even though the grass is dormant, you will want to water it and keep it moist. The root system is not actively growing during dormancy, but water is still needed to keep the first two inches of the soil surface moist. As previously mentioned, a protective coating of water allows for temperatures to freeze the water in place of the grass. About 0.25 inches of water a week should be enough. Irrigate immediately after laying the new sod. Lastly, you do not need to fertilize during winter installation. It is better to wait until spring to make fertilizer applications when the grass is actively growing. Your grass is in dormancy, so it is unable to absorb any nutrients at this time. The fertilizer nutrients will just sit in the soil without bringing about any benefits to your lawn. It will serve as a waste of money and time as well as potentially causing run-off into your ponds and drains when it rains. Once it starts to green up around the beginning of spring, however, we recommend applying a bottle of Lawnifi® Grow to your newly installed sod because it has plant-available phosphorus in it. As your grass starts to establish, phosphorus is what it needs. Then in late March and early April, we recommend applying the Lawnifi Spring Fertilizer Box. If you follow these tips after installing sod in the winter, your warm season sod will green up really well in the spring.
Below are some images and footage of sod being installed in the winter during its dormancy period. You can see a forklift that carries the sod to different locations throughout the property for convenience while installers grab the sod and lay it across the soil. As previously mentioned, seams should be placed tightly next to each other to help build a protective barrier against the cold.
For more information on sod installation, visit our How to Properly Install Sod page. If you are currently installing sod and wondering how much sod you need, be sure to check out our article on How Many Square Feet are on a Pallet of Sod?. The article, Tips for Your Next Sod Job, is also useful if you are installing sod as it discusses a few tips and tricks to help you get your sod installation project done neatly and efficiently.