Lawned garden

Woman applying sod rolls in the backyard

From 2012 to 2016, California experienced the driest four-year span (2012-2015) and the three warmest years (2014, 2015 and 2016) on record. Water conservation regulations were implemented and lawns turned brown.

Though the drought has been officially declared over, watering restrictions have been lifted and we have had above-normal rainfall for two of the past three years, many lawns never fully recovered – the bare spots either transformed to hardpan, not allowing water to soak in, or have filled in with weeds. At some point, the only way to return a lawn to its predrought glory is to dig it out and start over.

There are three ways to create a beautiful, healthy lawn from scratch: seed, stolons (chopped sections of grass stems that take root and form new plants) and sod. While seed and stolons are significantly less expensive, initially, they both need to be watered multiple times a day to get established and take four months or more, depending on the weather, before the lawn can handle foot traffic. There is also the issue of weeds. Any weed seeds in the soil will sprout and need to be removed by hand until the lawn fills in.

Sod, on the other hand, already has a well-developed root system. It immediately looks nice, can be walked or played on in two or three weeks and starts off essentially weed-free. For the extra cost, about three times as much as seed and stolons, you are paying for someone else to plant, water, fertilize, grow and deliver the grass to your house.

Regardless of which you choose, soil preparation is a key component to creating the lawn of your dreams. Dale Edwards, operations manager at Old River Sod and co-host of the “Country Garden” radio show on KERN Radio News Talk 1180 AM and 96.1 FM for more than 25 years, recommends first killing what’s left of the existing grass with Roundup or similar weed killer, removing the dead grass and its roots with a sod cutter (available for rent for about $100 per day), and amending and leveling the soil. Done properly, this process takes about four weeks.

Due to our long, hot summers, choosing the right variety of grass is critical. Edwards likes Tifgreen Hybrid Bermuda for its drought tolerance, durability, velvety texture and resistance to insects and disease.

El Toro Zoysia is another variety that can take the summer heat and stands up well to heavy foot traffic. Additionally, it grows slowly, meaning it does not require frequent mowing and it is nonallergenic, a real plus for people with allergies.

With the drought behind us, it’s time get that lawn back in shape. Whether you choose to save some money by planting seed or stolons or opt for more immediate gratification by installing sod, renovating your lawn is not unlike a painting project – it’s all in the preparation and selecting the appropriate product. 

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