Moved In and Sodded!

I’ve told my dear husband that this was my last move, and they will have to take me out of this house feet first in a pine box. Moving is no fun, and I am too old for this nonsense. Now that we are settled in, my focus will be on the yard.

The Tif-Tuf Bermuda sod has arrived (Thank you, Super-Sod!) and been laid down dormant. That’s right…dormant. Don’t worry. It will be just fine. Some warm season grasses, like Tif-Tuf and Zenith Zoysia, can be laid dormant. Others cannot. If you are laying dormant sod, please check with your sod professionals to be sure you choose a variety that will be successful in your zone. Timing is everything!

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Ice and snow soon followed, along with single digit temperatures, but the sod loves the slow drip of water from the melting winter precipitation, and the temperatures are right back to southern normal after the brief cold snap.

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Dan Ryan Builders gave us some pretty decent plants. We have a Red Oak, a Crepe Myrtle, 3 Drift Roses, 3 Loropetalum and a Thuja ‘Emerald’. The Compacta Hollies will be re-homed. The others will be worked into my plan somewhere.

Brodgen 6Of course I am planning a major landscape renovation. I sit in front of the fire with a glass of wine and my knitting, and dream of terraces, stone walls, pollinator gardens, vegetable and herb gardens, Japanese Maples, Hostas, Hydrangeas, Camellias… Stay tuned – spring is coming!

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The Dirt on NC Soil

When I moved to North Carolina from Massachusetts in 1993, I was eager to start planting. I had heard how many more varieties of plants could be grown here than in Zone 4, including warm season grasses, and I could not wait to get my hands in the soil. So you can imagine my surprise when, after great effort, I came up with a shovel full of red clay and rock. I wondered how anything grows here! I sought out the advice of local experts, and began the hard work of amending my soil. After 24 years of soil building, resulting in beautiful, rich, black dirt … we decided to move. We chose to build in Durham and I took a soil sample from the new lot. The test results are the 2nd worst I have seen in 20 years in NC horticulture.

To test your own soil, take core plugs from several spots in the yard and mix them together to get an overall sample. Or you can take several plugs per area (lawn, vegetable garden, etc.). A soil probe is a helpful tool for taking core samples. For each sample you will need about 3/4 of a sandwich baggie. The NC Department of Agriculture  offers free soil testing most of the year, charging a small fee December through March. Bring your sample to the lab in Raleigh and they will give you a form and a box to submit your sample. Results are emailed to you in about 2 weeks. Outside NC, check with your state agriculture department.

The NC report will look like this: Soil Test Report

Over the years I have performed hundreds of soil tests on my clients’ yards. The most telling number on those tests is the HM% – the percentage of Humus Matter (organic matter) in the soil. Ideal is 5%, but in my 20 years in the horticulture industry in NC, I have yet to see one above 1%. The average is 0.46%. Mine is 0.04%. Pitiful.

The pH is another important number. The form you fill out will ask what is being grown in the area sampled. I wrote  TifTuf Bermuda because that is what I intend to use for my lawn. I will (of course) also be planting perennials, trees, shrubs, vegetables, herbs, hops… but I digress. Ideal pH for most lawns (not Centipede) is 5.8-6.5 and, as you can see above, mine is 5.3. The lab recommends I add 80 pounds of lime per 1000 square feet. That is a lot of lime. I have work to do.

The solution to poor soil quality is soil building. In the Triangle, our native soil has the following layers: gray clay, red clay, and if you are lucky, a bit of organic matter on top. Most new construction is missing that important top layer. Nature builds soil in these layers, so for best results we should imitate Nature.

To remedy a lack of organic matter,  work compost into new beds and continue to amend your soil by adding a layer of compost yearly. I highly recommend Super-Sod’s Soil3 compost. One cubic yard comes in the signature BigYellowBag and can be delivered to your home! Soil3 is made from grass clippings, wheat straw and cow manure. It is inoculated with mycorrhizae and other beneficial organisms, and turned regularly to maintain a temperature of 160 degrees. The result is rich, humus compost that is OMRI  listed for use in organic vegetable gardens.

There are other important numbers to note on the soil report. The lab tests available Phosphorous and Potassium in the soil, but not Nitrogen because it is too unstable and the results will not be reliable. Under “N-P-K Fertilizer Recommendations” they will tell you how much fertilizer to add. Be sure to do this at the correct time of year for the plants you are growing. CEC measures the soil’s ability to absorb and release nutrients to the plant roots. Ideal CEC is 15+. High levels  of zinc, copper and manganese can be problematic as well. Be sure to read the Agronomist’s comments to see if further action is needed.

We move in to our new home at the end of December, and I will begin shortly thereafter improving my soil. I will start with a dump truck load of 50/50 topsoil/compost, and then top-dress annually with Soil3.  It will be a long process, but the results are well worth the effort. I will keep my readers updated as the new landscape develops. Happy gardening!

Top 10 NC Sod Questions…Answered

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I work for Super-Sod, one of the top sod producers in the Southeast. As in any industry, we get the same questions over and over. And they are really good questions! I’ve compiled our top ten and shared my answers, with valuable input and editing from my co-workers, to help you choose the best sod for your landscape.

1. Which is the best sod for central NC?

We live in a macro-climate (overall geographic area) that allows us to grow nearly any sod variety with some degree of success. In general, warm season grasses are best because North Carolina is a warm season state. We have great success with Bermuda and Zoysia grasses! Centipede does well in full sun and well-drained conditions, however it is the least cold tolerant of the grasses we offer and is the most likely to come out of winter with winter-kill damage.

The variety that is best for you is much more dependent on your micro-climate (specific site conditions). Tall Fescue can be a challenge because it is a cool season grass, but it is our most shade tolerant option. Common practice is to over-seed Tall Fescue lawns every fall to help replenish any areas that may have struggled from disease and drought over the summer. Different Bermudas and Zoysias have different shade tolerances.

2. What is the best time to lay sod?

That depends on the sod. Ideal timing for each sod is listed below.

May 1 – September 1: Zoysia, Bermuda and Centipede

October 1 – March 1: Fescue

Exceptions:  TifTuf Bermuda and Zenith Zoysia can be installed year-round, but when laid outside their ideal timing, the seams may not close completely until warm weather.

3. Which sod holds up best to kid or dog traffic?

That’s easy. TifTuf Bermuda! Just make sure you have enough sun.

4. How do I determine how much sun I’m getting?

Most smart phones have a compass. Stand in the area you plan to sod and face North using the compass. In summer the sun will be straight overhead, and the rest of the year it will drop back into the Southern hemisphere. Imagine the sky is a clock. Start in the East and track the open “hours” in the sky/clock moving to the West. Those are the hours you will have full sun. It will change as the seasons change. There are Sun Tracker apps that make this even easier.

5. How do I measure square footage?

With a perfectly rectangular lawn, this is easy – multiply length by width. But few of us have perfectly rectangular lawns. With irregular shapes, first take length measurements every 6-10 paces (keep the number of paces consistent) and average the results. Then repeat this process with width measurements. Multiply the average length by the average width and you will have a fairly accurate square footage. Measuring wheels are more accurate than measuring tapes.

6. How many square feet are on a sod pallet? How many square feet per roll?

Each Super-Sod pallet covers 500 square feet. Each roll measures 2’x5’ or 10 square feet. There are 50 rolls per pallet. From time to time, Emerald Zoysia and Leisure Time Zoysia can come in slabs measuring 18” x 24”, but the pallet coverage is the same 500 square feet. Other sod suppliers may have different standards. Make sure you ask!

7. Is seed available for each sod variety?

No. Most hybrid sod varieties are sterile. The seed they produce is not viable. Super-Sod has seed available for Elite Tall Fescue, TifBlair Centipede and Zenith Zoysia only. Common Bermuda seed is available, but none of our hybrid Bermudas produce viable seed.

8. Can I combine sod varieties in my yard?

Many clients have different micro-climates in their yards. Your front yard may be full sun but the back is quite shady. You may need to choose different sod varieties for these different areas. Please keep in mind that if you have a cool season lawn area and a warm season lawn area, you will need to fertilize these areas at different times of year and mow them at different heights. Blowing out the under-carriage of the mower between mowing different areas can help decrease cross-contamination. We do not recommend mixing sod varieties in one area. One will eventually dominate the other.

9. Should I over-seed warm season sod with annual rye to have color in the winter?

No. Rye is a vertical grower and warm season grasses grow horizontally. The rye will shade out the warm season grass in those winter months when hours of sunlight are already more scarce. Plus the rye will be competing for root space and soil nutrients, which makes for a slow and unsightly transition out of dormancy for your warm season grass.

10. Which sods are evergreen?

Technically only Tall Fescue stays green year-round, but in reality it is very hard to keep Fescue healthy during the hot, dry months of summer. Every plant has its seasons. Deciduous trees lose leaves for winter dormancy. Warm season grasses go dormant for winter as well. Fescue’s “ugly” season is summer. My advice is to embrace the seasonal changes.

Still have questions? Super-Sod has more answers.

Confessions of a TifTuf Bermuda Convert

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(photo courtesy of Davis Landscapes, Raleigh)

I must admit, I have never been a big Bermuda grass fan. My lawn is Emerald Zoysia, and I love it.

But then this year a new introduction to the market changed my perspective on the less-expensive warm season grass. TifTuf Bermuda was field tested as DT-1 against Tifway Bermuda by the University of Georgia https://www.supersod.com/media/pdf/TifTuf3.pdf , Tifway (also called Tifway 419) has been the industry standard since 1960. Both grasses were forced into drought and the Tifway went dormant. That’s fine. That is a survival technique. Some of it would recover, but in the case of a severe drought, most of the Tifway would suffer. TifTuf is different. In the same drought conditions, it stayed green! In fact, it thrived under stress! And not only that, but it recovered quickly from external damage and showed better shade tolerance than Tifway.

And that is when I sat up and took notice. Here is a drought-tolerant warm season grass that is more affordable than Zoysia, and it needs less water. In fact, once it is established, it needs almost no supplemental water. That is environmentally significant. And shade tolerance has been the Holy Grail in warm season grasses. There is no firm data on the daily required hours of direct sun for TifTuf yet, but the data is being compiled and we are optimistic. And the average price savings of 25% over Zoysia makes TifTuf more accessible for the average homeowner. We are seeing significant interest from builders because TifTuf is a survivor. My colleagues in GA are reporting first hand experience with quick rooting and good performance establishing new TifTuf sod in the face of this year’s drought.

I still love my Zoysia. But I am so pleased to have this more affordable alternative to offer my clients. It’s a real game changer in the turf industry!

(photos by Shannon Hathaway, Cary, NC #TifTuf)

Feral Cat “Zenith” Joins the Crew at Super-Sod

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Everyone loves a friendly kitten. They are cute, fun, energetic, bouncy, cuddly…did I mention cute? And friendly adult cats are almost as adoptable as kittens. But the overlooked cats in shelters all over the country are the feral cats brought in by animal control officers. Feral cats are different from strays. Strays are domestic cats who have been lost or abandoned, but who still want to interact with humans. Feral cats were usually born wild, and have not had much if any positive interaction with humans. They are nearly impossible to place because they are so fearful.  They will likely never cuddle with a human. Giving a feral cat a second chance is not about our needs, it’s about their needs – a purely altruistic gesture.

One solution is TNR (Trap Neuter Return). If you see a feral cat with a notched ear, that is the indication that they have been neutered and vaccinated through one of these programs. But many were taken from locations where they are not welcome to return. So the sad reality is that many feral cats captured by animal control officers are euthanized. But at the Wake County Animal Center in Raleigh, NC, staff have come up with a creative solution – a program they are calling Feral Farm Friends (check out their Facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/Feral-Farm-Friends-1721076118136119/?hc_location=ufi ). They are reaching out to farms, garden centers and storage facilities and encouraging them to adopt feral cats.

And what does this have to do with gardening? Farms, large gardens, and garden centers are great placements for feral cats. They can keep the rodent population down without using poisons (organic pest management), they will have outbuildings for shelter, and their lives are saved! The Super-Sod team in Cary (my workplace) thought this was such a good idea, we have adopted a feral cat for our store through Wake County’s Feral Farm Friends! Daniel is cleaning out the shed and turning it into a cat house with a cat door for access. I’ve set up the transition crate with a warm nest out of a milk crate, cardboard, wheat straw and a blanket, as well as a temporary litter box and food and water dishes. Our cat will stay in the transition crate for several days, getting used to the fact that we are a good food source, before being released to the property. The crate will start out in my office, and then be moved to the shed.

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We have named our Feral Farm Friend “Zenith”, after our best-selling Zenith Zoysia, hoping she will be as resilient as this beautiful, adaptable turf grass. www.supersod.com/sod/zoysia-sod/zenith-zoysia-sod.html So far Zenith is very shy and quiet. We are giving her space and time to learn that she can trust us, and that we are her food source. So keep checking back in to Personal Edens to follow the adventures of Zenith. Better yet, come by the store and meet her! If you would like more information on adding a couple Feral Farm Friends from your local shelter to your farm, garden or store, just ask. I’ll help in any way I can.