A: My preference is for you to not plant sod during the dormant season, but much of it depends on the type of grass you are sodding and the situation. The most common sodding you see during the dormant season is for new construction.
It is best not to sod unless you have to because roots in sod originate at the soil surface where the temperatures closely mimic the air temperatures. If the air temperature is at or below freezing, roots of newly laid sod can freeze. St. Augustine and centipede are more sensitive to freezing than zoysia and bermudagrass. There are now many zoysia varieties, and some of them would fall into the same category as St. Augustine and centipede.
If you or someone else decides to sod during the dormant season, there are management practices that can improve the chances of success.
The recommendations we give for sodding during the ideal period of spring also apply to the off-season. Take a soil sample to determine lime and fertilizer needs before preparing the soil and planting the sod. Add lime, phosphorus, potassium, and potentially sulfur (if needed to lower pH) and till it into the soil before sodding.
Don’t apply nitrogen at this time. It should be added in the spring once soil temperatures at the 4-inch depth are consistently 65 degrees or higher. This usually happens about April 15. The dormant grass root system is incapable of taking up nitrogen at lower temperatures and the nitrogen might be leached into the environment.
Loosening the soil and incorporating lime and fertilizer by tilling to a minimum depth of 3 to 4 inches is typically adequate for turfgrass establishment. If possible, tilling deeper is even better.
After thorough tilling and mixing, the soil should be leveled, smoothed and moistened. Before laying sod, the soil should be lightly watered but not saturated. Ruts from foot traffic or equipment can occur when soils are excessively wet and are more difficult to repair after the sod is laid.
To prevent drying, potential cold injury and death of roots, sod should be installed within 24 to 48 hours after harvest.
If freezing temperatures are predicted while sod is still on the pallet, the exposed roots could freeze and die. Another advantage of getting the grass off the pallet as soon as possible is to take advantage of the soil’s radiant heat. Higher soil temperatures may offer some protection from cold injury when compared to temperatures experienced by turfgrass on the pallet. Sod should be laid tight and rolled to ensure sod-to-soil contact.
Water management is critical when laying dormant sod. Water is needed to keep the upper 1 to 2 inches of soil moist.
During the winter, rainfall might suffice, but about 0.25 inches of water may be necessary each week. After sodding, frequently check the soil moisture by gently pulling up sod edges to make sure the soil is moist.
The survival of off-season transplanted sod is dependent upon avoiding desiccation or drying. In as little as a day, turfgrass that has an undeveloped root system can dry out and die.