Originally created 02/04/05

Perfecting home turf



Your odds of playing football in Alltel Stadium in Jacksonville, Fla., where the New England Patriots face the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday in the Super Bowl, are pretty much nil. On the other hand, the odds of having a lawn as green and lush as the turf there are a lot better.

The stadium's turf, a Bermuda hybrid called Princess 77 that's been over-seeded with Kentucky bluegrass and three varieties of perennial ryegrass, was grown in Sandersville, Ga., by Pennington Seed.

Ronnie Stapp, the executive vice president of the Madison, Ga.-based company, said it's not uncommon for homeowners to want to replicate what they see on television. This is the third time Pennington Seed has supplied sod for the NFL's biggest event.

"It's not out of reason to want that kind of lawn," he said. "Of course, you wouldn't have to devote as much time as they do for the Super Bowl because you could tolerate the mistakes."

That isn't to say creating a Super Bowl-worthy lawn is a cake walk. Bermuda grass is highly prized by sports teams and golf courses because it thrives in full sunshine and recovers from foot traffic quicker than other grasses. It also goes dormant and turns yellow in the winter, which is why the Bermuda grass in Alltel Stadium has two other cold-weather grasses mixed in with it.

"The strength comes from the Bermuda; the other two grasses lend to the color and the texture of the field," Mr. Stapp said.

Green turf is hard work

Strength also means high maintenance, and to really keep it in the best shape, a homeowner needs to cut the grass at least two times a week with a sharp lawn mower blade.

"With this kind of turf, as it grows, it grows first with leaves, then stems," so failing to cut it twice a week will lead to "a brown, stemmy-looking lawn," Mr. Stapp said. "You don't get a beautiful lawn without putting a little work into it."

A full mowing regimen isn't the only thing that separates stadium-worthy turf from your average suburban lawn. Derrick Vanover, the assistant director of trees and landscaping for Augusta, said the Bermuda Tifton grass that carpets the Augusta Common was chosen in part because its roots go deeper than St. Augustine or centipede grasses, so it recovers quicker from trampling. It also is over-seeded with ryegrass to give it a green color year round, and, like Alltel Stadium, it has strata, or layers, of gravel, sand and soil and drainage tiles underneath to eliminate pooling.

"It's the dollars that are going to drive it; you can have that same grass we have, it's great for residential use," Mr. Vanover said.

"But you won't need the stratas or the tiles because you won't have 10,000 people walking on it."

Columbia County Extension Coordinator Charles Phillips estimated half the calls he gets from the public are about turf grass, and the vast majority are homeowners.

Evaluate sun, soil

Fertilizing, weeding and insect control top the requests, but the first thing home-owners should consider before ripping out an existing lawn is how much sunlight the area gets. Bermuda grass needs 100 percent of available light, St. Augustine requires 50 percent and Zoysia and centipede (the other major hot-climate grasses) are somewhere in between. Other factors include pet and child traffic and irrigation. Mr. Phillips said there's no limit to what people will do to get their lawns looking like something from the Augusta National Golf Club.

"I had a fellow who sold his house and moved because he wanted his front yard to look like a putting green, and he had a pile of earthworms in the front yard.

"They make these little mounds of dirt when it gets real wet so they can breath, and he was cutting it with a reel mower," Mr. Phillips said. "He had to get it sharpened every other week because the mounds were dulling the blade. So he just picked up and moved."

Both Mr. Stapp and Mr. Phillips strongly emphasized testing the pH level of your soil and tilling in an appropriate amount of lime and/or fertilizer before planting seed or laying sod. Mr. Stapp said improper soil preparation is the biggest culprit behind unhappy homeowners.

"If you're going to spend money on sod, you may as well get a sample of your soil taken; chances are you're going to have to get lime for it," he said. "Even though it's beautiful and you lay it down like carpet, you have to remember it's a living thing."

On the Net:

 •  Turfgrass Producers International: www.lawninstitute.com

 •  Toro Lawn mower's Yard Care Site: www.yardcare.com

 •  Pennington Seed: www.penningtonseed.com

Reach Patrick Verel at (706) 823-3332 or patrick.verel@augustachronicle.com.

Sod to impress

Preparation
Step 1: Check the soil pH level.
Step 2: Make sure area has full sun
Step 3: Till in lime and fertilizer

You're ready
Step 1: Get Bermuda grass
Step 2: Mix in Kentucky bluegrass and three varieties of ryegrass
Step 3: Mow twice a week
Step 4: Fertilize, weed and insect control