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simonr_gw

My experiences with Sprigging Bermuda grass (stolonizing)

SimonR
7 years ago

Hello everyone. My name is Simon and I am from Australia. I have been using this site with great success to lay and level my front Bermuda lawn. I decided in June that I would attempt to improve my backyard into a lush area that the kids can go and play in. I have 2 kids and one more on the way. The yard was in pretty bad shape, rutted lawn with broken concrete paths and poorly built retaining walls.
I decided early on in the project to keep the cost down by stolonizing the lawn. I didn't know where to start, other than seeing a youtube video of a grow-in of a backyard golf green. I was determined to get a polished result from a limited budget.
So, since there is pretty much no real information out there as to how you broadcast sprig (stolonize) a warm-season grass in a domestic situation. So that considered I thought I would share my experiences such that others may use this as a starting point with what worked and what didn't work for me.

Background

Location, Adelaide, South Australia. Hot dry summers, cool moist winters.

Soil Prep
Same as any other new lawn, spraying out old lawn, cultivation, top soil, screeding off, sufficient time for the soil to settle , more screeding.

Irrigation
An absolute necessity if you wish to sprig. I went automated as I had an old controller that was adequate for my needs. Irrigation schedule; Week 1-2 (8 times p/d for 2 mins), week 3-4 (4 times p/d 5 mins), week 5 (twice per day for 10 mins), week 6 (once per day 15mins). Obviously if it rained I did not irrigate and if temperatures were high with dry winds I would manually adjust an extra cycle here and there where necessary. Once full coverage has been achieved you can start to implement the Bermuda Bible.

Fertilization
I went with 2 different fertilizers for grow in. Since you need to irrigate initially at 5-6+ times per day for short intervals most nutrients will be leached away from where it is needed; in the top inch of soil. So I went with a straight starter fertilizer and urea. One week I applied the starter fert (11-11-11) at 25g/m2, the next week the urea (46-0-0) at 15g/m2. I actually split the applications during each week; once on Saturday at half rate, then the other half on Wednesday. I did this as to not risk burning the new shoots with excess nitrogen and to keep a steady flow of nutrients rather than a feast or famine situation. It was a challenge initially to micro-fertlize these small amounts but I made a measured out a map of the area and weighed out the amounts with digital scales then manually broadcast the fertilizer in small areas. Commence Bermuda Bible once established.

Turf Selection
So I went with the same grass type as my front lawn which is a hybrid Bermuda. We call it couch grass here in Australia, and my breed is santa ana couch . I would say it's probably equivalent to a Tif419.
All warm season C4 grasses can be sprigged as effectively each stolon or rhizome is its own individual plant. It is obviously more beneficial to sprig a variety with an aggressive growth habit as it will fill in more quickly. These C4 grasses send rhizomes below the soil and solons above the ground. The plant will send out a root at each node of the stalk. The more dwarf varieties of turf have a shorter distance between each node and send out more shoots and roots per equivalent length of stem. Turf grass that has been mown regularly and relatively short adapt into a prostrate growth habit. This will also help to shorten the internodal length. This is essential to consider when thinking about stolonization and sourcing your sprigs. Yes you can go out and buy sod and chop it up or pull it apart. I did this, and here is where I would do things differently next time;
1) Sod form a turf farm still has dirt on it. Not only does this make it a really messy job to chop up, it also makes it very labour intensive.
2) Much of the turf stems are not going to be flat with you chop it up by hand. They end up kind of wiry. What this means is when you broadcast spread it out some parts have minimal ground contact and are not going to strike. These bits will needs to be covered with more top dressing than others and easily come loose when a bird goes pecking or the wind picks up. If you plan on this method I would recommend a disc roller. This machine will mix in these pieces of turf into the top layer of soil then you need to roll again after with a flat roller to ensure the ground is flat.
3) If you decide to put the sod through some sort of chipper or shredder (I tried this once my hands were about to fall off) it will do a great job of cutting it up for you, however the stolons and rhizomes are much smaller and thus will have less numbers of nodes per piece to root. Expect slower coverage from this method.

What you need is the machine that actually harvests and chops the top layer of the turf all in one go. If you can source these sprigs from your location you are good to go. The sprigs are usually supplied by the bag or bushel. I have seen lots of websites and videos in North America for sprigs sold by the bag, but these seem more for golf green sprigging with dwarf varieties of Bermuda.

One option that I will consider if I do this again is approaching a golf course, bowling green or sports oval for scarified/verticut stolons. I did call a few courses here in Adelaide but no one seemed that helpful. Perhaps next time I might consider beer as some sort of commodity for brokering such a deal. The beauty of getting scarified fairway stolons is that it is well maintained turf that will sit nicely on the ground and won't need lots of topdressing to make it root.

Planting
Ideally you want to be planting in mid/late spring. You need daytime temperatures of at least 25C/77F and night temps above 15C/60F to see any real growth. You can sprig in temps less than this but coverage will be slower. You will need to apply a pre-emergent herbicide unless you want to be picking weeds out manually. Ronstar is one that most golf course superintendents use. I did not apply a pre-emergent and I have been picking crabgrass out daily. Don't forget you have conditions that give your sprigs the best chance to grow; unfortunately this is also a great environment for weeds.
Apply your starter fertiliser at the normal rate as if you were seeding or sodding around 2-3 days prior to planting. I waited a full week after planting before starting my grow-in fertilization program.

I broadcast spread my sprigs by hand; however some areas had more sprigs than others. This is just trial and error until you have an even coverage. I sprigged a small area with sprigs that I put through a chipper and whilst it was much easier to broadcast, but the coverage was somewhat behind the rest of the lawn.

The sprigs can die pretty quickly if not kept moist, so be careful if the ambient temperatures are high on the day of planting.
At this point you can either use a disc roller to cut the sprigs in, or use a flat roller and a light top-dressing. I would recommend topdressing with a soil that is similar to your topsoil. I went with sharp sand, which seemed to cover well. If there is insufficient topdressing material, the chances of the sprig taking fall dramatically. A broadcast spreader with a suitable hopper works well, but you might need several passes to build up the topdressing material.

Water in well, just to the point of runoff and start with your grow-in irrigation. Be careful not to over irrigate as the sprigs can be washed away. My irrigation was trial and error, as I initially started with 5 min intervals which were too much. Different irrigation and spray body types will distribute water differently so I would make sure that you observe how the ground looks after each cycle.

Mowing
I commenced mowing at about 4 weeks, at around 15mm (5/8') with a gas powered reel mower. Soil needs to be fairly dry to enable mowing so plan your irrigation around mowing. Don't let the grass grow too tall as we want to induce lateral growth of the stolons to cover any bare areas. Continual additions of sand or topdressing mix seem to help fill in the bars spots quickly. I slowly lowered the mowing height to 10mm (3/8') for around a month, but in the end I couldn't keep up with the mowing frequency. Currently it is maintained at 12mm (1/2').

So from planting to around 90% coverage was about 6 weeks. A few spots took a bit longer to fill in completely and its now 100%. What I have now is an extremely uniform yard that will never scalp from high spots and hopefully never need levelling

Cost wise for me this was about 25% of the cost of buying sod and installing it yourself. I did all the labour work myself so this helped with keeping costs down.

Obviously the idea of rolling out fresh new turf gives instant gratification; but in my opinion nothing beats the pleasure of knowing that the grass in your yard was grown by you from a few bits of sod!

Anyway, here are the pics..backyard

This post was edited by SimonR on Tue, Jan 21, 14 at 8:43

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