Kneel Before Sod

By on 19 September, 2016 in Gardening, Kate and Stephen, Outdoors with 0 Comments

Let’s be honest: Talking about lawns is not the most exciting thing in the world.

Plenty of ink has been spilled about the costs and consequences of America’s obsessions with our yards, ranging from suburbanization and sprawl through the environmental effects of incessant fertilizing and watering. But this is not a polemic about xeriscaping. This is a story about how I went from idle back yard bemusements and began a journey that took me into the morning mists of a nearby sod farm.

It all started when I noticed that there were two types of grass battling for control of our back yard. One was what I’d ignorantly call “regular grass,” and the other was this darker green stuff that was growing in clumps and springs:

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Note the dark green grass invading our “regular grass.”

This vague description ought to tell you how little I know about lawns. I can barely tell that there are different kinds of grass. But let me tell you, after reading dozens and dozens of Wikipedia pages, it turns out that there are many kinds of grass.

We also had a pretty large area of our yard that I believe scientists would describe as “a good ol’ dirt patch.”

This area is where the dog would come sprinting out of our back door to chase squirrels, or perhaps urgently “use the facilities.” Due to her speed and agility, this section of the yard became something of a launching pad for her sprints, and the grass began to wear away.

What if we could fix the invading grass and the dirt patch at the same time?

I assumed the big box home and garden stores would sell sod in early September. No dice. They might get a pallet in the spring and sell a few pieces, but nothing during football season. I tried Farmer’s Feed and Supply out on Highway 331. They suggested I try Hoss Ranch out in Ramer. Turns out, the 200-year-old Live Oak tree in our back yard may provide too much shade for the typical varieties of Bermuda grass. They recommended that I try to buy some Zoysia grass from a place out in Tuskegee called Beck’s.

While reading the Wikipedia article for amateur Slovenian botanist Karl von Zois (after whom Zoysia grass is named), I called the people at Beck’s and described my project. They sell to big-time folks, mostly developers, I guess, looking to lay sod on hundreds of lawns in a subdivision all at once. My tiny back yard project wasn’t worth even a pallet of sod, but they offered to let me come out to the farm and “pick up some scraps,” by which they explained that we could come “first thing in the morning” and fill the back of a pickup truck for maybe $30.

This was worth the price of gas to Tuskegee and back, so my dad and I hopped into his wheezing and sputtering 1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee (250,000+ miles on it) and drove out to the rural wilds at 7 a.m. I made sure to bring some samples of the invading grass, in case they had some Grass Pro-Tips™ on what kind of species we were dealing with.

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The ladies in the office couldn’t have possibly been nicer. They were maybe charmed by our small scale project, and they gave us directions about how to drive out into the sprawling emerald fields around us. They directed us to the particular strand of Zoysia we were looking for, and wished us well. We slowly edged the Jeep out into the morning mist. It was breathtakingly beautiful: an ocean of green and a seriously professional operation:

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The irrigation technology of a modern grass farm.

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So. Much. Sod.

We made all of the requisite jokes about knowing a good place to get some high-grade grass.

We finally found the place that we had been pointed toward. There was grass laying around everywhere, the remnants of some kind of massive industrial grass harvesting operation that we never saw. You could only see the razor-sharp precision of some kind of futuristic machine, that would lift a blanket of grass, and cut it into perfect rectangles, to be stacked onto pallets and shipped around the world. The biological organism, grass, was just fabric to be lifted and sorted into perfect geometric order. And we got to grab a few of the leftovers that didn’t make it onto the pallets, just scraps that had fallen by the wayside:

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The leavings that we harvested.

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The razor sharp “before and after.”

We filled the Jeep and drove back to the office. They charged us $20 for this much:
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When I asked the office lady about the samples I had brought of the invasive dark green grass from my back yard, she rolled her eyes. “That’s just that ol’ Monkey Grass.”

On the way home, I learned more than I needed to know about the Liriope, which is called lilyturf and is neither lily nor turf. Let this be a warning to you before you plant anything like this: spreading and clumping “Monkey Grass” can be a royal pain to remove. It connects to each clump with some underground roots that can be pretty tough to dig out. It is a rhizome. It is legion.

We returned to Montgomery and began to cover the bare patch with the rectangles of Zoysia. We had to really work to clear the invading Monkey Grass sprigs. The dirt was dry, and there was some construction debris mixed in with the soil. Yuck. We made plenty of jokes in the vein of “Sod Bless America.” I bet the people that work on sod farms loathe those sorts of jokes.

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Without boring you with more yardwork stories, we ultimately laid down all of the sod, and (mostly) covered the area we were working on. We didn’t quite get enough, so another trip to the sod farm may be in order, but we may also end up doing some experimentation with grass seeding in some of the affected areas. For now, we’re going to keep the sprinkler on the sod (and the dog off of it, hopefully) and we’ll let you know what happens. At the moment, in addition to saying Roll Tide Roll this fall, we’re also going to be saying Go Zoysia Go!

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Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with two cats, a dog, ten fish, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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