Working with Grass Plugs

Some types of grass start better from seed, while others are easier to establish from grass plugs. Many warm season grasses establish better when you plant grass plugs rather than seeds.  Because plugs aren't inexpensive, and most people do not work with them on a regular basis, here's a refresher on how to work with them so that your lawn establishes quickly and evenly.

Adjust your Expectations for Grass Plugs

The only way to get an "instant lawn" is by using sod.  Every other method will take some time to establish.  Seed takes the longest to fully establish, then plugs, with sod being the quickest.  If you space your grass plugs one every twelve square inches, it might take two or three growing seasons to achieve complete coverage.  If you space every six inches, it will take one to one and a half growing seasons to establish.  You will be much more likely to give your new grass the care it needs, rather than the care you want to give it, if you adjust your expectations to what will work well for the grass, rather than you!

Prepare the Ground for Grass Plugs

Your new plants will establish much easier if you prepare the ground ahead of time.  Soil compaction is a leading cause of turf problems.  Compacted soil does not hold water well or drain well.  It does not have tiny spaces for oxygen, which plants need in order to break down the sugars they make during photosynthesis.  To alleviate any problems with compaction, aerate the lawn and rake a thin layer of compost or a lightweight topsoil/compost blend and water the lawn well.  Even if you do not aerate the lawn before installing the grass plugs, give it at least one inch of water every other day for a week before you install the grass.  This will make enough water available for the new grass, and will be available at lower levels as the roots grow.

Install the Grass Plugs

You need to do all of the prep work before your grass plugs are delivered to you, because once they arrive you have a very short window to install them.  It is recommended that you get your plugs directly from a grower, and do not buy plugs that have been sitting in trays on a shelf in a hardware store (the same goes for sod).  Plugs are just sod that are cut up into smaller pieces.  Once it leaves the ground, its health declines rapidly until it is re-planted.  You never know if plugs or sod you see at a hardware store have been there for a day or a month.  You also don't know if they have been cared for properly. You plant grass plugs just like you would plant any other plant.  Dig a hole, put the plug in, and press the soil around it.  The reason you press the soil is to restore capillary action within the soil.  That is the connection of water molecules from deep into the soil up to the surface.  Pressing the soil around your newly planted plug will activate capillary action with the soil in the plug and the existing soil.

Perform Proper Maintenance after Installation

Planting is the hard part.  Maintenance is the easy part.  To care for the grass after it is planted, water deeply (giving at least an inch of water) right after planting.  From the second day, on, give the plants about ¼ of an inch of water each day for a month.  At that point, you should see new growth emerging.  You can then water according to the needs of the grass species you are establishing and the weather conditions in your location. You shouldn't walk on or mow your newly planted grass plugs for at least one month.  At that point, you can begin mowing at the recommended height for the grass.  You can fertilize with liquid fertilizer two weeks after planting.  A slow-release, broadcast fertilizer mixed with pre emergence herbicide can be used one month after planting.  Do not over-fertilize while the grass is establishing, as you can burn the grass blades or the roots. These directions will help you install and maintain your new grass plugs.  You will have a lush, new lawn within no time!
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