As we start to warm up outside many of you are still staring at a dust bowl in your front and back yards.  You are ready for the extreme yard makeover, but really are looking to do it on a cost effective budget. I will give you some tips that will help improve your lawn and at the same time save you money up front and down the road.  

I cannot underestimate how important soil prep is to having a good yard except to compare it to being as important as choosing a quality turfgrass.  The soil prep is the is so vital that if it is done wrong or with little care you may end up with a lawn that cannot be deep watered, is often chlorotic, and has trouble establishing a good root system.  Without a good root system in the desert southwest you can expect that your lawn will be the first one in your neighborhood to get dry every afternoon, and cost you twice as much in water.  With that being said let’s get right to it and get your lawn to start in the right direction from day one.

The first and one of the most important aspects of getting your lawn ready for new sod is to rent a rototiller.  If you live in an area that is rocky or in an area that is very high in clay this is not going to be a fun process, but it needs to be done.  I suggest that if you are putting a new lawn in and haven’t rototilled in the last few years that you do not skip this step.  Most of your local rental stores will rent one for less than $100 a day, but expect to get a good workout.  In order to get to a 6-8 inch depth you may have to go over the yard in a few directions.  The teeth will get down into the soil and turn it over freeing up air to get down into the soil and allow for better root and water penetration.  Once you have got the lawn to the desired depth it is time to get out the gypsum and apply it directly to the dirt at 25-50 pounds per 1000 SF depending on how poor your soil structure is.  The gypsum is not a fast acting product that will loosen the soil quickly but over 5-7 weeks it will work its way through the soil and help improve air flow into the ground.  The high rate of gypsum is not going to hurt you even if you have a nice sandy soil so don’t be afraid to spend a little extra money and go with the higher rate.  For budget sake you are looking at about $8-$10 for a 50 pound bag of gypsum.  After it has been applied to the soil evenly run the tiller back over the area and move it into the soil profile to help loosen the soil down the road.

The second step is to trench your yard and put in the irrigation system.  The irrigation system will run from your water meter directly to the main water valve by your house.  You will need to tap into your water valve and run your irrigation according to your plans.  Each yard is going to be different and spacing of sprinklers will depend on sprinkler, nozzle type, and water pressure so I am not going to go into detail in this section.  A great place to go and help you with your irrigation system is your local Sprinkler World and they carry all the parts you will need as well as professional associates who have been putting in irrigation systems for years.  Go ahead and bring them in your plans and layout and they will help get you in the right direction.

After your sprinkler system has been put in it is best to leave the swing joints capped where the heads will go until your final grade is established.  Now if you have an extremely clay soil and want to create a better growing medium sand is your best option.  I like to use 3-4 inches of sand to cap the so called soil we have here in Arizona, but if you are in Palm Desert, California you already have a nice sandy profile and this step should be avoided.  You don’t want to put a different type of sand on top of the sand you already have in the ground and impede the waters ability to penetrate the soil.  The reason you would put 3-4 inches over the clay surface is to provide the grass with a better growing medium and it gives the roots a great start to get down into the soil.  Some people like to use wood mulch as a topper or sod mix and these are okay but remember that they hold water and that does not allow your roots to grow deep.

If your roots are stuck in the top couple inches of the soil you can expect that it will be one of the first lawns to dry out on a hot, dry day.  You can put down as much sand as you would like and the more the better, but an extremely sandy profile does limit your nutrient holding capacity so if you are going 6 inches or more I would incorporate a little peat in to the mix as well.  You can go with a 85-90 percent sand mix that is 10-15 percent peat.  Once these materials are in place you will want to float out the area to a finished grade.  One great way to do this is to water a few days and let the sand settle and slightly compact and drag it smooth with a 2 x 4.  If you have a large yard go ahead and set up a drag mat and get the grade right where you want it to prevent any low areas that may puddle.  Your finish grade should be ½ inch below where you will set your sprinkler heads.  After the grade is finished and all your sprinklers are set, tamp around the heads to make sure there is no settling or any air pockets.  The sod will come in at a ½ inch thickness and that is why you want to leave the ½ inch spacing for easy maintenance.

Once your ground is fully prepped and your final grade is set it is time to add a starter fertilizer to the soil surface.  You can do this one of two ways and that is by applying it directly to the ground or right on top of the grass after it is laid.  I like to put it right over the sand just to make sure it is spread evenly and nothing is over applied on your newly installed turf.  A great starter fertilizer and a safe fertilizer to use throughout the year is the Soil Burst 5-10-15 available from Western Sod and West Coast Turf.  You will be able to order it from us directly in the next couple weeks and it will also be available online (if you need it now just call  520/426-6889). When you order your sod this will be a great product to get thrown on the pallet as it can be used year round as a high end starter fertilizer that is high in calcium and magnesium and is safe on bermudagrass, ryegrass, and is excellent for paspalum year round.  If you are a paspalum grower this has everything you have been looking for in a fertilizer including the sea weed extracts to help keep your lawn dark green.

The Soil Burst should be applied at 10-20 pounds per 1000 SF as a starter fertilizer and can be used to spoon feed your paspalum or apply a higher rate of nitrogen to a bermudagrass safely without the risk of burning the turf.  If you apply your starter fertilizer directly to the sod make sure that you water it in for about 7-10 minutes just to get it off the leaf canopy.

Once the soil is prepped it is time to select your sod.  Remember to read about all the different types of grasses, maintenance requirements, and decide what works best for you.  We have had such an incredible response towards the Sea Spray and Platinum paspalum that it is quickly becoming a favorite here in the southwest as they use 2/3rds the fertilizer as bermudagrass, prefer organic types such as Soil Burst, can reduce water usage, can tolerate a pH from 3.6-10.2, have the highest salt tolerance of any warm season grass and best of all they hold their color 4-6 weeks longer in the fall and green up 4-6 weeks earlier in the spring which basically eliminates the need to overseed.  They can be overseeded for winter color if you prefer, but for the ultimate in cost savings don’t buy seed, save water, and eliminate the transition and overseeding headaches.  If you are a bermudagrass person, and many people always will be, the most popular grass in Arizona for the last 10 years has been the BOBSod and it will provide you with a deep, blue green color and a soft surface to play sports and just to look at.

Here is a link for more info on Soil Burst.

Hope the soil prep instructions have helped you out a little and feel free to ask me any questions you may have about getting your lawn ready for sod.   Your lawn will be looking like this Paradise Valley lawn in no time!

Ultra Run #4

Last weekend I had the opportunity to run the fourth race in the Aravaipa Running Ultra Series at Estrella Mountain and I have to say that it had a little bit of everything over the 50K course.  This was one of the most unique courses that I have ever ran in that you crossed over a couple smaller mountains, ran over 8 miles through deep sand washes, and spent several miles climbing over big river rock boulders.

The sand is definitely not my specialty, nor is it probably anybody’s but the course did see some quick times ran.  I have gotten used to the mountain climbs, straight down hill runs, and the ups and downs of trail running but the sand just kicked my butt.  I am sure many of you have ran back and forth over a nice sandy beach and know how tough it is on the body, well I got to feel that pain after running 15 miles, and then again after running 22 miles.  The second time I saw the sand I really wanted to quit or just lay down but I dragged myself through it and made it standing up at the next aid station.

It is tough to describe the ups and downs of a race of this type and I am always asked the question of why I would waste a day doing this, and I can’t seem to come up with any other answer than I have found something that keeps me focused on a goal, young, I feel like I am on top of the world when I finish, and last but not least I love it.

These types of races are so much different than a marathon, not just because they are farther but more so because they are 50 percent endurance and 50 percent mental.  If you tell yourself you can’t do it, most likely your body will follow suit of your mind and then the race is over.  I can’t tell you how many times over the five hour stretch that I find that I am having a full conversation with myself about food, music, turf, or whatever just to keep my mind going and my body functioning.  These races test your body’s ability to survive some dark moments including trying to find something that doesn’t taste like cardboard to get your body energy and to keep your legs moving all the while staying focused on being well hydrated and for lack of a better word, sane.

I finished the 32 mile race in 5:05 which is not a bad time, but I was pretty far behind the winner who came in at 4:19.  I was happy to see that I was right up there again in the standings with some of the best runners and my points allowed me to stay on top of the Ultra standings for another week.  With two races left in the series I need to maintain a good time in the San Tan Mountain race next weekend, and compete with some of the best ultra runners the week after in the Ultra Trail Championships through the White Mountains on the 12th of March. I do have a couple practice races coming up to get me prepared before the championships and they are a 50K at the San Tan Mountains next weekend, and a 50 Miler in Sonoita, AZ on March 5th.  The 50 Miler will be my longest run attempt yet, but it is all “mind over matter” and it is just a stepping stone before the Lean Horse 100 Miler in South Dakota in late August and the Javelina Jundred 100 Miler in Fountain Hills in November.  If you are interested I have attached the trail running website and standings.  Hope to see some of you out there soon.