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My experiences with Sprigging Bermuda grass (stolonizing)

Posted by SimonR Australia (My Page) on
Tue, Jan 21, 14 at 8:35

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


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: My experiences with Sprigging Bermuda grass (stolonizing)

Nice job Mate!


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RE: My experiences with Sprigging Bermuda grass (stolonizing)

WOW! First thing to say is how refreshing it is to see someone present a well illustrated and well written description of a method that we've not seen in these forums in the 12 years since I've been here. Sprigging is mentioned in academia and then only for use in professional settings like sports fields. I've never actually heard of it being done and certainly not by a homeowner. Sprigging has a real advantage over sod because there is no soil to deal with. With sod the growers try to maintain 1/2 to 3/4 inch depth on their sod cutter. Variations like that can lead to a bumpy lawn afterward. With sprigging the soil is prepped and perfected (like always) but then the sprigs are dropped without additional soil (except for topdressing). What SimonR has done is, instead of dumping the topdressing on the ground and spreading it, is to scatter it lightly using a broadcast spreader. This solves a big problem for the homeowner trying this approach. One disadvantage of sprigging is time. Once the sprigs are cut, they are alive and subject to drying out. They need to get back into the ground quickly for this to work.

I have questions!!

First I need to get oriented. If you're standing under your patio shade looking out at the pathway, you are facing south...is that correct? Your long shadows face south in the southern hemisphere, right? I'm asking as much for me as other readers from "up here."

Also, quick lesson in lawn photography:
As much as possible, take your photos on a cloudy day or under the shade of a building or tree. The contrast of full sun makes it much harder to see the important parts of the turf.

In the preparation part when you said, cultivation, what did you mean by that? And how did you screed such a large area? I think we might have slightly different ideas about the meaning of screed, maybe.

As you mentioned, sprigs are most easily acquired from raking up after someone verticuts their bermuda sod. It sounds like you bought a few pieces of sod and created sprigs from the sod. That is fairly genius by our standards. That is also the "trick" which makes this method accessible to the homeowner. Do y'all do that a lot in Oz? How many square meters of sod did you buy and what is the area covered? When you tried cutting the sprigs by hand, what tools did you use? Around my area in South Texas, machetes are used to chop sod into shape up against objects. Would a machete work for chopping bermuda sod into sprigs?

What month did you do this?

What does a disc roller look like?

If you were to do it again, what would you do the same and what would you change?

The last person to show us something new on this forum was David Proud with his methods for leveling a bumpy lawn without completely renovating the yard. His approach has become standard for the homeowner to solving the bumpy lawn problem. I believe your sprigging method is another one of those ideas which could become a "new" approach to having a very inexpensive, hybrid bermuda lawn. Thank you so much for sharing.


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RE: My experiences with Sprigging Bermuda grass (stolonizing)

Hi dchall_san_antonio, thanks for the follow-up post.

You are spot on with regards to the unevenness of sod. I did my front yard last season and was instantly dissatisfied with the results with regard to the undulations. So I had to spend more time and more effort to get a result that I wanted from the outset. Hence my obsession was born with having a perfectly level yard. I searched the internet determined to get a better result. I read about sprigging, but found almost zero info on how the regular Joe could do it at home. I took bits of info from golf green construction, sport fields, bowling greens and then applied this to what would work at home for me using everyday tools and non-specialized products. The cost was also significantly less than buying sod for the entire project which is quite expensive in Australia (around A$9.00m2)

I will try by best to answer the questions that you have put forth;

My patio area faces roughly east, so the sun passes directly over the yard in summer. In winter it moves to the north (the left hand side looking from patio). Long shadows do cast to the south, however more so in winter as the sun is lower in sky.

I cultivated the soil using a rotary hoe or a gas powered tiller to till the soil to a depth of around 6 inches. I then made a contraption of 4 x 6 foot pieces of timber set parallel with 4 x braces running perpendicular to the long pieces. I attached a rope to this and then spent the next few days dragging this contraption back and forth, round and round, up and down until it was as level as I could make it. I let it settle for about 2 weeks, then spent another weekend with my new wooden friend.

I got the idea from this video;
Leveling yard

After this I brought in around 2 cubic meters of builders sand for final grade. I built a smaller version of the wood lawn level, this time using aluminum and a handle that you use like a rake to move the soil around. I then watered this to the point of runoff and let it dry. I used the lawn level again to level out any minor undulations and watered it again. Finally I used a long piece of timber to check for grade and undulations. At this point I was satisfied.

The high tech tools used to cut up the sod was a pair of garden shears and a pair of HD sissors! No wonder my hands were dead after about 6 hours. I put the cut sprigs into a big container of water for about an hour, then put them in a old wet sheet in the shade until I was ready to broadcast them. I made sure I had enough to cover one irrigation zone before I spread them such that i could irrigate immediately after planting.
Once I realised that this method was not going to work I borrowed a leaf shredder and put smaller pieces of sod through the hopper. At first I was concerned that I cut them too small and they would not root, but they did take, however at a slower rate than compared with the larger pieces.

I did this in October, which is mid-spring here. Funnily enough we had a really mild spring which didn't really help with the grow-in. When temps got above 25C you could literally watch it grow!

This is not common practise for establishing home lawns in Australia. Some turf suppliers do offer what they call 'shredded turf' but these companies are not in my state. The methods these companies advocate could not be translated the method I used.

Next time I would try and actually source the sprigs, rather than cutting up sod. It is so time consuming and very messy. Other than that I am really happy with how it has come up. I said to my wifey that if I ever plant another lawn I will be stolonizing it.

The real reason I wanted to spend the time doing this post is purely for the fact that I have learned so much from this forum (even as a lurker) and I wanted to take the time and give something back to other forum members who have taken the time with their experiences. In particular David's thread which I used to level my front yard. Here are some pics of that project if anyone is interested;

Front

This is disc roller below;

PS I will work on my photography skills

This post was edited by SimonR on Mon, Jan 27, 14 at 0:35


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RE: My experiences with Sprigging Bermuda grass (stolonizing)

Having trouble adding a link, so here is the lawn level I made.


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RE: My experiences with Sprigging Bermuda grass (stolonizing)

Again, I have never seen anyone try to sprig a bermuda lawn. You absolutely demonstrate the ability to apply a little elbow grease and do it at home. Thank you for your tenacity in wanting to get a more perfect result. You have overcome some serious hurdles for the average guy on the street.

Now my fear is that your efforts will be set back by rototilling. For several years we (I am a moderator on some other forums) have been advocating not using a rototiller to prep for a lawn. The reason is that a human cannot hold a rototoller steady at, say, 4 inches deep. You will hit a root, rock, or piece of pipe or something that causes the machine to buck out of the ground. Then you'll hit a soft spot where the machine digs in deeper than 4 inches. The only way to rototill and hold it steady is with a tractor mounted tiller. Most homeowners don't have access to one of those. Your problem will comes long after the tilling is done. You leveled the surface of the soil but you cannot level the underlying firm surface below the fluffy, rototilled soil. So you have a perfectly level top surface and a bumpy subsurface. When the fluffy soil on top of the subsurface settles (in about 3 years), it will settle down to the level of the surface below. That will leave your top surface bumpy. How this goes for you will depend on your soil. If you have a pure sand soil, then it is already settled. If you have any loam or clay in it, then it will take the full 3 years to settle. That might be a goof that comes back to haunt you, but it does nothing to negate the contribution you have made to "lawn science!"

Now I think the method needs a tune-up to make certain parts easier. Thanks for the picture of the disc roller. Never seen that tool before, either. Must be used by the pros when they sprig in a sports field.

Your wooden screed is not what I call a screed, but it is the tool I would have suggested. We have been using chain link fence instead of boards, but we started with boards. There are many satisfactory ways to level large areas. Obviously, the boards worked well for you.

Would you mind writing to me by email? I want to suggest something that cannot be discussed on this forum (forum rules). Go to my Gardenweb member page and click the link to my email. I hope it works. I see they have finally fiddled with their coding enough so that my HTML coding isn't working right.

This is definitely 'giving back' to the community. Thanks again!!


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RE: My experiences with Sprigging Bermuda grass (stolonizing)

That is very impressive SimonR. Well done!


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RE: My experiences with Sprigging Bermuda grass (stolonizing)

Yes, I was always a little concerned with tilling, however due to the unevenness and compaction of the entire site I had to do something to enable me to level the site by hand as I have access issues to the rear yard. Time will tell.

Thanks everyone for the kind words


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