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New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

Posted by EmagSamurai Alabama (My Page) on
Wed, Dec 7, 11 at 15:27

I am in the process of building a new home north of Montgomery Al that will be completed in April or May of next year. The house is on a 3 acre, partially wooded lot. Once the final grading is complete, I expect somewhere between 1 and 1.5 acres will need to be planted with grass. I have very little experience with planting and (properly) maintaining a lawn, and I'm hoping to find some suggestions as to what I need to do to successfully establish a lawn at my new home.

I've read quite a bit already, but it's difficult to find much information that pertains to a yard this size. There is quite a bit of dirt left from excavation that will need to be spread over the lot. Is there anything I should do to that dirt before/during the grading to help establish my lawn? Should I see if I can find some wood chips from a tree service or something to mix in to introduce some organic matter(this is one suggestion I've read)? Whatever I do will need to be inexpensive due to the size of the project.

Unfortunately, sod is not an option due to the size of the lot, and I'd prefer not to sod just around the house either. I don't plan to put in irrigation, but intend to water initially until the lawn is established. Can anyone offer any suggestions for a low maintenance grass that I can use to seed the entire, unwooded, portion of the lot? Ive read a bit about centipede as it seems to be a low maintenance variety. The majority of the yard will be in direct sunlight, but I do plan to plant a few trees that I hope will get very large over time.

Any help would be greatly appreciated! I'm just starting out with this new hobby, and it's a bit daunting trying to learn everything I need to know all at once.


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

Seeding 50K square feet with no irrigation system is almost an impossible task. Grass seed needs to be kept constantly moist, and unless mother nature owes you a favor, it will probably be a fruitless effort on your part. Sodding is obviously the way to go, but even then you need to water sod every day for a few weeks once it is laid, so water is always going to be an issue for you. Centipede is probably the best choice as it's fairly inexpensive, thrives in poor soil, and doesn't need much in the way of fertilizer. It's pretty drought tolerant once established as well. My advice would be to seed as much area around the house that you can keep moist next spring/summer. Whatever's left over you can deal with after the centipede is established. Maybe grow some ryegrass in the fall that you will ultimately get rid of the next spring/summer so you can establish centipede.


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

Thanks for the response! I just assumed that with enough sprinklers and garden hoses it would about the same as an irrigation system. I guess it would be tough to find the time to water everything early in the morning. My father is retired, I could probably talk him into stopping by and moving the sprinklers around for me. I'll have to think about that some more. My only concern about waiting another year or so is the amount of work the will be required to break the soil up again in order to seed. Any thoughts there?

Did I understand correctly that If I use centipede, adding a soil amendment is not necessary?


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

Theoretically you could do it all with hoses, sprinklers and timers, but it would takes thousands of feet of hoses, and your water bill is going to be astronomical unless you have wells. You will be watering multiple times a day in the Alabama heat. Just to be sure your calculations are correct, 50k square feet is just over an acre (by about 6500 square feet), or about the size of a football field. I have done 8000 square feet with low water pressure and that required a lot of hose and many zones. You wouldn't have to break up the soil to any great degree, in fact breaking up the soil can lead to lumpiness and often more weeds germination. From what I have read centipede actually does better in low pH, sandy, depleted soil. Do some online research, there is plenty of good info on the web.


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

Any recommendations for what to put down to prevent errosion while I am tackling this in sections?


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

I did a little digging into hydroseeding as well. Does anyone have any opinions on how effective this is for seeding large yards? The person I spoke with said they have good results for large commercial areas with no irrigation. Of course, he's trying to sell his products so I'm sure I got the glossier side of the picture. But I've seen it used on roadsides quite a bit, and I've never seen those areas being watered after the application, and they seem to grow almost immediately.


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

Here is my idea of what you can do, what if you got your lot graded the way you want it and then put down the seed then lay down a layer of straw. The straw will help the soil remain moist and can provide some assistance from soil erroision. I haven't seen any pictures of the lot but if you have a steep yard you can look into getting geotextile fabric to prevent soil erosion. I understand that you are on a budget and I don't know if my idea would be cheaper then hydroseeding but it would be more labor intensive.


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

"I have very little experience with planting and (properly) maintaining a lawn".

Have you thought out the "(properly) maintaining a lawn" part yet. Mowing, watering, weed prevention, mowing, weed prevention, fertilizing, watering, mowing, etc. You can quickly let a yard that size get away from you and end up with a yard full of weeds.

I do not know what your goals are, neighborhood restrictions, requirements, etc. but sometimes it may be better to kind of have sections in your yard. For example, this is my A section that I will maintain very well. This is my B section that as long as it is green it is OK. Eat up some lawn space with plant beds and trees. This way you have a more manageable area to focus your efforts and expectations.


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

Good tips all around! I really appreciate the advice.

Our lot is quite flat in the areas I intend to plant grass, so I wouldn't expect any serious erosion, but even a little can be ugly. Using the straw is a good idea, and I've seen it done on construction sites frequently. I'll look into that more!

Trying to limit the area that is covered in grass is a great idea as well. I'm only concerned that the cost of mulch and trees would be more than the cost of the grass. I'm also hoping to find a grass that is low maintenance enough that it will require little more than cutting the grass and the occasional fertilization. On that note, the hydro seeding company I spoke with recommended Bermuda grass as it will establish quickly. He did not think centipede was a good idea for growing from seed because it grows so slowly. Any thoughts?


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

In Montgomery, AL, your main choices are St Augustine (grows in the shade you're talking about) and bermuda (will not grow in the shade you have). Bermuda may start from seed in the shade but will quickly thin out to become bare. St Aug is your only hope there.

With an acre of lawn you'll need a riding mower with at least a 42-inch blade. I just bought a house on an acre (so I have considerably less than an acre of grass) and I need a riding mower to cover it all at one time. I used to think riding mowers were for sissies, but not any more.

And the comments about watering are important to heed. If you cannot provide weekly water to the lawn during the heat of summer, you might as well forget about it. There are some pasture grasses that look nice when mowed and do not require much water, but you'll have to check around to see if they thrive in your area. Those do not grow in the shade at all, typically. You need to commit to watering before you pick a grass. My new yard is only half irrigated. That part is in lush St Augustine. The rest is in a grass called King Ranch bluestem. What a mess! Supposedly it looks good unless there is a drought. I'm looking into something else to grow there.


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

I'm actually not concerned about the lawn staying a golf course green. I'm mostly concerned with keeping out weeds and minimizing how often I have to cut the grass. So I'm willing to let it turn brown in the middle of summer when it's 100+ and hasn't rained in two weeks.

Dont get me wrong, I would love to have that yard. However, water is becoming a resource that we should be more and more concerned about conserving. But not even considering that, I just don't see myself treating this as a full time hobby. There are lots of really nice yards in the area that never get watered, turn brown, and turn green again as soon as it rains. I guess that's the hard I'm hoping to get.


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

Well I am going to make your choice for you because you have already made your choice, you just don't know it yet. So let's walk through it.

In your area of Alabama you only have 4 choices.
Saint Augusta
Centiweed aka Centipede.
Zoysia
Bermuda

You made your choice with theses two comments.

1. sod is not an option due to the size of the lot.
2. There are lots of really nice yards in the area that never get watered, turn brown, and turn green again as soon as it rains.

OK Saint Augustine is from sod only. SA needs quite a bit of water, and when it turns brown in Summer heat it is dead and does not come back so we can eliminate SA

Centipede needs a lot of water which you do not have, and/or refuse to use. It also dies if it turns brown in summer drought and will never come back. So eliminate that option.

Zoysia is a sod only grass with 2 seeded varieties which is extremely difficult to germinate and would need watered 3 to 5 times per day until germinated and established.

So guess what that leaves you with?

Correct answer is Bermuda. It is the only grass that meets the two conditions listed above. Well Zoysia can go dormant with drought and green back up.

So there you go, Bermuda is your only choice. Do not bother getting one of the improved seeded varities because it is very expensive and requires a lot of maintenance like mowing 3 or 3 times per week. Use one of the pasture grade Bermuda grass seeds like Sahara, Cheyenne, Mohawk, or Arizona Common. These cost around $3/lb and you will need roughly 160 pounds to cover 1-acre. FWIW some of the improved Bermuda grass seed like Princess or Yukon cost about $20/lb


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn


Texas-Weed wrote:
> Centipede needs a lot of water which you do not have, and/or refuse to use. It also dies if it turns brown in summer drought and will never come back. So eliminate that option.

Hi Texas-Weed, I love reading your postings. They're chockful of good material. Please never stop.

Just want to make a correction, though. Everyone makes mistakes eventually, even a master like yourself apparently, so please don't worry about it :-)

And please keep contributing your great material for everyone's benefit here. We all appreciate and learn from your good stuff.

I hope I'm not overstepping my bounds as a lowly novice who's only been reading about grass for 6 months.

"The Organic Lawn Care Manual" lists the water requirement for Centipede as "low."

The author writes this about centipede:

"Called the lazy man's grass, centipede is the answer to natural lawn care's prayers. I spent a lovely September day with Robert Houser, an organic lawn care professional from Charleston, South Carolina, who showed me all sorts of centipede lawns that appeared lush and green even after a long season of drought. He was treating them with a couple of annual applications of compost tea, and that was about it."

The author also writes (about a different person--not Houser):
"I had a really interesting conversation with one lawn care professional about this grass [centipede]. 'If someone is growing centipede on his lawn, I won't even bother going back,' he said. 'He doesn't need me. You hardly ever have to mow it and it doesn't need any nitrogen. There's no business in centipede.' And he thought that was a bad thing." [chuckle]


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

This is going to get good. :)


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

I was also under the impression that centipede did not require much water. Perhaps the comment had to do with the amount of water than would be necessary to get the seed to germinate?????


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

Of the 4 grass options you have of SA, Centipede, Zoysia, and Bermuda Centipede has the highest water requirements. That is not to say it does not have drought resistance, it just means it is no where close to Zoysia or Bermuda, and about the same as SA.

As for the comments you read about I can confirm there is no money is Centipede. To grow centipede you need poor soil that is so acidic it would burn your feet, and nothing else will grow. To maintain it you drag an empty bag of fertilizer around th eyard once every spring and mow it once a month whether it needs it or not. They do not call it LAZY MAN GRASS for nothing.

So with all that said Centipede is the lowest input (work and money) because you only have to mow it a few times per year and water it when it gets dry.


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

The aforementioned book lists the pH range of Centipede as 4.8 to 6.5. I don't think 6.5 is very acidic since 7 is neutral, and numbers above 7 are alkaline or basic.

Bermuda's pH range is 5.8 to 7.5.

Zoysia's is 6.2 to 7.2.

St. Augustine is 5.5 to 7.5

The book lists the "Water Requirement" for Centipede and Zoysia as "low" and the water requirement for Bermuda and St. Augustine as "medium." For comparison's sake the cool-season grass we call Bluegrass has a "high" water requirement.

Tukey's book quotes someone saying about Centipede grass:
"You probably only get about 3 inches of growth in an average year, but the grass always looks good."

Tukey goes on to write:
"You can't have everything, though. Centipede is not a good sports turf and won't take heavy foot traffic."

No grass will give you everything, though. Every grass is a compromise in some department. Just depends on what someone needs or wants, I suppose.


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

No offense offered but this statement:

The book lists the "Water Requirement" for Centipede and Zoysia as "low" and the water requirement for Bermuda and St. Augustine as "medium."

Disqualifies the author as an expert because it is known fact Bermuda and Zoysia are among the most drought tolerant turf grasses known, and Bermuda is more drought tolerant than Zoysia. There is only one other variety I can think of that is more drought tolerant called Buffalo grass. No way in you know where is Centipede more drought tolerant than Bermuda or Zoysia.

Centipede and SA are about equal in water requirements, and when they do dry out they just die and gone for good. Zoysia and Bermuda just go dormant and wait for wetter weather to return.


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

How often would one of the pasture varieties of Bermuda need to be cut assuming I only fertilize once a year and it only gets water when it rains

I'm still not sure what to think about the centipede, though. My current neighbor has centipede in his yard and he has never watered it that I'm aware of. It's not the postcard lawn by any stretch, but it greens up when it rains, and it's been there for as at least 15 years (likely more like 40 or 50, but I can only vouch for 15)?.

I'm trying to keep and open mind about which route to go. The low maintenance aspect of centipede is really attractive, but I don't want to spend the money and time on it if it's only going to die and be taken over by weeds. I'd be fine with the Bermuda, but I don't want to end up cutting an acre of grass every 3 or 4 days if we get lots of rain.

Maybe I should just put in artificial turf :)


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

Have you priced out Centipede seed yet? If it works for your neighbor then by all means look into it. But be aware you are looking at around $30/lb for Centiweed seed and if you have 50 Kft2 your are looking at 50 to 100 pounds worth or $1500 to $3000 worth.

Bermuda will grow much faster and need mowed once or twice a week.


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

Wow! I could almost use the difference to pay for a zero turn mower.......


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

Good info all around from everybody :-)

Tukey says to seed centipede at a rate of one-half pound per 1,000 square feet. There's about 43,500 square feet in an acre, so I reckon an acre of seed might be roughly $600 if centipede is going for $30 a pound right now.

Also, my guess is "water requirement" and "drought tolerance" might be two different things, possibly. Maybe water requirement takes into account how much water is needed to keep the grass looking green, while drought tolerance might refer to how likely the grass is to survive a long drought.


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

Emag,
Dchall is right about Centipede needing water on a regular basis.
We have sandy, poor soil in South carolina and it is a god send for us here. Nothing else grows as nice as centipede.
It is expensive from seed or sod, and we water ours an inch a week and it does great.
You don't have to mow it as often as other grasses, that is a good thing for us, especially when it's 100 deg. out in the summer months.
But we have poor sandy soil, I mean sandy.
I thought Alabama had clay, which might be a little different.
You should plant drought tolerant plants and trees also.
Water is expensive for a lawn and your lawn will be extremely expensive, you have to water anything you plant, but grass is very high maintance.
Good Luck to you.


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn -b

From the web site CentipedeGrass.com :

"[Centipede] survives in mild cold temperatures as long as there aren't several hard freezes since it doesn't go into a true dormancy and with light freezes will turn brown but as soon as the temperature rises it will recover and re-greens."

"Centipede is rather drought tolerant and when healthy is aggressive enough to choke out weeds and other grasses. In the south this grass will remain green throughout the year."

I guess another question is do you sow the TifBlair variety of Centipede or the Common variety, which is less expensive.


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

If you read the TifBlair site it would have you believe there really shouldn't be any other choice! I'll have to keep looking to see what other information I can find. It looks like they recommend 1lb for 2,000-4,000 s.f. So that would be less than $700 in seed. But you guys have me worried about the water requirements.


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

What soil type do you have?


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

Hmm, a different book, the Scotts "Lawns" book, has a somewhat different take on Centipede:

"Centipedegrass has better cold tolerance than St. Augustinegrass and bahiagrass, and its range of adaptation extends throughout the Warm-Humid zone. 'Oaklawn' and 'TifBlair' have more improved cold tolerance than the species." [sic: "in" the species]

"Unlike many of the other warm-season grasses, centipedegrass is less tolerant of drought. It quickly goes dormant in drought conditions and requires frequent watering to remain green in dry summers."

This contradicts the CentipedeGrass.com web site I referred to in an earlier post, which says that centipede [quote] "....doesn't go into a true dormancy..."

The "Lawns" book says it can go dormant. So which is it, I wonder?

In a sidebar, the "Lawns" book states:

"Water: tolerates moderate drought but requires water to stay green and vigorous."


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

I have not had my soil tested (yet) because there is so much of it that will be moved around before construction is complete. Looking at the cut for my basement shows a couple of distinct layers, and we will be spreading quite a bit of the excavated dirt around the yard to help smooth things out and we have to do something with the dirt, anyway :) I do intend to have it tested, though.

But generally speaking, the yard is covered in the red dirt that I've always referred to as red clay. It certainly seems to hold water well (tire tracks keep a puddle in them for days after a rain), so I'm guessing it's a clay mix. I tried to attach a picture below. you can also see two of the large piles of dirt (the largest is partially obscured by the tree) that will have to be spread around the lot. There are three piles like that and another smaller one with some excavation still to be done.

Photobucket

I've come across a few different sites that seem to beat around the bush regarding how well centipede will perform when only given rain for watering. I haven't run across a clear answer yet.


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

It seems the Tukey book and the Scotts book are a little at odds when it comes to the question of centipede's reaction to drought. I mean above I quoted Tukey as saying:

"I spent a lovely September day with Robert Houser, an organic lawn care professional from Charleston, South Carolina, who showed me all sorts of centipede lawns that appeared lush and green even after a long season of drought. He was treating them with a couple of annual applications of compost tea, and that was about it."

The Scotts book seems to be more in line with what Texas-Weed is saying about centipede's reaction to drought. I tip my hat to Texas-Weed.


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

I really appreciate everyone taking the time to offer feedback here! It's really helpful for a lawn NEWB to have somewhere with knowledgable people that don't have any stake in what's being sold.


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

This will be my last post with respect to Centipede grass.

I strongly suggest you use third party sources of information rather than commercial parties who have vested interest which can become biased. Even some 3rd party sources can become biased. For example you would not want to take The University of Georgia as gospel on Bermuda and Centipede grasses because they own a larger majority of the patents on Bermuda and Centipede grasses (example TiffBlair).

What follows below are some what I consider the least biased university white papers on Centipede that have no vested interest.

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/archives/parsons/turf/publications/centipede.html?proceed=1&counter=1

http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/pp/notes/oldnotes/tg1.htm

http://www.clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/landscape/lawns/hgic1215.html

This is a good one from Hawaii http://www.ctahr.hawaii.edu/oc/freepubs/pdf/TM-14.pdf


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

Texas-Weed, that TAMU site is very helpful. Thank you.

Here's what it says about the contentious issue of centipede's drought tolerance:

"Centipedegrass is naturally shallow rooted and water management is critical on heavy textured soils during summer months. Centipedegrass is not as drought tolerant as some people have been led to believe, and improper watering during drought stress can cause problems. Water should be applied when centipedegrass shows signs of water stress -- wilted and discolored turf. Light, frequent applications of water should be avoided since it promotes shallow rooting. Thoroughly wetting the soil 4 to 6 inches deep only when the grass shows signs of moisture stress is the proper procedure for watering centipedegrass lawns. Sandy soils require more frequent applications of water, but the soil should be wet 6 to 8 inches deep after each irrigation. Centipedegrass should also be watered during dry winter months to avoid desiccation. Excessive nitrogen fertilization and improper watering account for many of the problems homeowners have with centipedegrass lawns."

I note that the bibliography of Sandy Baker's book, "The Complete Guide to Organic Lawn Care" is filled with references to TAMU.edu pages, so I'm sure Texas-Weed picked a good source of information for us newbies.

Baker and Tukey have both written helpful organic lawn care books. There's a lot more colorful pictures in Tukey's book, so a total newbie will probably want to read that one first, and then Baker's next.

Both authors provide very useful info. I loved Baker's explanation of the different types of soils from sandy to silt to loam to clay. Her composting section is really good too.

Paul Tukey sparks a newbie's imagination with all those great colorful photos and his helpful sections on compost tea (the book motivated me to brew some myself). He also has really excellent sections on the Organic ways to control weeds.

I guess the next book on my reading list is "Teaming with Microbes."


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

Well, this makes me a little sad, I must say. It's looking more and more like Bermuda is the right way to go. Seems like someone has been trying to say that all along :)

If that ends up being the case, I think a nice zero turn mower will be in my future as well. If I've got to cut it regularly, I might as well be able to do it quickly!


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

Don't be daunted when the TAMU site says to thoroughly wet "the soil 4 to 6 inches deep only when the grass shows signs of moisture stress."

I'm not sure how much you know about lawn care (you may very well know more than I do), but I think I remember reading that it only takes about one inch of water to wet the soil 4 to 6 inches deep. Get those tuna cans out [Lol]

I don't know how daunting it would be to water an acre, but I've seen at Walmart these sprinklers that sit on top of tall, 4 or 5-foot high tripods (kind of like tall camera tripods). And they can wet a whole lotta square footage at once.

Tiemco said he's had experience watering 8,000 square feet, so maybe he might know something about how useful these tall tripod sprinklers are.


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

I don't know how daunting it would be to water an acre

There is no way it can be done with a hose and sprinkler unless you make a full time job out 12 hours per day, 7 days per week. You are talking about 28,000 gallons of water. Your average hose and sprinkler with good pressure deliver around 5 gpm so you are looking at some 93 hours.

A good irrigation system working a 40 gpm which is pretty massive and powerful system with a large pump takes 12 hours or 2 full days of morning to noon schedule.


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

Oh yeah, now I think I remember reading somewhere that it takes about 600 gallons to water 1,000 square feet with one inch of water.


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RE: New Construction - 50,000 s.f. Lawn

Interestingly enough, I noticed today that the local sportsplex has centipede planted on all of the fields and areas that are not used for.... well..... sports. So the low traffic areas that would typically require a lot maintenance. There is no irrigation that I can see, but there are also some bare spots here and there as well.


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