p mT^ ~.\- '*. .*j .
Basic i bB I---
FEB OG 03_'
for Sod University of Horida
in Florida L. B. McCarty and J. L. Cisar
Florida Cooperative Extension Service / Institute of Food and
Agricultural Sciences / University of Florida / John T Woeste, Dean
Introduction . . ...
Sod Production Outlook . . . .
Site Selection . . . . . . .
Production . . . .. . . . .
Land Preparation and Establishment
Soil Improvement . . . . ....
Turf Selection and Planting . . .
Primary Cultural Practices . . .
Fertilization . . ......
M ow ing . . . . . . . .
Pest Management . . . .
Weed Control . . . .
Insect Control. . . . ... . .
Disease Control . . .....
Nematode Damage . . . .
Harvesting . . . . . .
M marketing . . . . . . . .
Costs and Returns. . . .. .
Laying . . .. . . . . . ... .
Sum m ary . .... . . . . .
References . . . .........
L.B. McCarty is Assistant Professor Extension Turf and Weed Specialist, Department of Ornamental Horticulture, Gaines-
ville; and J.L. CIsar is Assistant Professor Extension Turf and Water Specialist, Fort Lauderdale Research and Education
Center; respectively; IFAS, University of Florida.
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Interest in commercial sod production has risen
in Florida due to increased demand for an instant
turf by many building contractors and their
customers. Sod production involves growing a solid
stand of desirable grass species and then harvest-
ing it intact with a thin layer of soil and roots
attached to it. As with any new enterprise, cost
and profit potential must be weighed before
investing in equipment, land, and labor for produc-
tion. The purpose of this publication is to list and
discuss basic cultural practices and equipment
required to produce quality sod.
Sod Production Outlook
The short- and intermediate-range outlook for
turf sod production is good. With the continued
influx of people moving into the state and a steady
building construction industry, demand for quality
sod remains strong. Florida's long growing season
also offers green grass almost year-round, whereas
neighboring states do not. Competition, however, is
becoming keen; therefore, potential sod producers
should explore markets prior to investment.
Demand for turf sod is closely linked to housing
starts and industrial development.
Ideally, a site to be chosen for a sod farm should
be based on several criteria: location (distance) in
relation to targeted market, accessibility to major
roads and highways, available water quantity and
quality, soil type, land costs and preparation
In order to reduce shipping costs and because
sod is a perishable product, a sod farm should be
as near to an urban area as is practical. The
suggested limit for transporting sod is 300 miles
with a 100 mile limit being preferred (4). Sod that
is stacked on pallets should be unstacked and laid
within 72 hours after harvest, preferably within 24
hours. This is especially critical during summer
months. Refrigerated trucks have been used to
prevent sod deterioration when high quality sod is
transported over long distances. Sod on pallets
waiting to be loaded or unstacked should be kept
as cool as possible. Placing pallets in a shaded
environment such as under trees or under shade
cloth prolongs the sod's life.
Production practices are divided into several
areas: establishment, primary cultural practices,
pest management, and harvesting. Establishment
involves land preparation, soil improvement,
irrigation installation, and turf planting.
Land Preparation and Establishment
Prior to planting, the new turfgrass site should
be prepared to correct any present problems and to
avoid harvesting difficulties. Preparation includes
land clearing, removal of trash, land leveling,
tilling, installation of drainage and irrigation
systems, roadway and building site selection, soil
fumigation, and land rolling. The cutter blade on
the sod harvester rides on a roller, allowing the
unit to bridge the little hills, valleys, and holes in
the field. However, if the surface irregularities left
by poor soil preparation are too severe, the blade
will not uniformly cut the sod; therefore, the yield
will be reduced. Proper soil preparation also
eliminates layers or hard pans, provides better air
and water movement, and enhances deep rooting.
Many Florida sod sites have poor drainage; there-
fore, extensive leveling, drainage ditch digging,
and installation of drainage tile may be required.
Contact your local Soil Conservation Service for
further assistance with these procedures.
Soil test the area under consideration to deter-
mine lime and fertilizer nutrient requirements.
Apply and incorporate these amendments prior to
Usually, land is subsoiled to break up any
hardpans and then plowed with either a moldboard
or chisel plow to a depth of ten inches. This practice
of breaking the subsurface hardpan should not be
followed if subsurface irrigation is being used.
Follow subsoiling with soil incorporation of pre-
plant fertilizer or liming material. Firm the
seedbed with a cultipacker roller. The surface must
be as smooth and uniform as possible so mainte-
nance and harvesting problems are minimized.
After cultipacking, the use of a laser plane for land
leveling is suggested. The field should be planed in
several directions to eliminate as many surface
irregular spots as possible. After planing, dry soil
is considered too fluffy if footprints are more than
1 inch deep (2). In this case, the field should be
firmed by rolling it.
Preplant fumigation is strongly recommended
where previous weed, disease, and nematode
problems existed. Major weeds in sod production
include common bermudagrass, nutsedge, torpedo-
grass, sprangletop, and crabgrass. Preplant
fumigation will be discussed in the Pest Manage-
Sod is grown in Florida on several general soil
groups. These include clay, sands, and muck soils.
The agricultural suitability of these soils is deter-
mined by their ratio of sand, silt, clay, and organic
matter fractions. Clay soils are more common in
the panhandle region and are least desirable due
to difficulties in water, traffic, and harvest manage-
ment. Clay soils do not drain well and, therefore,
stay wet for extended periods. Precious harvest
days may be lost due to the wet ground. Also, due
to these soils holding so much water and their high
bulk densities, clay soils are heavy to haul.
Loam soils, in general, have good moisture-
holding capacity, drain well, are easy to work, and
are relatively light in weight for transport. These
contain approximately 40 percent sand, 40 percent
silt, and 20 percent clay. Next to muck soils, loam
soils are most desirable as growing media (2).
Ideally, these soils should have at least 5 percent
organic matter and 15 percent or less clay. Sandy
loams are desirable because of good drainage;
therefore, traffic and harvest operations may be
performed sooner after water application.
In Florida, sod is often produced on so-called
'flatwood' soils. These are sandy soils overlying a
hardpan or spodic horizon. This soil layering
results in a perched water table, which increases
the water reserves of the upper soil layer.
Muck soils are found in old bogs, river deltas,
and lake beds. They contain high organic matter
and have good water holding capacity. Nitrogen is
also readily available through mineralization of
organic matter. Muck soils are, however, typically
low in potassium and phosphorous. Length of sod
production on muck soil is usually shorter and
production costs are less. Muck soils have less bulk
density versus sandy or clay soils; therefore, they
weigh less on a unit basis and are cheaper to
transport. Muck soils are the most desirable for
Sod production is not recommended for deep,
pure sandy soil (e.g., sand-dune-type sand) due to
the difficulty of maintaining adequate soil moisture
and nutrient levels. Furthermore, such soils
typically have high levels of nematodes, which
adversely affect soil quality and handling.
Often during extended periods of drought and
hot weather, soil salinity may become a problem.
As water evaporates from the soil surface, salt is
deposited behind. In these cases, irrigation is
needed to leach the salt from the soil. The salts
wash out of the soil if the irrigation water contains
a lower salinity level than the soil. Ample drainage
capability is a prerequisite for this 'flushing.'
The soil type in question can be determined by a
local agricultural laboratory. Characterizations of
the soil type can be provided by the Soil Conserva-
tion Service, assuming that the land has been
Irrigation is required for quality sod production.
Ample water of good quality should be a priority
during the planning stage. Water sources include
wells, sink holes, ponds, streams, and canals, as
well as effluent sources from nearby municipalities
and industrial sites. Effluent or grey water can be
an excellent and inexpensive source of irrigation.
However, these water sources may fluctuate widely
in pH, salt, and nutrient levels. Many munici-
palities also require a contract stating that the
grower must accept a certain number of gallons
per given time whether irrigation is needed by the
turf or not. These are problems that should be
addressed early in the planning stage if effluent
water is to be used.
Irrigation systems normally involve center-pivots,
walking or traveling guns, or subirrigation (raised
water tables) (Figure 1). Consider the size and
location of your operation, and the availability of a
reliable mechanic, plus backup pumps and acces-
sories when choosing a particular system.
Figure 1. Center-pivot Irrigation system often used In
In subirrigation, water is applied beneath the
ground surface, rather than on it usually by
creating and maintaining an artificial water table
at some predetermined depth. This artificial water
table is created over a natural barrier located one
to several feet below the soil profile that prevents
deep percolation. The barrier may be a relatively
impervious layer in the substratum or a perma-
nently high natural water table on which an
artificial table can be built. The water table is kept
at a fixed depth, usually 12 to 30 inches below the
surface, by ditches surrounding the sod field.
Moisture then reaches the plants through capillary
action. The topography must be nearly level and
smooth. The soil immediately below the soil
surface must be sufficiently permeable to permit
the free and rapid movement of water laterally and
vertically. The distribution system must consist of
a well planned system of main ditches, field
laterals, and structures, which will permit the
water table to be raised to a uniform depth below
the ground surface over the entire region. An
adequate outlet for drainage of the irrigated area
must be available or provided for.
Principles involved in subirrigation are the same
in all areas, although the means of introducing
water into the soil profile may differ. Water is
usually introduced into the soil profile through
open ditches. However, water injection through
pressurized pipes is sometimes necessary.
Turf Selection and Planting
Many turfgrass species can be produced in
Florida (Table 1). Determining which one is best
for a particular situation is based on several
factors. Since most of Florida's soil is sandy in
nature, a deep-rooted grass is necessary. If properly
maintained, bahiagrass and St. Augustinegrass
provide deep rooting and therefore increased
drought resistance. If the purchaser is willing to
allot more time, energy, and economic resources to
Table 1. Comparative chart of grasses grown for Florida.
Area Soil Tolerance to Level of Major Establishment
Variety Adapted Condition Texture Drought Salt Shade Wear Nematodes Maintenance Use Methods
Bermuda- Statewide Wide Range Med.- E1 E VP E M-S High Golf courses, Sod, sprigs
grass Fine athletic fields
Bahiagrass Statewide Acid Coarse- E VP P G VG Low Lawns, Seed, sod
Centipede- Panhandle Acid Medium G P G P F Low Lawns Seed, sprigs,
grass North Florida sod, plugs
St. August- Statewide Wide Range Coarse- F E F F G Moderate Lawns Sod, sprigs,
tinegrass Med. (cultivar plugs
Zoysiagrass Statewide Wide Range Med.- E E G E F High Lawns Sod. sprigs,
1E Excellent; F Fair; G Good; M-S Moderate to Severe; P Poor; VG Very Good; VP Very Poor.
Table 2. Comparison of various turfgrass cultivars for Florida.
Variety Texture Chinch Bugs Drought Shade Cold Mowing height
Common Medium Very Good Very Poor Good 1-2
Tifdwarf Very Fine Fair Very Poor Fair 0.2-0.4
Tifgreen Very Fine Good Very Poor Good 0.2-0.5
Tifway (419) Fine Good Very Poor Good 0.5-1
Tifway II Fine Good Very Poor Excellent 0.5-1
Common Coarse Poor Good Good Fair 2-3
Bitterblue Coarse Slight Good Excellent Fair 2-3
Floralawn Coarse Good* Good Fair Poor 3
Floratine Coarse Slight Fair Good Poor 2-3
Floratam Coarse Good* Good Fair Poor 3
Raleigh Coarse Poor Fair Fair Good 2-3
Seville Medium Fair Fair Excellent Fair 1.5-2.5
Delmar Medium Poor Poor Good Good 1.5-2.5
Jade Med.-Fine Poor Poor Good Good 1.5-2.5
Emerald Fine -Good Good Good 1-2
Meyer Medium Good Good Good 2
*Isolated evidence of a new chinch bug which can feed on these grasses has been reported.
turf maintenance, a finer-textured species is
suggested. Included is one of the bermudagrass or
zoysiagrass cultivars. In addition, centipedegrass
is available for those regions with heavier, acidic
soils, such as the panhandle area and north
Florida, and for those persons with less resources
and time available for upkeep. Other considerations
for selecting a grass species include insect and
disease resistance, nematode susceptibility,
seedhead/shoot growth rate, and frost and shade
tolerance. Currently, in Florida, the most commonly
used varieties for sod production include the St.
Augustinegrass varieties, Argentine bahiagrass,
and centipedegrass. Bermudagrass and zoysiagrass
are increasing in popularity. Table 2 lists the major
turf cultivars and some of their important charac-
teristics. If certified sod is to be produced, founda-
tion or registered planting stock must be used. The
originating Experiment Station Agency or indi-
vidual must provide this foundation or registered
planting stock. Currently (1990), the state of
Florida does not have a sod certification program.
It is suggested that new growers develop a
nursery of the grasses intended to be grown. If
grasses are purchased commercially, an acre of turf
sod may cost between $200 and $1,000 for the
planting stock (4). Approximately 15 acres may be
planted with hybrid bermudagrass or zoysiagrass
sprigs from an initial nursery stock of one acre.
About 10 acres may be sprigged from an initial
nursery stock from one acre of centipedegrass or
St. Augustinegrass (4). Growers typically establish
1- to 2-acre sod plots from which sprigs are ob-
tained to increase acreage. The average quantity of
stolons or sprigs harvested from an area will plant
an area of twenty times that size. Table 3 suggests
the quantity of grass needed for sprigging various
Table 3. Quantity of grass needed for sprigging a turf area.
Grass Row Sprigging Broadcast Sprigging
- Fairways 25 to 50 225 to 450
-Greens 25 to 50 450 to 675
Centipedegrass 50 to 100 200
St. Augstinegrass 75 to 100 200
Zoysiagrass 50 -
When planting sprigs or stolons, the objective is
to distribute these uniformly and cover them with
soil. These can be distributed either by hand or
with a manure-type spreader and then run over
with a light disking or cultipacking. Several passes
over an area may be necessary but the grass
should not be planted deeper than two inches
~~~-P C~t~EI--:L, -1~
Figure 2. Mechanical sprigger (top) and broadcast
sprigger (bottom) used to vegetatively plant
Bahiagrass and centipedegrass may also be
established from seed. Use certified seed to ensure
variety characteristics, germination, and prevention
of weed seed introduction. A minimum of 10 to 12
pounds of centipedegrass seed may be planted per
acre, but faster stands will be obtained if 50 to 100
pounds of seed are used per acre. In most cases,
cost will dictate which rates are used. Two hundred
to 250 pounds of bahiagrass seed are normally
planted per acre. Seeds are usually drilled or
planted with a cultipacker (Figure 3). Centipede-
grass seed are also established by spreading seed
mixed with fertilizer and then cultipacking.
After planting is finished, irrigate immediately
and keep the area moist until the sprigs have
rooted (approximately 7 to 14 days) or until the
seedlings are 1 to 2 inches high. At this time,
reduce watering to 1 1/2 to 2 inches per week,
including rainfall, until complete ground cover is
achieved. Ideally, on established fields, irrigation
amount is based on evapotranspiration (ET)
information from a nearby weather station.
Figure 3. Seeding unit used to plant and smooth
Weather patterns such as rain or dry winds would
require application of more or less water. For those
growers without ET information, fields are typically
irrigated 3 times per week with 0.5 to 0.75 inch
each during the peak growing season (April to
September). This is reduced to 0.5 to 1.0 inch per
week for the remainder of the year.
A soil probe is a very useful tool in irrigation
management. The depth the soil is dry or wet can
easily be measured with this and irrigation
scheduling adjusted accordingly. Tensiometers are
soil moisture sensing devices which measure the
suction created by drying soil. If used correctly, the
data gathered from these instruments' gauges can
be used to determine irrigation scheduling. Re-
member that after the grass is planted, irrigation
becomes the most important single factor for
successful stolon establishment. It is critical not to
plant more than can easily be irrigated at one time.
Primary Cultural Practices
The amount of fertilizer required for turfgrass
production depends on factors such as the turfgrass
species being grown, soil type, and production
management practices.)Yearly soil testing for
determining pH and nutrient levels is necessary.
Many of Florida's soils naturally provide adequate
phosphorous and soil pH levels. Apply phosphorous
and liming material (if necessary) prior to planting.
Phosphorous is available as Super Phosphate
(0-18-0) or Triple Super Phosphate (0-45-0).
i Growers commonly use one fertilizer containing
both nitrogen and phosphorous Examples of such
sources include 16-20-0 or 11-48-0. The optimum
soil pH for St. Augustinegrass, bermudagrass, and
zoysiagrass is approximately 6.0 to 6.5. Centipede-
grass and bahiagrass have an optimum soil pH of
5.0 to 5.5.
Following the first mowing, apply fertilizer at
the rate of 40 to 45 pounds of actual nitrogen per
acre. A fertilizer with a nitrogen:potassium ratio of
2:1 should be used to increase the turfs stress
tolerance level and promote better rooting. Sub-
sequent fertilizer applications should be made
following the second mowing. Continue fertilizing
every 4 to 6 weeks until the grass develops a
complete ground cover. Once the sod has covered,
continue using a 2:1 nitrogen to potassium ratio at
a rate of 45 pounds actual nitrogen (units) per acre
every 8 weeks Bahiagrass should be fertilized with
100 to 200 pounds actual nitrogen per acre per
year. Established centipedegrass should be fer-
tilized only 2 to 3 times per year with 23 to 45
pounds actual nitrogen per acre per application.
Time the last fertilization to occur in early fall.
Over-fertilizing centipedegrass with nitrogen
commonly leads to problems in thatch development,
decreased winter survival, and reduced rooting.
Excess nitrogen on the other grasses also increases
lush foliar growth while delaying sod knitting and
rooting. (In north Florida, an additional potassium
application at this time of 45 pounds actual
potassium per acre is suggested for increased
rooting prior to winter. I
Several forms of nitrogen are available for
growers. Examples of quickly available forms
include urea (45-0-0), ammonium sulfate (21-0-0),
ammonium nitrate (33-0-0), and calcium nitrate
(15-0-0). These forms respond in several days but
do not last very long (approximately 3 to 4 weeks).
However, they are the least expensive forms.
(Slow-release nitrogen fertilizers are also availa-
ble. Examples include isobutylidine diurea (IBDU),
sulfur-coated urea (SCU), milorginate, manures,
sewage sludge, ureaform (ureaformaldehyde) and
resin-coated fertilizers. Manures and sewage
sludge are low in nitrogen and, because of handling
costs and the potential of introducing weed seeds,
are not used widely. The other slow-release sources
last for 2 to 3 months but costs are generally
higher. Nitrogen release rate from ureaform is
temperature dependent. This release is slowed
during cool soil temperatures.l
ISome Florida soils are low in micronutrients. If
recommended by soil testing, at least two applica-
tions of micronutrients are suggested per year, but
more may be required. A chelated iron source, plus
a manganese (e.g. manganese sulfate) source,
should be applied in spring and again in fall to
correct any observed deficiencies (e.g., excessive
I Several iron products are used. The least expen-
sive and most commonly used source is ferrous
sulfate. Ferrous sulfate contains 21 percent iron
and is quick-acting, but color enhancement lasts
only 3 to 4 weeks. Chelated iron products are more
expensive but have been formulated to hold their
greening effect for a longer period of time. I
I Iron should be sprayed on most turfgrasses to
enhance color, especially near harvesting time.
These are often injected into the irrigation system
but may also be applied in a dry or spray solution
form. Application of 20 to 40 pounds of elemental
iron (e.g., 100 to 200 lb of ferrous sulfate) may be
timed approximately 1 to 2 weeks prior to harvest-
ing to enhance color. To prevent burn, irrigations
must be applied immediately after iron application
during periods of high temperature to prevent
I Liquid fertilizers are often used by injecting
them into the irrigation system. Ammonium
nitrate is the primary nitrogen source used for
this. The major problems with using fertilizer in
irrigation systems involve difficulties in maintain-
ing uniform distribution and concerns with possible
After irrigation as the first priority, knowingg is
perhaps the second most important turfgrass
cultural practice for sod producers. Mowing helps
control turfgrass growth and many undesirable
weeds which are intolerant to close mowing. Sod
fields require a mowing schedule similar to a well
maintained home lawn. I
Three basic mower types include reel, rotary, and
flail (Figure 4).(A reel mower is most desirable
because highest possible mowing quality is
achieved due to a cleaner cutl Rollers on a reel-type
mower also help smooth the sod field for easier,
more uniform harvesting. Reel mowers should
always be used the last 4 or 5 mowings before
harvest. This produces the finest cut available,
and, therefore, maximizes sod quality. Rotary
mowers are acceptable for St. Augustinegrass,
centipedegrass, and bahiagrass production if
blades are properly sharpened and balanced. Flail
mowers are widely used in bahiagrass production
due to its prolific seedhead production. Flail
mowers are commonly used until sod has a uniform
dense stand, and then growers switch to a reel or
Figure 4. Tractor-pulled reel (top) and flail (bottom)
SAlways keep mower blades well maintained and
sharpened. Dull blades reduce turf quality by
leaving grass tips shreaded and bruised. Shreaded
tips dry easily, leaving brown tissue which grows
slowly, especially in hot weather. Also remember
that mowers are big, heavy pieces of equipment.
Ruts, which cause harvest losses, may develop if
these machines are used when soils are too wet.l
INew sod fields are generally mowed once every 1
to 2 weeks until complete coverage is obtained,
depending on grass growth and weed encroach-
ment. Mowing frequency will vary for established
sod~l-Mowing frequency will depend on the fertility
level, season of year, species, and seedhead produc-
tion. Table 4 lists the mowing height, frequency
and mower type for grasses used in sod production.
Establish a mowing frequency to ensure no more
than one-third of the leaf area is removed at any
one mowing. Maintaining this schedule will allow
for clipping return to the field for nutrient recy-
cling. An example of proper mowing frequency is a
grass that is mowed to one inch and therefore
should be mowed before it exceeds 11/2 inches. If
that growth occurs in 3 days, then the field should
be mowed every 3 days; if the growth requires 2
weeks, then that should be the mowing frequency.
4 Established bermudagrass and zoysiagrass sod
fields typically are mowed every 3 daysJ while
centipedegrass, St. Augustinegrass and bahiagrass
are mowed once every 7 to 10 days.
Table 4. Mowing height, frequency, and mower type suggested for
grasses grown for sod production in Florida.
Mowing Height before Mower
Grass Height Remowing Frequency Type
----- (inches) ----- (days)
Bahiagrass 3 4 7 Rotary/Flail
Bermudagrass V2-1 4 -1 3 Reel
Centipedegrass i-1V/ i1s-2 10 Rotary/Reel
St. Augustine- 2 3 7 Rotary/Reel
Zoysiagrass %-1 1-1V 10 Reel
*Semi-dwarf varieties such as Seville, Jade, and Delmar should be
mowed between 1 and 2 inches.
IGrass clippings may or may not be picked up. If
removed, sweepers and vacuums are used. The
purpose of removing clippings is to prevent them
from filtering down into the turf stand and turning
brown.lWhen the sod is delivered, the presence of
these brown clippings may cause the sod to appear
to have less density than it really has. Clipping
disposal is a major problem. With restrictions on
burning, dumping in landfills, and problems with
odor, disposal is a problem to many producers. If
clippings are removed, it is suggested that the
removal begin during the 1 or 2 months before
harvest. This timing will help prevent the browning
effect clippings may impose and prevent having
disposal problems throughout the entire growing
Preplant fumigation with materials such as
methyl bromide or metam-sodium (Vapam) may be
required when sod farms are established on land
previously used for row crop farming. Fumigating
will reduce perennial weed species such as ber-
mudagrass, nutsedge, torpedograss, and sprangle-
top. Soil sterilization will also reduce nematode
populations which are difficult to control once the
grass is established. In California, it is recom-
mended that the sod field be fumigated at least
every 5 years to help control weeds, nematodes,
and other pests (2).
Methyl bromide is expensive (approximately
$1,000/acre) due to the plastic cover required to
ensure activity and may only be applied by a
certified applicator. This material provides better
pest control and the treated area can be planted
within 48 hours after the cover is removed.
Metam-sodium does not require a cover, but a
certain amount of efficacy is sacrificed. If a cover is
not used, metam-sodium, once applied, requires
incorporation into the soil. Incorporation is
achieved by rolling, irrigation, and/or tilling the
material to the depth of desired control (usually 6
to 8 inches). Poor performance will result if this
incorporation is not performed. A minimum
waiting period of 14 to 21 days is required before
planting in metam-sodium-treated soil.
If preplant fumigation is not feasible, the use of
a nonselective herbicide such as glyphosate is
required on weed infested fields. Weed infested sod
will reduce the salability of the product. Three
applications of glyphosate spaced 4 to 6 weeks
apart are necessary for postemergence control of
perennial weeds such as bermudagrass or torpedo-
grass. These should begin in spring after tempera-
tures are consistently warm and weeds are actively
growing. If spray applications cannot be made
prior to field establishment, spot treatments of
competitive weeds such as bermudagrass will be
Weeds can be introduced into a field in many
ways. Irrigation water from open canals, ditches,
or ponds often contains weeds. Soil introduced
during soil preparation, such as a landplane
pulling untreated soil into a field, leaves weeds.
Birds, wind, soil erosion, and man also deposit
weed seeds. Good housekeeping by keeping ditches
and fence rows clean and by washing equipment
before entering a weed-free field does benefit the
Once the grass is established, weed management
involves proper mowing, cultural practices to
promote turf competition, and use of herbicides.
Many upright growing broadleaf weeds can be
controlled effectively through the use of continuous
mowing. These include ragweed, pigweed,
cocklebur, and morningglory. Mow these prior to
seedhead emergence to help prevent reinfestation
Grassy weeds which are a problem in sod
production include annual bluegrass, crabgrass,
goosegrass, vaseygrass, signalgrass, sprangletop,
torpedograss, and bermudagrass. Broadleaf weeds
include purslane, betony, pusley, pennywort
(dollarweed), oxalis, and spurge. Purple, yellow,
annual, globe, cylindrical, and Texas nutsedges are
also weed problems.
Herbicide recommendations are updated con-
stantly; therefore, the reader should refer to the
following publications for the latest recommenda-
tions: OH-05, OH-06, OH-07, and Circular 576.
These may be obtained from your local County
Agent's office. Immature weeds (seedlings) are
most susceptible to herbicides, and certain turf
varieties can be damaged when air temperatures
exceed 80 to 85F at the time of herbicide applica-
tion. The turf should not be under moisture or
mowing (scalping) stress when treated with a
herbicide. Always read and follow all pesticide
labels before use.
Currently, one of the most troublesome weeds in
St. Augustinegrass is common bermudagrass. Seed
from common bermudagrass is easily dispensed by
birds, animals, wind, erosion, and humans. Control
is a continuous, difficult chore. Spot spraying with
glyphosate is the only effective method of control-
ling this weed. Regrowth quickly occurs from
underground rhizomes and seeds, therefore, repeat
applications are necessary. Many larger sod farms
use an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) equipped with a
spray tank to perform this spot-spraying.
Insect pests are generally grouped into three
categories: shoot feeding, root feeding, and burrow-
ing. Southern chinch bugs, spittlebugs, grass
scales, and bermudagrass mites suck plant juices.
Chinch bug damage is normally associated with
St. Augustinegrass. Chinch bugs have 3 generations
per year in north Florida and 7 to 10 in south
Florida. Damage is apparent as yellowish to brown
patches in turf and appears sooner on turf under
moisture and/or heat stress. The cultivars,
Floralawn and Floratam, provide some degree of
resistance to chinch bugs.
Insect shoot feeders which eat grass leaves
include sod webworms and armyworms. Army-
worms feed during the day, while sod webworms
feed at night. Injured grass has notches chewed in
leaves, and grass has an uneven appearance.
Root-feeding and burrowing insects include mole
crickets, white grubs, and billbugs. Mole crickets
injure the turf through their extensive tunneling
which loosens soil, allowing desiccation to quickly
occur. Mole crickets may be flushed out by applying
water with 2 teaspoons of household soap per
gallon per two square feet on fresh tunnels. If
present, crickets will surface and die within
several minutes. White grubs and billbugs are root
feeders and are typically C-shaped. Grub damage
is erratic with patches of turf first showing decline
and then yellowing. Under severe infestation, sod
may actually be removed by hand. Monitoring
these insect populations involves cutting 3 sides of
a sod piece and laying this back. If there is an
average of three or more grubs per square foot in
this sod an insecticide is needed.
Other insect pests which disrupt the sod surface
or are a nuisance to man include ants, fleas, and
ticks. For the latest insect control recommenda-
tions, refer to Extension Entomology Report # 51.
Disease development requires three simultaneous
conditions: a virulent pathogen, a susceptible
turfgrass, and favorable environmental conditions.
Environmental conditions which favor incidence of
most turf diseases include periods of high humidity,
rain, heavy dews or fogs, and warm temperatures
(but not always). Turf which is fast growing and
succulent from nitrogen overfertilization is typically
more susceptible to disease and other pest invasion.
Ideally, irrigate early in the day to minimize the
time in which turfgrass remains moist. Do not
overfertilize with nitrogen. If a disease problem is
suspected, prepare a sample for laboratory diag-
nosis. For these situations, do the following:
a) sample the affected area before fungicide
b) sample from marginal turf areas between
diseased and healthy turf,
c) cut a 3- to 4-inch plug from each area with
d) place these in paper bags or cardboard boxes
and do not add water,
e) submit the sample to your nearest County
Extension Office. Remember to complete a
Specimen Data form with each sample.
Consult your county agent for control recommenda-
tions and follow all label recommendations.
Nematodes are small, microscopic worms which
normally feed on or in plant roots. If populations
become severe, plants wilt under moderate mois-
ture stress, are slow to recover after rain or irriga-
tion, and gradually decline or "melt out." Weeds
that commonly become a problem in nematode
infested areas include spotted spurge and Florida
pusley. Turf roots often become stubby, shortened,
and turn black. Due to extensive root damage,
plants are not able to withstand stresses such as
drought, insect, or disease invasion. Sampling of
soils for a nematode assay is the only sure way to
determine if they are in high enough populations
to cause damage. Prepare soil samples similar to
those discussed in the disease control section and
submit them to a reputable nematode lab.
Control begins with those management practices
which favor good turf growth. These include proper
watering, fertilization, and mowing practices. Few
nematicides are available. Proper turf management
is becoming increasingly important to mask
nematode presence. Consult your local county
agent or the publication, NPPP-18, for the latest
nematode control recommendations. Follow label
Turfgrass is harvested when sod has developed
enough strength to remain intact with minimum
soil adhering when cut. Time required to produce a
marketable sod from initial establishment depends
on turfgrass species, soil type, and growing condi-
tions. Time required between harvests for most turf
sod is listed as actual growing months in Table 5.
Table 5. Time in growing months required from planting to harvest for
various turf sod grasses (modified from 4).
Cultivar Initial Establishment After Harvest
Common centipedegrass 18 6 to 12
Centennial centipedegrass 18 9 to 15
Tifgreen bermudagrass 6 to 12 3 to 6
Tifway bermudagrass 6 to 12 4 to 8
Emerald zoysiagrase 12 to 24 13 to 20
Matrella zoysiagrass 12 to 24 15 to 20
Meyer zoysiagrass 12 to 24 11 to 18
St. Augustinegrass 10 to 18 10 to 18
Bahiagrass 12 to 24 12 to 24
Several weeks prior to harvest, the turf should
be conditioned in order to enhance its color.
Suggested practices include mowing only with a
reel mower, applying iron within 2 weeks of
harvest, and applying no chemicals during the
week prior to harvest. Using a sweeper or vacuum
to remove mowing clippings the last 3 to 4 weeks
leading up to harvest also improves the turfs
Sod must never be cut when under moisture
stress. The cutter blade bounces out of the ground,
the sod has little strength, and turf is under stress
by the time the owner receives it.
Mechanical sod cutters harvest strips 12 to 16
inches wide. Growers with less than 100 acres
commonly use a small, hand-operated, walk-behind
unit which has a 150 to 200 sq. yd. cutting capacity
per hour. Larger growers usually use tractor-
mounted and/or self-propelled harvesters capable
of cutting 600 to 800 sq. yd. per hour (Figure 5).
Figure 5. Walk-behind (top), tractor-mounted (middle),
and pull-behind (bottom) sod harvesters.
Sod is stacked on wooden pallets either in rolls or
as flat slabs. The amount of sod harvested can be
doubled if sod is rolled instead of stacked as flat
slabs (4). However, rolled, harvested sod must also
be more mature. Approximately 400 to 500 sq. ft.
of sod is stacked per pallet with a forklift required
for placing pallets on transport trucks. A tractor-
trailer load typically consists of 10,000 sq. ft. of sod
(Figure 6). Forklifts that are rear-mounted on
tractor trailers provide a quick and easy method
and harvesting equipment. If practical, harvest the
second crop at 90* to the first to minimize this
uneven surface. For bahiagrass fields, ribbons may
or may not be left. In either case, the fields are
usually reseeded to hasten recovery.
Figure 6. Tractor-trailer loaded with sod.
Thickness of soil removed during harvesting
varies with turfgrass species. Removing the least
amount of soil is the objective of an efficient sod
harvest. Soil conservation must be a priority in
order to ensure long-term productivity of the soil.
Ideally, 1/4 to 1/2 inch of rootzone should be
removed when sod is cut. Sod that is thin-cut is
easier to handle, less expensive to transport, and
knits in more quickly than thicker-cut sod. How-
ever, sod that is thin-cut is more susceptible to
Growers harvest up to 40,000 sq. ft. per acre per
cutting. However, normal yields are generally
between 28,000 and 38,000 sq. ft. per acre. A
two-inch ribbon of grass is typically left between
harvested strips for re-establishment from stolons
(Figure 7). Bermudagrass producers often clean-cut
a field because bermudagrass re-establishes from
rhizomes, as well as from stolons. Centipedegrass
and St. Augustinegrass must re-cover the ground
with stolons from ribbons left between harvested
strips. Once harvesting has been performed, these
strips should be lightly incorporated into the soil
by rototilling and rolled to smooth the soil surface.
If this is not done, the remaining strips will
provide a bumpy surface for mowing, fertilizing,
Figure 7. 1To-Inch ribbon of grass left between
harvested strips for re-establishment (top)
after rototilling (bottom).
Separating turfgrass cultivar areas in the field
must be achieved to prevent contamination from
adjacent areas. Normally, this is achieved by
carefully planning, before establishment, with the
use of service road or drainage ditches between
cultivars. If these barriers are not used, a
minimum of eight feet of tilled or bare soil must be
maintained between grasses. A nonselective
herbicide such as glyphosate may be used to
maintain bare soil.
Wholesale buyers for most sod producers consist
of landscape maintenance/ contractors, garden
centers, building contractors, homeowners, and
golf course/athletic field superintendents. Growers
with small acreage and/or limited tractor-trailer
shipping capabilities generally sell to homeowners
and lawn care professionals. Markets outside
Florida currently consist of Alabama and Georgia.
Establishing a market before planting and ensur-
ing repeat business by providing a quality product
is essential for most businesses. Advertising
generally ranges from yellow pages, trade
magazines and/or newspaper ads, to booths at
various trade shows, by word-of-mouth, and direct
business contacts with garden centers, landscape
contractors, and others.
Shipping costs generally limit the competitive
range for most producers. Delivery charges are
typically determined per load, per loaded mile, or
per square yard (1). The weight of sod grown on
mineral soils is about 5 pounds per square foot.
Sod grown on muck soil is generally less expensive
to produce and lighter in weight; therefore, it can
be transported over longer distances still at a
Delivery means for growers will differ. For large
producers, usually an 18-wheel, tractor-trailer rig
is preferred. Many job sites do not have unloading
facilities; therefore, rear-mounted portable fork-
lifts are brought along with the sod. Smaller
producers or smaller loads will best be served by
Sod pallets used normally are 48 inches square
and are built from inexpensive lumber. Locating
and maintaining adequate pallets can be a problem
for the manager.
Costs and Return
Costs and returns vary considerably with
location, equipment, and labor available, and with
management practices. Generally, prices for sod
increase as the farm size decreases. Data from
1988 Floratam St. Augustinegrass sod production
lists capital costs of approximately $1,800 per acre,
exclusive of land investment. Production costs
would be about $650 per acre. Net profit per acre,
including interest and principal payments on
capital expenditures, is approximately $350 per
acre. Capital investments for sod farms include
land, buildings, and equipment. Variable costs
include labor, fuel, fertilizer, pesticides, repairs,
and parts. Fixed costs include insurance, taxes,
depreciation, land charge, management charges,
and others (1). Labor for a 250-acre sod farm is
estimated at five full-time and two part-time
(seasonal) employees. Secretarial and/or record-
keeping must also be considered. Machinery
estimated for a medium-sized, 100-to-250-acre
farm is listed in Table 6. Other costs include
computers, phones, rakes, shovels, shop/office
equipment, pallets, and others.
Table 6. Typical machinery inventory for a 100 to 250 acre sod farm
(modified from 1).
Fertilizer spreader-1000 lb.
Reel mowers-3 to 9 gang
Tractors with turf tires
(2) 40 to 45 hp
(2) 80 to 85 hp
(1) 130 hp
(2) 22 ft. w/trailers
(1) 1V2 ton
(x) flat beds for shipping
Sod harvester-16 to 18 inch tractor
Forklift and pallets
Irrigation with pump (2) center
pivot or traveling gun
Building-shop, office, telephones,
Rotory mower-16 ft.
Flail mower-16 ft.
Proper soil preparation and turf maintenance
procedures must be followed to ensure the survival
and desirable aesthetics of sod. In central and
north Florida it is generally best to lay sod in
spring and summer. Year-round installation is
possible in south Florida if fall and winter tempera-
tures remain conducive for turf growth. The
following steps are suggested for laying sod:
1) Soil test to determine nutrient deficiencies.
2) Apply recommended nutrients, especially
phosphorous and potassium, plus other soil
amendments and incorporate these by tilling
6 to 8 inches deep.
3) Allow soil to settle by irrigating or rolling.
Rake or harrow the site to establish a smooth
and level final grade. The finish grade should
be about one inch below walks and drives.
4) Prior to sodding, irrigate the soil to cool the
surface and provide initial moisture to roots.
If this is not performed, the sod roots will be
subjected to initial heat and water stress
damage resulting in lower sod survival.
5) When laying the sod, the first strip should be
laid along a straight edge. For better knitting,
stagger each piece of sod, similar to a
bricklayer's running pattern, so that none of
the joints are in a line. Each piece should be
fitted against others as tightly as possible.
Fill in gaps with clean soil to reduce weed
6) Smooth the surface and encourage rooting by
7) Irrigate heavily (3/4 to 1 inch) to ensure good
rootzone moisture. This is especially necessary
when laying a different sod-grown soil type
over another (e.g., laying muck-grown sod
over sandy soils). Provide good moisture for at
least two weeks following planting. Gradually
decrease the frequency between irrigations to
an "as needed" basis.
8) Roll and/or topdress with clean rootzone soil
to help smooth the sod surface.
9) Fertilize with nitrogen at 43 lb N per acre
(e.g. 275 lb 16-4-8 per acre or 6.3 lb per 1000
sq. ft.) approximately 7 to 14 days following
planting. Irrigate immediately after applica-
10) Mow after the grass reaches the height listed
in Table 4.
After the grass is installed, problems that arise
may or may not be the grower's responsibility. Sod
with dead edges indicates that it became too dry
before installation. Weeds within sod are probably
brought in and are the responsibility of the grower.
Weeds that grow between the seams of installed
sod is due to faulty installation.
Improper irrigation after the installation of sod
is always a problem. Enough water should be
applied to thoroughly wet the root zone underneath
the soil surface. Other problems often develop from
spills of bleach, gasoline, and other commercial
chemicals which may complicate one's ability to
determine the cause of damage.
Commercial sod production is expensive and
labor-intensive farming. Keen competition, satu-
rated markets, and a fluctuating economy make a
thorough investigation of potential markets and
costs of production necessary. This publication is
intended to provide some suggested guidelines on
the management practices involved in sod produc-
For more detailed information on sod production,
readers are referred to Turfgrass Sod Production.'
This book (Pdblication No. 21451) is available at
the following address:
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources
University of California
6701 San Pablo Ave.
Oakand, CA 94608-1239
phone: (415) 642-2431
-'rJ ?C'E TCE MRARY
1. Adrian, J.L., J.A. Yates, and R. Dickens. 1982.
Commercial Tufgrass Sod Production in
Alabama. Alabama Agric. Exp. Sta. Auburn Univ.
2. Cockerham, S.T. 1988. Turfgrass Sod Production.
The Regents of the University of California.
Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources.
3. Peacock, C.H. and W Prevatt. Sod Production
Review North Florida. IFAS University of
4. Ward, C.Y. 1986. Circular ANR-470 The
Potential for Turf Sod Production in Alabama.
Alabama Agric. Exp. Station. Auburn University.
This publication was produced at a cost of $1,730.35, or .58 cents per copy, to provide information on basic
guidelines for sod production in Florida. 10-3M-89
COOPERATIVE EXTENSION SERVICE. UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA. INSTITUTE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES. G.L.
Zachariah, director, in cooperation wtth the United States Department of Agriculture, publishes this information to further the purpose of the
May 8 and June 30, 1914 Acts of Congress: and is authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to
individuals and institutions that function without regard to race. color, sex, age. handicap or national origin. Single copies of extension
publications (excluding 4-H and youth publications) are available free to Florida residents from county extension offices. Information on bulk
rates or copies for out-of-state purchasers is available from C.M. Hinton. Publications Distribution Center. IFAS Building 664, University of
Florida, Gainesville, Florida 32611. Before publicizing this publication, editors should contact this address to determine availability.