View Full Version : Preping ground a ultra flat and lump free bermuda lawn

11-01-2010, 11:51 PM

Looking around I was mesmerized by the numerous pictures of Bermuda lawns on this website, and driving around my area I realized that some of the best looking lawns were very shortly cut, hybrid Bermuda lawns. The appeal of having a lawn that looked like a putting green on my very own property was enough to provoke me to install a hybrid Bermuda lawn of my very own. I realized that the best looking Bermuda lawns were all very flat and smooth.

So over the summer, I installed a lawn roughly 800 square feet or so in my back yard to try it out before moving on to the front yard. In the process of installing my new lawn, I tilled plenty of amendments into the soil and raked to lawn to a rough grade away from the house and walkway using my 36" landscape rake. After that I floated my lute, over the entire area to smooth out any bumps and achieve, what I felt and thought was a relatively smooth and bump free surface. Then I rolled the entire area with a heavy sod roller a couple times. I then sodded the entire area with TifGreen hybrid Bermuda. I then rolled the entire lawn in two directions and watered as recommended by the sod farm (Southland sod). Two weeks later, I mowed the lawn for the first time using my Eastman reel mower at 1/2 inch and was somewhat surprised to see that my lawn had minor undulations in it. The lawn was not incredibly bumpy, just enough to notice. So I top dressed using a mixture of multi-purpose sand and compost in a 40/60 ratio. I then worked it in using a stiff brush in a back and forth action. Still, the lawn has not met my expectations to be (almost) perfectly smooth and I realized the only way to overcome this will be through a good topdressing, aerating and rolling program. I also have come to the conclusion that the sod was cut at different thicknesses at the sod farm. I'm also sure the ground I laid it on, when watered deeply, decided to settle (it was tilled deeply to 6+ inches). And thus is the reason that my lawn is not as flat and smooth as I would like it to be.

Well, this upcoming summer I would like to establish a new hybrid Bermuda lawn in my front yard which is 1,100 square feet not including a small 100 square foot median and a 200 square foot parkway. Based off my past attempt with establishing , a ultra-flat and smooth hybrid Bermuda lawn, I have decided that sod will not be ideal because 1) It is cut in un-even thicknesses at the sod farm. 2) So it will stay together, it is grown on heavy clay which becomes mushy, doesn't drain hardly at all, and holds the shape of whatever is on top of or below it (like a footprint, a pebble, or a mower.) 3) The Bermuda that is used on golf course greens is never established from rolls, what a golf course will use is sod that is cut and stacked flat. (I found this out after much research) Because of this, I have decided to establish my new lawn from spriggs. My plan is to take out much of my old soil, about 6 inches, and haul in a good quantity of top soil and sand (in a 80/20 ratio). To replace what I took out. Then I will drag it using a landscape rake to establish a rough grade, and then float it using a lute for a fine grade. I will water it very deeply and then repeat with the lute. Then I will establish a grid using stakes and masons line (like you would do when installing pavers) and I will use a transit level to totally ensure my grade is proper, and fix any little mistakes for the last time. After, this I will use spriggs (AKA stolons) to establish the lawn so I am not bringing in any foreign soil or weeds. The stolons will be covered with a 80/20 mix of fine sand to compost and then once again, rolled to assure they make proper contact with the soil. A roller will be installed on the front of the reel mower during the establishment period and it will be rolled with a half-filled sod roller occasionally.

What do you think of this plan for establish a ultra smooth lawn? Do any of you have any experience with prepping ground for a ultra smooth lawn? If anyone could give me some pointers or other input it would be greatly appreciated. I know those of you out there with a golf course background could be of help and I know of several members here who know plenty about Bermuda and establishing a good and proper grade.


Patriot Services
11-02-2010, 11:32 AM
Asked a golf course worker friend. They usually use a vibrating compactor and sand to achieve a perfect base. Then the top is either perfectly matched sod pieces or an inch of rolled topsoil and seeded.
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11-02-2010, 11:50 AM
I think you are working too hard, put down sod and topdress with river sand. Done.
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11-02-2010, 11:41 PM
I was a Golf Course Superintendent for 10 years before starting my company. You are on the right track using sprigs. The way to get the glassy smoothness you seek is by multiple sand topdressing during establishment and then in the first few growing seasons.

Get your prep as smooth as you can, though you may be over-doing it a bit with what you described there. Plant your sprigs, roll, and topdress with your 80/20. Once the sprigs have taken and are filling in, you can begin hand topdressing with straight sand in the low spots and leveling with a level-lawn. once you get the lawn filled in, continue to topdress and drag, and use the shovel and level lawn in any low spots. Then continue to topdress a couple times a season for the first 2 or 3 growing seasons. By the end of your second summer it will be pretty dang smooth.

Beware of putting any heavy rollers or equipment on the lawn during establishment because you will get rutting due to the wet soil.

It will be a lot of work, but not too bad since you're talking about a pretty small area. Once you get through the first season or 2 you should be able to get down to at least 1/2 inch. Good luck.

11-02-2010, 11:48 PM
I was able to reel my builder installed bermuda at 1/2" after one top dressing...it could use another, but it looks pretty nice. I may do another top dressing next season time and money permitting.
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11-03-2010, 12:07 AM
Rome wasn't built in a day. I don't know if getting it perfect right away is even possible. It's small so the flaws show more. aerate and top dress frequently. I've grown bermuda from seed, and sprigs are similar in that you still have to be patient for it to fill in. By the time that occurs you may have had a sodded lawn leveled nicely by then.

11-03-2010, 12:10 AM
Another thing to consider is while you wait on the sprigs to grow and fill in, one torrential down pour can ruin all your smoothing work. Getting bare ground covered as quickly as possible is most important to me...I can level/smooth later.
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11-03-2010, 08:59 AM
Your prep sounds about right with the exception of the rolling prior to sod laying and you didn't mention if you used sand or clay based sod or washed sod.

The way to avoid uneven thickness when using sod is to lay the washed sod - this is sod that is primarily grown on sand or silty loam then has the excess soil gently washed off of the roots. Ends up being very uniform and easy to use.

When actually laying the sod get two pieces of 4X8 1/2" plywood to use as a base for walking the sod onto the loose substrate. This way you won't cause pockets of compaction which greatly contribute to a bumpy surface.

Gently, and I mean as gently as possible, roll the new sod with a roller filled to maybe half way as the agitation of the water tumbling in the roller acts as a gentle vibratory roller and will help the sod settle. Prior to the rolling I would top dress the new sod with at least 1/4" of straight sand, then roll and irrigate.

The only time I have ever seen a newly sodded putting green grow in with out massive topdressing was at Augusta National when I worked there in the mid 90's. We used washed sod that was, believe it or not, trucked to the course in a refrigerated reefer ten pallets at a time. We literally measured each individual piece for thickness then separated the pieces in to like sized piles prior to laying.

Bear in mind that I have built and grassed over 300 acres of putting greens through the mid east US and Asia so this isn't my first rodeo. The only time I used a vibratory plate compactor was in setting the gravel sub-grade of a putting green at 18" deep over the Sub Aire system of pipes installed first. Final shaping was done with a Toro bunker rake to float to the edges of the putting surface.

11-03-2010, 09:22 AM
You could always seed with Princess 77 bermuda seed.
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11-03-2010, 10:11 PM
The way to avoid uneven thickness when using sod is to lay the washed sod - this is sod that is primarily grown on sand or silty loam then has the excess soil gently washed off of the roots. Ends up being very uniform and easy to use.

Glad you mentioned washed sod, was just thinking about that today. I think this will be a good route to take because it eliminates that awful clay they lay it on and thus it also eliminates drainage, hard pan and other soil compatibility issues. And like you said, washed sod will lay way more even (I can predict). I do have one question? Why do you not recommend rolling prior to laying the sod? Every sod farm in my area recommends rolling before laying.

cgaengineer wrote:

You could always seed using princess 77.

I thought about this, but my back lawn is already TifGreen and the time it would take for seed to germinate, spread and form density would be pretty long. I would like to try it on a relatives lawn however, so that might be a future project and post. Another seed which I was looking at which has high remarks is Yukon and Riviera.

11-04-2010, 09:12 AM
Simple, you need to avoid unnecessary compaction of the finish grade of the amended soil needed for the finish grade.

The only area you want to compact is the sub-grade, meaning the underlying soil you have shaped prior to adding the amended soil for the root zone.

Once you go down six inches or so and remove all of that builder installed crappy clay soil you simply grade this area, known as the sub-grade, in the manner you want your finish grade to appear. Once you have the proper elevation and grade, add drainage or whatever, now is the time to aggressively compact the sub-grade in order to stabilize the sub-grade so no depressions occur.

The reason the sod farms recommend compacting the finish grade is they avoid properly setting the sub-grade and attempt to make up for the imperfections by compacting the finish grade. Bad, Bad, Bad idea - now you have just compacted the root zone, seriously impeding irrigation infiltration, porosity of the amended soil plus causing all sorts of uneven depths to the root zone.

Also, when adding the amended soil for the root zone, in order to avoid layering of differing amendments you need to mix the root zone material thoroughly prior to introducing it over the sub-grade. Numerous field trials have shown that rototilling in amendments to the root zone causes layering as you cannot adequately mix the amendments - in short you create pockets of areas that are over amended and pockets that have little or no amendments.

Installing a turf site properly with the finished appearance you desire isn't easy, isn't initially cheap and costs a great deal in labor. However, once the soil is properly prepared the actual costs, in terms of cultural maintenance, fertilizer, irrigation efficacy is all reduced to the point depending upon the actual size of the area being installed the ROI is less than three years.

The sod farms know almost everyone purchasing a residence these days won't stay in the residence longer than three years so in order to be competitive cost wise they cheap out on site prep.

Patriot Services
11-04-2010, 11:26 AM
Compaction of substrate is mandatory here in FL. You can watch the ground move. Kind of like a dried out sponge when it gets wet.
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