Tuesday, April 22, 2014


When I left you with the yard renovation here on the blog, we had finished the slate stone patio (a.k.a. the project that about killed us). With the patio looking beautiful in our rearview mirrors we were excited to get moving with some things that would happen relatively quickly, and installing the sod was definitely one of those projects.

It was done in a single day, and it made a huge impact on changing the yards appearance.

Seriously, you should have seen the happy dances going on around 231 that night.

Although laying out the sod was relatively easy, there was some considerable prep work we had to do to get ready for it to go down. Below is a good before pic. You can see the patio is complete, and the lawn area is relatively flat and ready for grass. Getting it to this point was a long process involving six dump truck loads of dirt, a plate compactor, and about 5000 trips with a wheel barrow (you can read more about the grading here). We raised the back level of the yard twenty inches in order to get the 3% slope we were looking for, from the patio to the back fence.

You can also see in the picture that there are capped pipes coming up from the ground with flags where the sprinklers should go. We ran all the irrigation pipes back in the early phase of the project, and were just keeping our fingers crossed that when it was time to put the sprinkler heads on, everything would be working and ready to go.

We were wrong.

This is one of the dangers of DIYing something that should probably be done by a professional... sometimes things don't work exactly the way they are supposed to, and there is no one to blame but yourself. We had 3 or 4 instances of pipe fittings coming apart in the ground, and found out when we pressure tested the irrigation lines, when instead of water flowing from all the sprinkler pipes, we got an underwater spring that created a soupy muddy mess in our future lawn.

At that point I used all my curse words, cried a little bit, and then called my dad.

Who was more than happy to come help me solve the problem (because he's awesome).

We turned on the water to each line, waited until we thought we had the correct area from which the water was leaking and dug down until we found the broken fitting. Then we repaired it. I don't know if the fittings broke because of the dirt settling due to multiple paths with the plate compactor, shoddy workmanship on my part, or some other reason all together, but in a few places things had come apart, and we had to create pvc patches to get them back together. I didn't get a picture of that process, but usually they were little U shapes we created with four 90 degree fittings and a few small scraps of PVC.

For any other irrigation virgin going through their first project, here are some things I learned from my dad while he helped me fix the mess I'd made:
• When it comes to the purple primer and the blue PVC cement, use plenty of it - don't be afraid to goop it on there, it's what keeps the pipes together.
• Give each pipe connection a good 1/4 turn to secure it when you're fitting things together, don't just connect them and call it good.
• If it's possible, pressure test your irrigation with water BEFORE you bury it under 10 inches of dirt (good thinking, huh).

So, we got the lines repaired, put the sprinkler heads on (another process that took way longer than we would have guessed and required considerable digging and swearing) and tested those puppies out!

Boy was I happy to see them go through a full cycle.

In case you were wondering what our irrigation system looks like, here's an image from this post that gives the breakdown of the sprinkler line. The lawn area is about 24 feet by 60 feet, and we ran 3 zones, each with 5-6 sprinkler heads. I took a scale drawing of the yard to the local irrigation supply, and the kind manager there helped me lay out the entire thing. Then sold me the $1300 in supplies to tackle it - I think it was a fair trade.
Next, we installed hard plastic edging around the perimeter of the lawn. The edging will prevent the grass roots from creeping into the stone barrier and planting area over time. It was relatively inexpensive and easy to do, we just stretched it out got it in to place and staked it down with long nails (you could just poke the nails right through the plastic). Now that the grass is in you can't even see that we installed it.

The final prep step before the sod came was covering the entire lawn area with gopher cloth. We have a pretty serious gopher problem in our neighborhood, and after my father-in-law recently had his beautiful new sod terrorized by these little buggers, we decided it was important to put a layer of metal mesh between them and our precious new grass babies.

We went back and forth between putting down regular old chicken wire and hard core double galvanized gopher cloth. The chicken wire is much less expensive, but the gopher cloth is guaranteed for 10 years to not corrode and break down buried beneath the earth. Time will tell whether it was worth it (the gopher cloth actually cost MORE than the sod itself), but the peace of mind was worth it for us.

And, as the FINAL 10 yards of dirt arrived, we got back to work with our good buddies the wheel barrows.

By this point we were old pros at moving dirt, and had the area prepped and ready for sod in one short weekend. Ryan got really good with that landscape rake, which he used to even out the huge piles of dirt.

The morning the sod arrived was almost like Christmas. It had been a loooong time coming, and I was so happy to see that luscious green grass ready to roll out into our very own lawn!

After a good amount of research, we chose Bolero Plus sod from Delta Bluegrass. This fescue blend has a good mixture of durability and texture, and is also a good choice for households with pets. We knew there would be plenty of fetch played on our lawn in the coming years, and wanted something that would hold up for McKinney, and also something that would face the elements well. This was the best option for us.

After I finished jumping up and down like a child, we pulled the wheel barrows back out and got to moving the rolls of sod from the driveway to the back yard. The Delta Bluegrass installation guide says to start at the back of your property and work towards the front, but we knew most of the cutting would have to be done along the patio, and decided to start there and work backwards. Here is Ryan after we rolled out the first piece.

With the help of our friend Mark, Ryan started rolling out the sod, staggering each roll (like setting bricks) so the edges overlap. They worked hard to make sure each roll of sod's edges were nestled tightly against the next.

While the guys did the heavy lifting, I followed up with a sod knife (something like a heavy duty exacto blade) and cut the edges to follow the line of the patio. It was so satisfying to watch the green carpet being rolled out.

And as always, we got great support from our very own peanut gallery. McKinney's friend Dixon the German Shepard pup got to spend the day with us, and gave us lots of very vocal support.

By the time we finished the sod, dusk was falling, and darn it if I didn't get any good pictures of it right after it was installed, but here's that before and after from the top of the post one more time.

And here's a shot from a couple weeks later. You can still see lines in the grass where we laid the rows up against each other, but things are coming together nicely.

And just for fun, here's another angle of our yard, taken last month (March). The sod has filled in nicely, and in this picture could use a mowing. That's the funny thing about putting in a big lawn, it needs regular maintenance.

I'm also happy about the bulbs I planted back in the fall, which popped up nicely to add some color to the yard.

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