Company helps landscapers lower overhead

Startlight Sod installs sod on an athletic field.
Photos courtesy of Starlight Sod Installation, Inc.

A new concept that can save money on overhead by reducing the number of crew members required is being marketed to landscapers in northwest Indiana. Contracting big roll sod installation allows landscape crews to focus on more profitable sections of landscaping projects and reduces overhead costs, according to Tom Huber. Huber worked in sod installation 14 years before establishing his company, Starlight Sod Installation, Inc., last spring in Schererville, Ind. He is also a partner in the family-owned Huber Ranch Sod Nursery.

Huber said, “We’re not competing with the landscapers, but offering them a service that can help them save money on overhead. A landscaper who has a crew of 30 can probably have six or eight fewer people on the crew. Landscape crews can concentrate on more profitable steps of landscaping projects.”

Tom Huber uses Woerner sod installers by WMI because the machines offer ease of operation and good visibility.

Contract sod installation

“The speed in which the sod can be installed is a real advantage,” Huber said. Starlight uses a Woerner sod installer, which installs widths of sod measuring 29, 30, 42 and 48 inches.

Huber explained that his involvement on a job site begins when the landscaper calls him to schedule his service. “I go to see the site, I check to be sure there’s suitable access and then fax a bid to the landscaper. He will let me know a two-week window for sod installation.” Huber said that sod quality varies, and his policy is to let the landscaper know that any quality issues with the sod may increase installation costs up to 10 percent.

“The landscaper arranges for the sod delivery, so it’s ready to install when we arrive. We overlap, then knife cut and remove the scrap,” Huber said. “We rake the seams together then roll them with a Brouwer TR130 sod roller.”

If irrigation is in place, Starlight will begin irrigation upon project completion, followed by the landscaper assuming responsibility for continued irrigation. If no irrigation is in place, the landscaper is responsible for initial and follow-up watering after the sod is installed. Starlight has four full-time employees and uses a number of part-time, experienced sod installers as needed.

Seams on new sod installation are rolled with a Brouwer sod roller.

Big roll sod

Although big roll sod represents only about 5 to 10 percent of the sod industry, Huber said that landscapers can benefit in a number of ways by contracting with an experienced sod installer. While quality installation is first and foremost for reputable landscapers, obtaining experienced sod installers isn’t always easy.

“At least 50 percent of sod farms offer big roll sod,” Huber said. Some sod growers see an increase in big roll sod in the future with a move toward machine-installed sod. The sod industry is cyclical depending on the economy, and often, on the weather. Sod sales are down substantially from just a year ago, a downward slide that began in 2007.

Starlight installs sod on jobs ranging from large athletic fields or municipal settings to compact, home lawns. The company recently completed work on three baseball fields in Hammond, Ind., installing nearly 12,000 square yards of sod, and a practice football field at Highland High School, Highland, Ind.

North Moore Country Club, Highland Park, Ill., recently redefined the roughs bordering a fairway. “The creeping bentgrass had invaded the bluegrass to where it was almost impossible to tell where the fairway ended and rough began,” Huber said. Starlight harvested a 7-foot border of existing bluegrass sod, which the golf course staff removed, and reinstalled 7 feet of bluegrass sod bordering the fairway

Tom Huber installs sod with a Woerner sod installer.

A home lawn in St. John, Ind., represented one of the small projects that necessitated installing thicker sod. “We installed about 1,200 yards on the lawn,” Huber said, and about 400 yards of that was 1.5 inches thick because the owners had a lawn party scheduled and needed to walk on the sod right away. We installed the sod on a Friday, watered it and it was ready to walk on for the Saturday party.”

Starlight uses four Woerner sod installers, and Huber cited the benefits of the machines. “The machine is great because of its ease of operation,” Huber said. “It offers good visibility because the operator is standing up and can see better. It has a three-cycle Kubota engine that gives power when needed. It’s a track machine that evenly disperses the weight.”

“We can secure equipment to harvest off sod that is in place,” Huber said. “We can harvest it and set it off to one side giving us bare ground to install the sod. We recently installed sod on a football field with existing sod in one day.” Starlight rents a Magnum turf harvester for projects that require sod to be removed before new sod is installed. Huber noted that the equipment can easily be transported with a regular pickup and 26-foot trailer.

While the majority of Starlight’s installations are in the Chicagoland area of Illinois and northwestern Indiana, Starlight has installed sod in several more distant locations. “We have done work in Wisconsin, West Virginia and in several Midwestern locations. We’ll install throughout the entire Midwest,” Huber said.

Nancy Riggs is a freelance writer and has been covering the green industry for Turf for almost 20 years. She resides in Mt. Zion, Ill.