Big shift results in even greater rewards
Last fall, Sean Fong of Hawaiian Turfgrass decided to try something different at his 67-acre Mililani farm.
Since launching his company in 2008, Fong had been growing sod on sheets of plastic, like other turfgrass farms on the island.
“All the local growers are used to plastic-grown sod,” he says. “It’s how most of us were taught.”
But Fong had observed that this method might not be ideal.
“Growing on plastic can be like growing in a frying pan,” he comments. “If grass doesn’t get enough water, everything can fry and die.”
Growing on plastic wasn’t terribly eco-friendly, either.
“There’s so much waste and rubbish,” Fong says. “On the mainland, turfgrass farmers are all growing in-ground.”
So in October 2021, Fong made the decision to try planting a field of sod directly in the ground.
“I noticed a beneficial outcome: the grass greened up faster, and there weren’t any dry spots. We could use less water and get the same product — maybe even a better one.”
The experiment was so successful that Hawaiian Turfgrass began migrating from planting on plastic to growing its residential grass varieties in native soil. The company invested in a new sod harvester, a machine that can cut long rolls or short slabs of turfgrass. The machine separates each slab from the soil, but its roots are still healthy and intact.
Soil-grown turfgrass uses less water and fertilizer because there’s less runoff.
“As an additional benefit, standard pieces grown on plastic are 2 feet by 4 feet, but our slabs are just 16 inches by 24 inches, making them easier to install with less stress on the back,” Fong says.
Long one of Hawaiian Turfgrass’ most popular varieties, lovely El Toro Zoysia has been thriving under the new conditions. Long the prevailing favorite for Honolulu home lawns, this medium-blade grass is drought-tolerant and grows in thick. It thrives in full sun, tolerates light shade, and has minimal insect and disease problems.
The shift from planting on plastic to planting in native soil has paid off for Hawaiian Turfgrass. Fong has already ordered more harvesters, which will enable his crew to use dedicated machines on different varieties. He says his company is working toward more economically sustainable practices, leading to a more environmentally friendly operation.
“Finding ways to reduce the use of plastic seems increasingly urgent, as so much of it ends up in landfills or in the ocean,” Fong concludes. “We now grow a stronger, healthier plant with deeper roots. There’s much less waste; it’s a high-quality product; and we aren’t contributing to global warming.”
There’s still time to take advantage of the hot summer discount on El Toro Zoysia from Hawaiian Turfgrass, but hurry — this sale will end on Sept. 30. Call 808-371-0527 to schedule delivery and installation of at least 100 square feet of El Toro Zoysia, and receive a discount of $1/square feet on your order. If you prefer to handle your own installation, you can still get this sizzling discount! Visit hawaiianturfgrass.com to place your order and arrange for pickup or curbside delivery. Use discount code SUMMER22; minimum purchase 100 square feet.
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ADDRESS 94-840 Lanikuhana Ave., Mililani