A lush green lawn is many homeowners’ dreams. Sadly, this dream can be difficult to achieve. The grass growing outside our homes can be moss or weed ridden. It may be uneven or threadbare. Sometimes it may only grow in patches. Fixing this issue can be difficult. Often your choice is between seeding a new lawn or learning how to lay sod.
Seeding a lawn is incredibly time consuming. After preparing the base you need to wait for the seeds to germinate. During this period, which can take weeks, you can’t stand on the soil. You also need to protect the soil from birds and animals.
Seeded lawns may grow patchily, requiring more work later on. They also require more watering while they are establishing themselves. In cooler areas seeds may be overtaken by weeds in the spring.
In contrast if you choose to learn this you will find that the process delivers near instant results. A more expensive option, unlike seeded lawns, gardeners in milder USDA zones can lay new sod at any point during the year. In cooler climates you can lay turf from spring until fall.
Laying sod correctly will take some time and effort. In return you will be able to create a dense, established, pest free lawn within a couple of weeks.
Sod by slgckgc / CC BY 2.0 A lush green lawn can be the pride of your garden. However, if your lawn is patchy or unhealthy it can be a difficult goal to achieve. One of the most effective ways to achieve a lush lawn is laying sod correctly.
What You Need
The most important ingredient in laying sod is turf. This can be purchased from a turf farm or a garden center. The turf is usually a mixture of two or three different grasses. These are selected and blended depending on their texture, durability and color.
Different types of grass are suited to different areas, soil bases and USDA zones. You will need to select a type that is suited to your growing conditions. You may also need a certain grass or mixture if your garden is in partial or full shade. Discuss this with your turf supplier. They are best placed to recommend a variety or combination to suit you and the local growing conditions.
Before ordering, measure your yard. This enables you to work out how much turf you need. Sod is usually sold in square or rectangle shaped blocks. These are usually 1ft wide and 18 inches long. Rolls of turf are usually 60 inches long. However you should always check the measurements with your supplier before ordering. Remember to add a further 5% to the total. This gives you some extra turf if you need to cut around corners or fill tricky angles.
The turf should be delivered within 24 hours of being cut. It should then be laid that day.
Ideally this process will take two weekends. One weekend to prepare your soil and a second weekend to lay the sod.
You will also need:
- A sod cutter, this can be rented from a rental yard
- A rototiller, again this can be rented from a rental yard
- A sod-cutting knife, ideally with a 2 inch blade
- A rake
Depending on the pH of your soil you may also need soil amendments such as fertilizer.
Finally, you may also need someone to help you. While you can do this alone, it is easier with another set of helping hands.
Sod Grass, Harmony Brand by Mike Mozart / CC BY 2.0 Turf is often cut at night for an early morning delivery. Aim to lay the turf as quickly as possible after taking delivery. This helps to prevent it from drying out and dying. Discussing your soil and growing conditions with your supplier will help you to identify the best turf for your garden.
Preparing Your Base
The first step when laying sod is to prepare the soil. Turf likes to sit on a nutrient rich, well-aerated base. A soil pH between 6 and 7.5 is ideal. A soil testing kit will help you to reliably analyse your soil. You can then amend the soil before laying sod.
If your garden already has turf down this needs to be removed. Some people like to cut the old turf as low as possible and lay fresh sod on top. However for a better finish I would recommend removing the old turf completely. This can be done with an application of a glyphosate chemical control such as Round Up. Spray the chemical onto the existing lawn will kill the grass. The dead grass can then be removed.
A more natural way of killing the grass is solarisation. This method is also useful for clearing areas of weeds.
Alternatively a tiller or a bedscaper can be used. This tills existing grass into the soil. A combination of chemical applications and tilling the dead grass will effectively clear your soil.
The final approach is to dig out the old lawn with a shovel. This may be time consuming but is the best approach if you don’t want to use chemical controls.
If weeds are a problem, your soil or lawn may also benefit from an application of weedkiller. Homemade weed killers are just as effective as commercial products. The added benefit of homemade controls is that you know exactly what you are putting in your garden.
Once removed, run the rototiller over the soil. Aim to loosen the top 6-8 inches of the soil.
Spread a 2 inch layer of homemade compost over the loose soil. If your soil is heavy or clay-like, apply a 2-3 inch thick layer of sand. This will improve drainage, preventing your lawn from becoming boggy or waterlogged. Till in any amendments and fertilizer that your lawn requires.
The amount of fertilizer you need to apply depends on the product you are using and the size of your lawn. Take the time to properly work out the amount before applying.
Once everything is applied, rake the soil. AIm to get it as level as possible. If the soil is next to a paved surface such as a path or drive the soil should sit 1 inch below the paved level.
Lightly water the soil. You are aiming to dampen not soak the surface.
Sod Laying by Sage Ross / CC BY-SA 2.0 One of the most important stages in laying sod is to properly prepare your base. As well as being enriched and weed free it should also be as level as possible. Rake mounds of soil down until they are flat.
How to Lay Sod
Begin by identifying your garden’s longest straight edge. This may be a line alongside a driveway, raised bed or a boundary fence.
Unroll the first roll of sod along the straight line. Don’t stand on the sod whilst installing it. If you do stand on it, rake out any indents you accidentally make.
Smooth loose areas down, patting away wrinkles and creases. When laid there should be no air pockets beneath the turf.
Take the time to get the edging as neat as possible. A little extra time spent now will help your lawn to look great later on.
Cut the next roll of turf in half. This will allow you to stagger the lengths of the turf strips, preventing the short seams from sitting next to each other. Staggering the edges makes dieback less likely. The effect is similar to the one achieved in bricklaying.
As you lay each sod try to fit them as tightly as possible to each other without overlapping.
Use the sharp knife to neatly trim the turf as you reach edges, such as paths. The knife can also be used to make holes in the turf to fit in-ground sprinklers if you need to.
Continue laying the turf until your soil is covered.
If you are working on a particularly hot day use a sprinkler to water one section while you lay the next. Turf is perishable and can quickly dry out. Using a sprinkler will help to keep the lawn hydrated.
Fill in Any Gaps
Once you get your lawn completely covered with sod, check for gaps in any oddly-shaped or curved areas. Also, check by any hard-to-reach areas like around your pond. Use scraps from your previously cut sod or pieces from the leftover sod to fill them in by:
- Get grass shears or a utility knife and cut the sod into smaller pieces. Patch these pieces over any gaps you see. You’ll have to cut openings for any irrigation system or obstructions you have sticking up out of the ground.
- To trim the sod, fold any excess up. Run your knife right where you want to cut, and remember to cut from the underside up the sod up to the grass side to get an even finish.
- Get small sod roles and lay them along the perimeter of your walkways, driveways, or flower beds. Fill any small seams with topsoil and continue patting to get rid of any air pockets.
Press Down Your Sod
Ensuring that your sod is evenly pressed right into the earth is very important. Doing so will help lock in moisture so it can quickly put down roots to adhere it in place better. To press down your sod, you should do the following:
- If you have a large lawn, get a roller to smooth out the new sod once you get everything laid and the gaps filled in. This will ensure that the sod’s roots can take hold in the soil. This will also press out any remaining air pockets you missed previously.
- To use it, roll one way across your lawn before going back and rolling it perpendicular.
- Continue rolling the sod, and make sure you cross horizontal paths with vertical ones to create a grid pattern.
- If you don’t have a sod roller and you don’t want to rent or buy one, you can get the same results by getting a large piece of plywood and press down the sod. Walk over it carefully to embed the sod into the soil.
Tip: If it rains heavily during or after you install your sod, don’t use a roller on it. The rain will soften the ground to make it easier to accept the sod. Rolling it in soft ground could cause it to shift due to the mud, and this could undo all of your work.
Sod by UGA CAES/Extension / CC BY-NC 2.0 Pressing your sod down will help to give you a smooth and even appearance while getting the root system close to the soil.
Correctly caring for freshly laid turf is just as important as laying sod properly. The most important thing is to thoroughly water the finished turf. For the first week water around an hour at least once a day. The morning is the best time, this allows the turf to remain hydrated during the day. On warmer days water a little bit more, moisture is lost more quickly in hot weather. Watering a little extra will enable the lawn to stay well hydrated.
Bedding in a new lawn requires a lot of water. Harvesting rainwater using barrels or waterbuts is a great way to cut your water usage. The water gathered in the barrel can then be used to keep your plants and lawn well hydrated during dry spells.
Don’t walk on the turf for at least a week.
After the first week you can reduce watering to every other day. Slowly reduce watering, by the end of the third week you will be watering just twice a week. Continue to gradually reduce until you are watering just once a week. Lawns require about an inch of water a week, especially during hot dry periods.
After about 4 weeks of steady growth apply a starter fertilizer. This replaces any nutrients washed away during the heavy watering.
A soil probe can be used to monitor soil moisture levels. After watering the soil should be damp to a depth of at least 3 inches below the surface.
Shady areas are more susceptible to disease than lawns that grow in full sun. This is because shady areas retain moisture for longer. To prevent disease, water particularly shady areas less frequently. Shady areas also require around 25% less fertilizer.
Mow the grass when it reaches 3 inches in height. Cut it down by about an inch. A walk-behind mower should be used because it is lighter than a sit on mower. Heavy mowers can damage fragile lawns. Remember to collect the clippings as you mow, these can be placed on a compost heap.
During the summer months allow the grass to grow a little higher. This will encourage the turf to develop a deep root system. Tall grass will also shade out weeds, helping to maintain your lawn’s healthy appearance. Should weeds appear, a weed eater or an application of homemade weed killer will cure the problem.
Sod by UGA CAES/Extension / CC BY-NC 2.0 Laying new sod is a labor intensive and possibly expensive process. However when laying the new sod is done correctly your efforts will be rewarded with a lush green lawn that you can enjoy throughout the year.
Popular Types of Sod
There are several popular types of sod available for you to install, but some types of sod work better in different planting zones. The goal is to match your sod to your area to get the best results, and the most popular types include:
This is a warm-season perennial turfgrass. It’ll come back every spring after you plant it as the winter dormancy goes away. It offers a very high curb appeal, and it is extremely hardy. This grass will survive drought and heat without an issue, and it can stand up to heavy traffic with high injury recovery times. However, you have to note that this type of grass only does well in the United States in the southern two-thirds of the country because it won’t tolerate cold temperatures well.
You can find bermudagrass planted in home lawns, but it’s also popular in golf courses or on sports fields. You’ll get a much finer blade with it that requires slightly more maintenance than other types. The roots on this grass will typically go down around six-inches in the soil, but it can get down to six feet at times. In turn, you’ll get a very resilient type of grass that can withstand a host of environmental factors like drought, weeds, and other stressors. You’ll also get the fastest growth rate of any type of warm season turfgrass with it.
This is another very common warm-season turfgrass that you’ll find all over in the United States in the south. It has a very high heat tolerance to it, low nutrient requirements, and low maintenance requirements to make it a nice choice for busy homeowners. The grass is a perfect pick for homeowners in the southern United States who want as little upkeep and maintenance as possible.
For the best results, lay this sod in sandy soils that have a higher pH rating of 4.5 to 6.0. You’ll want to do a soil test to get the correct pH reading so you can determine whether or not the grass will survive in your space. However, you should know that this particular grass is very sensitive to iron deficiencies, and this can cause the grass blades to turn an unflattering yellow color. You may find yourself applying iron supplements fairly routinely if you use it.
Kentucky Bluegrass is a cool-season turfgrass that does very well when you lay it in the United States in the northern portions. When you care for this grass correctly, you’ll get a very rich, emerald color with a blue-green tint to it. It can also form a lush, dense lawn with a medium-fine texture. However, this is a higher maintenance type of sod, and you have to put a lot of resources and time into it to keep it healthy. It does have great winter hardiness to it, but it also has shallow roots. As a result, it’s prone to drought, heat, and other types of stress damage.
When you establish this from seed, it tends to germinate far more slowly than other cool-season grass types. One of the biggest advantages of this grass is that it offers an excellent ability to spread because it has horizontally-running rhizomes. It will also heal itself when it gets damaged, and it offers a very high resistance to disease. It’s tolerant to the normal wear and tear, so it can look nice even with heavy traffic.
Just like any other warm-season turfgrass, this one is a perennial grass that will come back in the spring after it goes dormant in the winter. It’s very common in the southern two-thirds of the country, and you’ll find it a lot in Hawaii, Florida, and along the Gulf Coast. This sod comes with a much thicker leaf blade than other types, and you’ll get a very coarse texture to it. The greenish-blue coloring can really boost the curb appeal though.
This sod will do very well in a large range of soil types as long as they drain properly. It likes full, bright sunshine, and it does best in humid, tropical climates if you have it in a shady area in your yard. It also does well in salty climates, and this is why it’s so popular along the coast. You’ll get a very lush, thick carpet when it establishes itself that can withstand a large amount of foot traffic without damage.
You’ll get a cool season turfgrass variety with this option, and it does exceptionally well when you put it down in the northern portions of the United States. It has excellent resistance to normal wear and tear, and the injury recovery period is very good. It can easily withstand drought and heat without damage, and it does well if you put it in a shaded area. It’ll continue to grow and thrive with minimal maintenance on your part.
This sod does have a bunch-like growth pattern to it, and it has a tendency to clump. If it does, you may have to re-seed it once a year in the spring in any areas that have a thinner growth pattern to them. This will happen particularly after a stressful summer period. It can also outcompete weeds to give it a nice look, and it’s resistant to disease and insects.
Tips and Tricks for Caring for New Sod
When you first put down your new sod, you want to take advantage of any tricks and tips you can to care for it. Doing so will increase your chances of it growing lush, full, and healthy.
Tip One – Don’t Overwater Before You Install Your Sod
During the few days before you install your sod, you may be tempted to overwater the lawn in preparation for the installation process. However, this can actually hamper your installation because muddy grounds are very difficult to work with. It can lead to an inadequate job. Ideally, you’ll want to practice keeping your ground moist, but don’t soak it. You should be able to give your lawn enough moisture by watering it three times a day for 10 to 15 minutes each time at a maximum.
Tip Two – Be Prepared to Use a Lawn Roller
Using a lawn roller on your new sod can help it take root for strong growth. Shorter after you finish the installation process, get a lawn roller and level the newly installed sod. This will ensure that every strip gets firmly pushed as close to the soil as it possibly can be, and this will also allow any moisture to travel underneath your sod. In turn, it’ll minimize the amount of space you have between the earth and the new roots so they can take hold quicker.
Tip Three – Wait to Mow the Lawn
You should wait a minimum of five weeks to mow your lawn after you install your sod. Doing so will help you avoid cutting the sod far too close to the root system. Also, you’ll want to cut back on how much you water during this time, especially in the days right before you mow. Keep the yard moist but not soaked to encourage strong root growth.
How to Lay Sod – Frequently Asked Questions
Sod by Dystopos / CC BY-NC 2.0 Laying sod can be a big project to take on, so it’s normal to have several questions about the process. We rounded up the most frequently asked one below for you.
1. How much do you want to water your new sod when you install it?
Consistency is key when it comes to watering your sod and ensuring that it is able to produce a strong root system. If you apply your sod during the summer months, you should water it a few times throughout the day to prevent it from drying and shrinking. You want to water your lawn enough to ensure that it has moisture around the clock for the first two weeks after you install it. You should also continue this watering schedule for an additional two weeks to prevent anything from drying out, and then you can cut back.
2. How long should you water your sod once you install it?
At a minimum, you should water your new sod for 45 minutes right after you finish installing it to allow the soil and the lawn to collect moisture. This will help with the rooting process. In the first few weeks immediately after the installation process, you want to water for 15 to 20 minutes at a minimum twice a day.
3. How long does new sod take to root?
The sod should root around two weeks after you put it down. This is also the same time you could consider mowing your new lawn with the mower set to a higher setting. Doing this will help you avoid cutting the sod too close to the root and damaging it. You shouldn’t run or walk on your new sod because it can stop the fragile roots from developing correctly. If you have pets, try to keep them off the sod as much as you can.
4. What is the best time of day to water?
Watering your lawn late in the evening or early in the morning is ideal if your schedule allows for it. Watering during the afternoon when it’s the hottest part of the day can make the water evaporate instead of allowing the sod to absorb it. If the soil lacks moisture, it can prevent it from retaining valuable nutrients the lawn needs. If your budget allows it, try to get a timed sprinkler controller that will distribute the correct amount of water at set times.
5. Should you apply fertilizer to new sod?
Yes, any new lawn will do very well with an application of fertilizer. This fertilizer works well to help maintain and create a sustainable root system that can keep your sod healthy and lush. Liquid fertilizers work the best out of all of your options because they can slip past the surface of the sod and make it to the soil to condition it for better growth.
While this is an initially expensive option, learning how to lay sod will allow you to quickly achieve the lawn of your dreams.
Elizabeth learnt to love gardening as a child in her grandparents backyard. Today, she is a trained horticulturist and has maintained a productive allotment for over 10 years. When not growing her own, Elizabeth enjoys helping other people with the plant problems. An experienced writer and editor, away from gardening Elizabeth is also a keen bird watcher, local historian and genealogist, meaning that she can often be found with her dogs exploring an overgrown graveyard.