A lush, green yard is a beautiful addition to your home. All things equal, improving your yard and curb appeal can cause your property value to jump more than any other home DIY project. It makes your home more appealing and shows that you care about maintaining your property. While it’s possible to make huge strides and improve your lawn over a few years, those seeking a quick fix and instant gratification may decide to lay sod. In this article I’ll tell you how to lay sod the right way, offering tips and tricks to make sure your new lawn doesn’t have ugly seams (or worse – die) after you install it.
What is Sod?
Sod is pre-grown farmed grass that has been grown under peak conditions for 14-18 months.
It’s removed using a lawn cutter and includes a layer of soil that stores the roots. Installing sod is a matter of laying it onto your new lawn like a rug.
What’s the Best Time to Install Sod?
Your sod installation time should be determined by where you live, and what type of grass you’re purchasing.
It’s best to install sod in the spring or in early fall in cooler areas.
In warmer climates you can install sod at any point year-round.
In short – most northern climate lawns will have cool season grasses, and you don’t want to plant those in summer.
Who Should Lay Sod Instead of Growing Grass from Seed?
Laying out sod may be perfect for you, especially if you’re looking for a quick turnaround period for your lawn.
I recommend sod for homeowners who:
- Are going to sell their home and want to quickly boost curb appeal to improve their selling price.
- Are short on time and won’t have the patience to give grass seed the daily attention it needs to thrive.
- Have tons of money and like pretty things.
A lot of people will say that sod is too expensive. But you’re not buying grass – you’re buying time.
You’re saying that the time I’ll save by going with sod, is worth the money.
Because sod grass has been maintained professionally for over a year, you’re ensured to get a quality lawn quickly.
Take a look at this before and after photo of a sod installation:
When using grass seed to grow a lawn, it can take months or up to a year to grow out your lawn to the point that you’re proud of it.
And you’ll have to battle weeds that thrive in the conditions that grass seed needs to grow as well.
Sod is immediately weed proof and takes only about 2 weeks for the roots to set in your yard.
Getting Your Soil Ready to Lay Sod
When installed properly, sod can last an incredibly long time.
The most common reason why sod backfires is that the soil doesn’t meet the proper conditions for your sod’s roots to set in the first place.
If the roots can’t take hold, then laying sod on your property is a waste of effort, and worse, a waste of money.
Why You Shouldn’t Lay Sod Right Over Your Lawn
Sod can’t be placed over existing growth, like plants or weeds, so clearing out any vegetation is a must.
The most effective way to do this is to use a sod cutter, which can be rented for about $70 per day depending on your area.
This is a machine that slices grass below the roots for easy removal. You run it over your lawn slowly, and remove the old weedy turf in a wheel barrow to make room for your new sod.
Here’s a video from the Home Depot about using a sod cutter after you rent it:
This is the quickest, most efficient method, but if you want to save some money there are a few other options.
The first is you can spray herbicide over your lawn and let it sit, killing any existing grass. You’ll need time for that herbicide to run its course before laying your sod, so it’s time consuming.
It’s also bad for the environment, so I don’t recommend this approach.
What to Do After You Remove Your Old Grass
Once all existing grasses are removed, it’s incredibly important to conduct a soil test.
Testing Your Soil
A do-it-yourself soil testing tool can be bought at any local garden center, and it will give you a reading on your soil’s pH levels and levels of crucial nutrients, like nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous.
However, the most accurate results can be from a county or state lab, usually offered by a county extension service or university. I’ve used this test kit from Amazon that you mail to a lab numerous times and I find it reliable and a great investment.
What you may not realize is that a better test isn’t particularly expensive, and it will give you far more accurate results.
This allows you to buy specific fertilizers or treatments to make sure your new sod lawn has the best chance to thrive.
Soil testing is best done in either the spring or fall.
I recommend that you take small samples from at least 5 places in your yard, 6-inches deep and at least 2-inches wide, mixing them together to get a good view of your entire lawn’s needs.
Remove any grass or thatch, then mix them together in a Ziploc bag to send it in to the lab.
Treating Your Soil Before Laying Sod
Once your grass is removed, it’s time to treat the soil.
You’ll need to till the soil so that it’s loose. This gives new roots the best chances to grow in strong. You can rent a tiller from your local stores for quick use, though a manual tiller or rake can be used instead.
Once tilled initially, lay compost over your yard to improve soil quality. This can be acquired from a community compost center, or you can make it yourself using a backyard bin. If your soil is particularly dense and clay-heavy, mixing sand into your soil will help make it loose and airy. Once those are laid on the soil, till it again to make sure it’s well mixed.
After that, and prior to laying sod, you’ll want to spread fertilizer and any suggested additives to your soil to help the sod take root. You want to pick a starter fertilizer that is high in nitrogen with some phosphorous to help your new lawn develop a strong root system and green very quickly. Depending on your soil tests, it may be beneficial to spread lime over your soil to cut down on its acidity.
Where to Buy Sod?
Sod can be purchased from any garden center or directly from a sod farm. In fact I have a complete guide to buying sod, with tips for saving money which you might be interested in.
But the short version is that it’s important to choose sod with grass types that match your yard’s conditions, and to buy fresh sod.
Generally, sod is a mixture of two to three turf grasses. If your yard is in shade, make sure you’re getting a sod that thrives in either partial or full shade.
It’s also possible to request certain grass types that match your soil or yard, such as if your yard is high moisture or more dry.
Certain grass types are heartier than others, so take into account also if your yard will need to withstand your children playing on it, or if it won’t be walked or stepped on regularly.
Buying the Correct Amount of Sod
Making sure you get the proper amount of sod is also very important.
If you get too little, your yard will have bare spots, but getting too much will waste precious dollars.
Measure out your yard and calculate its square footage by multiplying its length by its width.
If your yard has an unusual shape or a lot of curves, it may be beneficial to use an online lawn area calculator. These will make adjustments depending on the shape of your yard to make sure you get the most accurate amount. Many use satellite imagery.
Once you have your measurements, adjust for some overage to fill in any gaps. The general rule of thumb is to order 5-percent over the amount of sod you calculate that you’ll need.
For instance, if you are trying to cover a 1,000-square-foot area of your lawn, you should order 1,050-square-feet of sod.
What to Expect for Sod Delivery Time
It should take within a day for the sod you ordered to be delivered.
Distributors will often cut the sod overnight to keep it freshest or store it in a barn overnight to stay cool.
Once it’s delivered, the sod must be installed immediately. Because it’s a living organism, sod will dry out and your grass will die if not installed within a day.
Typically, two people can install up to 1,000-feet of sod per day.
Plan ahead, and invite some friends (pizza and beer are great payment) if you need some extra hands.
Make sure your yard is prepared to lay out the sod before it arrives, and that weather will permit you to lay down your sod in full.
Correct preparation makes laying sod an easy DIY project.
Tools for Laying Sod
Aside from renting a sod cutter or tiller to remove your existing lawn, you’ll need to make sure you have the necessary tools and equipment to make sure you get the job done right.
It’s good to have:
- A sod-knife with at least a 2-inch blade (this is the one I use),
- A fertilizer spreader and an iron rake,
- The necessary compost, fertilizer, and the other additives your soil test called for.
It’s also helpful to have a wheel-barrow for carrying the sod from the pallet to the site, but if you carry the sod one roll at a time it’s not necessary.
How to Lay Sod in Your Lawn
So your sod has arrived and you can’t wait to get it rolled out and to proudly display it to your neighbors.
Hold on just a sec.
Prior to laying out your first row, make sure your soil is level.
Using a rake, take down any high spots in your yard and fill them into low spots. Also make sure your yard is about 1-inch below any paved surface, like a walkway or driveway.
During this initial phase, I recommend that you water the ground lightly. The moist soil will help the sod adhere to the soil, and it will also act as an indicator for how level your lawn really is.
Water will pool in low areas, which will indicate where you need to level out the soil.
Placing Your First Row of Sod
Your first row of sod should be laid out on your longest, straight edge of lawn.
In most yards, this is usually on a fence line, driveway, road, or garden bed.
Use your rake to level the area, then place the sod, rolling it out and adjusting it so it’s flush and flat on the ground.
Don’t step on it while it’s being installed and rake out any footprints as you go. Pat down the sheet to smooth out any loose areas and remove any air pockets. Place the next sheet so it’s flat and touching, but not overlapping, the previous sheet of sod. Using your hands, press down on the seams so that you can no longer tell where one sheet ended and the other began.
How to Lay The Next Sod Rows
It’s important to stagger your sheets of sod, row by row, similar to how you would lay brick.
After your first row is placed, cut the next piece of sod in half and place it adjacent to the first sheet of sod you placed in the first row.
Hold on to the half-sheet to use a little later.
Lay out the next rows accordingly, consistently raking any footprints away and pressing the sheets to hide the seams.
This clip from This Old House does a really nice job showing the process of laying the sod in a running bond pattern with staggered seams:
This gets tricky when laying sod around curves in your yard.
If you have a rectangular yard, you won’t need to worry about this, but knowing how to set sod on curves is essential.
How to Cut Sod Around Curved Obstacles & Obstructions
A rookie mistake when you have to lay sod around a fence or lamp post or other curved obstacle is to “guesstimate” the shape.
It’s a bad idea to do a cutout in your sod sheet, and then to pack in little pieces of sod for a tight fit.
There are a few reasons why this isn’t the best approach, but the biggest is this:
Small pieces of sod dry out faster than large pieces, even if their depth is the same as a standard piece of sod. Those small pieces of sod you’re using to fill gaps around a curved object will turn yellow and be dead within a week.
The way I recommend you adapt to curves and obstacles is to cut darts into full-size pieces and bend the grass to meet it.
This is a similar technique used by tailors taking in a suit jacket.
To do this, lay out the sod adjacent to the curve and pinch spots along the edge together until it matches the curve’s contours. This raises a triangular upward fold, which you can then cut. Cut on one side at the ground level, then lay the flap flat. Make another cut so that the sod fits snug against the curve and remove the excess piece.
What’s Next After All Your Sod is in Place?
Once you have laid out all of your sod and cut it to fit where you need to, stand back and check your new lawn for gaps or unevenness in difficult to reach or oddly shaped areas.
If there are obvious gaps, and you have full pieces of sod left over, try to tidy them up by more precise cuts or positioning.
If all you have left is scraps, do your best to patch in, and be aware those areas of your lawn will require extra water until the roots are established.
One trick if you are trying to fill gaps with small pieces of sod is to add a little extra starter fertilizer to the soil there. This will help stimulate root growth (again, I use and recommend Bio-Tone from Espoma for this).
If you have irrigation inserts, such as sprinkler heads, make sure to cut them out as well.
Try to marry all of the seams of your sod as well as you can so you don’t have a ptach-work, unprofessional look when finished.
Fill in small seams with some loose topsoil so that the grass will grow in to fill them in the coming weeks.
If the sod looks or feels loose, take a moment to firmly press the sod down to help it adhere to your lawn and remove any air pockets (watering your soil lightly before laying the sod helps).
Do I Need to Use a Lawn Roller on My New Sod?
If your lawn is large enough, you could consider renting a lawn roller to smooth it out. Some professionals use and recommend this tool.
For your DIY sod laying job, you can rent a lawn roller from a local garden center.
Using a lawn roller does help get full and uniform contact between sod and soil, but it isn’t necessary, so skip this step if you’re so inclined.
Watering Your Lawn After Laying Sod
New sod needs to be watered immediately, within about half-an-hour of when you finish laying it on your property.
This helps the roots take hold and ensures your new lawn will thrive.
How Often to Water New Sod
Water your lawn heavily for the first week, slightly less for the second week, and then once or twice per week thereafter as you normally would.
The best time to water new sod is in the mornings. During the first week, give your new sod a lot of water so it doesn’t dry out. This is a critical time for your new sod.
After the first week, you can either water heavily every other day or give your sod lower volumes of water on a daily basis. Your season and climate will be the deciding factor, since you’ll have to decide to water more or less based on how hot and dry it is.
When to Water New Sod
Morning is the best time to water new grass or new sod.
If you water during the hottest part of the day, a lot of water will evaporate before your lawn can absorb it.
Watering too late in the afternoon or evening will leave the grass damp during the night, which can result in fungal diseases.
How to Water Your Sod Lawn
For regular maintenance, water your lawn heavily, but infrequently, making sure your soil is damp down to 6-inches.
During the cooler seasons, you can water once per week (if it doesn’t rain), and water twice per week during the hot, dry summer.
If you live in a rainy area, I recommend that you use a rain gauge or weather app to track rainfall. I picked up this rain gauge from Amazon for under $5 and it works great.
Water your new sod lawn based on rainfall. For instance, if you have heavy rains one week, you can skip watering. If it’s dry one week, water additional times.
Common sense, right?
I like to put the rain gauge right in the lawn and leave it there while I’m watering – this way if it does rain I get an accurate reading of how much water my lawn is getting in total.
Adjust the amount of water you apply if parts of your lawn are in the shade. Shaded lawns require less water because the moisture will evaporate less quickly.
I generally use a little less lawn fertilizer there as well, but that’s a topic for another article.
Continuing to test your soil is beneficial. After watering, you want your soil to be damp to about 3 to 4 inches. When initially watering, you want the soil to be damp down to 6-inches.
You don’t need a special tool to test the watering depth – a large screwdriver works well, and it’s what I use in my lawn.
When to Mow New Sod
It’s important to let your grass grow to about 3-inches tall before you mow it for the first time.
This is true for any new lawn – whether you’re installing sod or growing grass from seed.
After you lay sod down, it will take about 2 to 3 weeks for it to set and grow to this height.
Bear in mind, your new lawn is still fragile, so use a walk behind mower, and make turns gingerly the first time you mow your lawn after laying sod.
A riding mower is heavy and puts more strain on your lawn. A tight turn could rip your sod’s tender new roots and cause the sod to shift out of position.
Let it Grow a Little Long Before the First Mow
During the warmer, summer months, I always recommend that you let your grass grow longer to encourage a deep root system and crowd out any weeds.
I have the same recommendation for a new sod lawn.
It’s better to let it grow a little longer and mow it super high than it is to mow too early.
However, don’t let it grow too tall before cutting. And when you do mow your new lawn, you want to avoid cutting more than one-third the length of the grass, so set your mower deck to leave at least 2/3 the length of the grass blades regardless of the height of your new grass.
When to Fertilize Your A New Sod Lawn
If you follow my recommendation of amending the soil with some starter fertilizer before laying sod, I recommend that you follow up after about 3 to 4 weeks and broadcast starter fertilizer on your sod.
You can use more Bio-Tone if you have a small section of lawn, but for a larger sod lawn, you may want to choose a quick-release synthetic lawn fertilizer.
When I’m over-seeding or starting a new lawn from sod or seed in the fall, I use the Scott’s starter fertilizer (Amazon link).
Generally I try to stay organic on my lawn, but the quick-release synthetic fertilizers really give your new lawn what it needs to thrive, and I highly recommend the Scott’s starter fertilizer products. It’s the one time I use synthetic fertilizer. It works really well.
After the application of your starter fertilizer, go back to organic in subsequent applications.
Natural, slow-release organic fertilizers work very well for this because they support healthy root systems and good soil quality.
What’s in Starter Fertilizers that Make Them Work Well for New Sod Lawns?
Starter fertilizers have some phosphorous in them to help quickly develop a strong root system.
A successful sod installation relies on the existing root system of your grass growing quickly. You need this root system to develop and work itself deep into your soil. The phosphorous in starter fertilizer is key to having success when laying sod.
It is important to note, that depending on your area, phosphorous may be regulated. Some areas restrict use for environmental reasons.
If you are not allowed to apply a high-phosphorous starter fertilizer to your lawn, choose a more sustainable fertilizer with less phosphorous. A fertilizer with a high amount of nitrogen and moderate amount of potassium will work well.
This will make your grass strong, and the nitrogen will help it green very quickly. The longer grass blades will help the grass naturally develop a deeper root system, so let your new lawn grow long and mow it high to aid in root development.
Preventing Insect Damage in Your New Sod Lawn
Sod is particularly vulnerable to insect infestations. The lush, new grass attracts many insects that feast on roots.
Regulations also do not permit sod growers to use strong insecticides, so growers can only control populations instead of eradicating them altogether.
It’s important to be aware of this, as one of the challenges some homeowners face after they lay sod will be in preventing insects.
After laying your sod, it’s important to keep a close watch for insect damage.
One natural (and effective) method to ensure your new turf does not succumb to insect pressure is to take the proactive step of applying beneficial nematodes in your yard.
Beneficial nematodes are basically worms that seek out and destroy the larvae of lawn grubs and a variety of other pests that can damage turf and kill grass.
They will naturally prevent harmful insect infestations while still supporting healthy populations of beneficial insects. Plus they aerate and fertilize the soil of your lawn for you!
I order them from Amazon because it’s easy. I add some to my garden every spring to help control pests.
If an infestation worsens, you can apply more beneficial nematodes to problem areas, or use insecticide (last resort) or Diatomaceous earth, which is my recommended fix for ant infestations in your lawn.
Now You Know How to Lay Sod
Applying sod is a quick way to completely transform your yard.
It’s also an easy task that anybody can accomplish as long as you don’t mind putting in the work.
It’s my experience that laying sod and improving your lawn overnight will provide a strong sense of ownership over your yard, and the moment of satisfaction when you stand back and survey your new lawn will offer you genuine satisfaction.
The pride you’ll have in a job well done will make your efforts more than worth it.
The best way to ensure a healthy, long-lasting yard is to treat the soil prior to installation, then maintain it and support your grass with regular fertilization and bi-annual applications of compost.
Follow the lawn care tips on my blog, and you’ll maintain a lush, green and beautiful yard all year long.