Garden

How To Lay Sod: Step by Step Guide

Laying sod is a fast way to an amazing looking yard, whether your home is new construction or your grass is sparse and patchy.

Unfortunately, many people fail to lay sod correctly. It can die off and be a waste of all your money and time.

To avoid making mistakes, follow this step-by-step guide on how to lay sod. You’ll learn the right way to prep, layout, and care for sod like a pro.

Follow this guide, and you can have a stunning, long-lasting yard that your neighbors will envy!

Before You Start

Before you begin to lay the sod, you’ll need to prep the soil. Till the area down to a depth of six inches, so the root system can quickly stretch out and secure the sod to the ground.

If your land is clay or overly sandy, now is the time to spread amendments such as topsoil or compost, to aid in soil drainage.

Rake the soil smooth, removing large rocks and other debris. Leave a slight downward slope from your home’s foundation to ensure rain drains away from the structure.

Supplies You Will Need

  • Wheelbarrow
  • Rake
  • Sharp knife with a long blade
  • Lawn tiller and roller (rent)
  • Hose and sprinkler

Once you finish the tilling and prepping, follow these steps to lay your sod:

Step 1: Unstack Or Unroll The Sod

If your sod arrives in rolls, remove the top layer and roll them out to give the sections a chance to breathe and relax, so it lays flat. Once the sections are at rest, fold them in half if they are too long and stack them into your wheelbarrow.

For sod that comes in flat sections, move a stack into a wheelbarrow so you can have them ready to move to your starting location.

Step 2: Determine The Starting Point

To avoid waste, you need to find the best starting point and either lay a string or scratch a straight line into the soil so your rows will line up nicely with the least amount of cutting.

TIP: Straight edges such as those along a sidewalk, patio, or driveway are ideal starting points.

Start laying out the first row of sod lengthwise. Butt each edge of sod firmly together to avoid gaps but don’t overlap the pieces and create a bulge.

When you reach the end of the area you want grass, use the knife to cut off the excess section of sod. 

Step 3: Continue Placing Sod

Lay another full row of sod, staggering the sections, so the ends don’t match up (like you see in a brick wall)—work from the dirt side to avoid stepping on the new sod. 

Make sure you set the pieces tightly along the edge of the last row, as well as side to side. 

Keep filling in the lawn one row of sod at a time, cutting off the ends cleanly.

TIP: Save all your cut-offs to use as fillers in oddly-shaped areas of the yard.

Step 4: Deal With Sprinkler Heads

If your yard already has a sprinkler system, make sure the sod is cut back cleanly from all the heads so they can operate freely while the lawn establishes. 

Step 5: Fill Gaps

Check around the lawn for any gaps or odd areas where the grass is missing. Fill in these sections using the sod cut-offs from earlier.

If you see any seams or gaps too small for a cut section of sod, fill in the area with topsoil so the grass can spread to fill in this area.

Step 6: Roll The Lawn

The most important step to achieve successful sod establishment is to use a lawn roller over the entire area. 

Do not skip this step! 

Run the roller across the entire lawn going in one direction, then go over it again crosswise to the first.

The weight of the roller will push out air gaps. It will also even out the edges where sections meet and slightly push the roots into the soil. Rolling not only helps the final lawn look more even but gives the roots a head start growing into the earth. 

Step 7: Water

Get out the hose and sprinkler (if you don’t have a sprinkler system) and soak the lawn well, aiming for one to two inches of water.

Watering the soil deep down will encourage the roots to stretch and spread quickly and keep the grass blades green.

How to Care for Fresh Sod

Maintaining your fresh sod requires diligence during the first several months. 

Watering

Water the lawn every day (morning time is best) for the first week to give the root system a chance to build strength. After the first week, lower the watering to every other day for the next two weeks and then drop it to every three or four days after that. 

TIP: Don’t water all day long, as this will encourage mold or fungi to develop. Water once for an hour or so, then let the blades dry out in the sun.

Mowing

When the grass reaches about four inches tall, get out the mower and cut off no more than 1/3rd of its height.

Avoid using a riding mower for the first two months as the weight can damage the delicate new root growth.

Use a bagger for the clippings for the first few mows, to allow the most aeration and moisture to reach the soil.

TIP: Sharpen the blades before mowing to prevent dull blades from “shredding” the grass, which will cause the top edges to be brown and can open the door to diseases. 

Foot Traffic

Avoid general walking on the grass or letting kids or pets play on it for at least a month. The longer you can keep foot traffic off it, the better it will look long-term.

So, how long do you need to stay off new sod to help the roots stabilize without damage? The answer is as long as you possibly can, but two weeks is the bare minimum. Experts suggest up to three months for full root establishment. 

You’ll inevitably need to walk on the grass to mow and water, but aside from that, try to stay off so the roots can grow. The more you step on the sod, the more you compact the underlying soil. This can damage and impede root growth.

Letting your pet out for a moment to relieve themselves can also lead to yellow spots as the grass isn’t strong enough yet to combat the chemicals in urine. 

TIP: If you must allow your pets out, immediately use a hose to dissipate the urine on the sod to prevent damage.

Frequently Asked Questions

What’s the best time of year to lay sod?

For cool-season grass varieties, such as perennial ryegrass, laying sod in early spring is the best. Giving the sod plenty of time to settle in before the harsh temperatures of summer arrive will be much more successful.

For warm-season grasses, such as St. Augustine, you can lay sod any time of year. However, late winter and early spring are still better as the climate is more moderate, which causes less stress on the roots.

When should you fertilize sod?

Once your sod is down about a month, apply a quality fertilizer to boost root development, and enhance the grass color.

Look for a fertilizer with iron, such as Scotts Green Max Lawn Food, which builds healthy grass and enhances color.

Fertilize every six months to a year after that, depending on soil condition and the appearance of the lawn. 

TIP: Don’t allow pests or weeds to take hold in your new sod. Use a weed-and-feed fertilizer to stop weeds in its tracks and spread a granular pesticide if you spot pest damage.

Is it better to use sod or seed?

To sod or seed is a common question that only you can answer.

Seeding is:

  • Cheaper
  • Less labor-intensive
  • Allows you to select the ideal grass variety for your region

On the downside, seeding a lawn still requires the same soil preparation as sod and takes much longer to establish. You have to stay vigilant with watering, as the soil must remain moist at all times to allow the seeds to germinate.

Sod provides:

  • An instant lawn which looks nice
  • More leeway in the watering routine
  • Soil erosion control

The downside of sod is that it typically comes in only a few grass varieties that may not be suitable for your area. Sod also cost more to purchase, and takes a strong back and set of knees to install.


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