How to Lay Sod: Step by Step

Of all the options available, laying sod is the quickest and often the most reliable way to getting a new lawn full of thick green grass.

It might seem like a big job, but with the right tools, preparation, and installation method, any amateur gardener can DIY their way from rolls of unlaid sod to an enviable new lawn. Read through this step-by-step guide where we have gone through the best method of how to lay new sod, as well as some tips on how to water, fertilize, and mow new sod once it’s been installed. 

When is the Best Time to Lay Sod?

Knowing when to lay sod is a crucial first step to seeing success with your new lawn. With enough care, you should be able to successfully lay sod at any point in the year. With that said, the best time to lay new sod is during early to mid-fall, as temperatures are cooler and there is an increase in rainfall, reducing the need for watering. The second best time to lay sod is in the spring, as the grass should have already started to develop deep roots if it has been watered properly.

Purchasing the Sod

Step 1: Plan When to Plant the Sod

You should start planning out your project several weeks before you intend to lay the new sod. Make sure the day that you plan to plant the new sod is forecasted to be clear weather, as rain can interfere with the installation process and growth of the sod. The same goes for times of drought as sod requires a lot of water in the early stages of growth, so avoid planting new sod during times when watering will be difficult. 

a roll of sod sitting on the lawn. A rake behind it makes sure that the soil is prepared

Step 2: Measure Planting Area 

To know how much sod you’re going to need to buy, you’ll need to take measurements of the areas of your lawn that you plan on sodding – take your measurements in feet, as this is the standard unit used for landscaping. Use a tape measure or measuring wheel to find out the width and length of your planting area, and do this at least twice to ensure you’ve taken accurate measurements. Then, multiply the width by the length to find out the total area in square feet. 

Step 3: Buy the Right Sod

The next step is to plan your sod order. First, you need to choose whether you want your sod in strips or slabs. Sod growers will offer sod cuts in a range of sizes, but most homeowners opt for 16” x 24” sod pieces which are ideal for domestic lawns. For larger areas, it would be more cost-effective to buy a larger roll of sod.

Second, schedule the sod delivery or pickup for the same day that you have planned to complete the job. Fresh sod needs to be planted and watered straight away so it can start taking up nutrients from the soil, so immediate installation is required.

Third, when you place the order for your new sod, aim to buy a bit more than you think you’ll need. Finding out that you don’t have enough sod during installation will set the whole project back as you’ll have to go out and get more, and then you risk having uneven patches if you get the sod from a different source to the first batch.

How to Prepare Soil for Sod

You’ll need to take a few steps to prepare the soil for sod before laying it. This involves removing the old grass and testing the soil, before tilling, grading, and levelling the planting area.

Step 1: Remove Old Sod

Skip this step if you’re creating a new lawn from scratch.

New sod can’t be placed straight over an existing lawn under any circumstances, so as a first step you’re going to have to remove the old grass along with any vegetation and weeds that are in your lawn. You have a few options of doing this: either with the use of a sod cutter, or by hand using a shovel, rake or rototiller. The method that you use depends on the size of your lawn and the resources available to you. 

1.1: Removing Sod with a Sod Cutter

Using a sod cutter is the least laborious and most efficient way to remove old sod from your lawn, especially if you’re working on a larger area. They slice through turf below the roots of the grass to enable its easy removal. If you’re going to DIY this job, sod cutters can be rented for about $70 per day from landscaping professionals. Slowly run the sod cutter across your old lawn to remove the old weedy sod, then throw it into a wheelbarrow to be disposed of. 

1.2: Removing Sod with a Shovel, Rake, or Rototiller

If you’re working with a smaller area or you only have light remnants of old vegetation and weeds, you can remove this with the use of a herbicide or compost to kill off plant life, followed by the use of tools such as a shovel, rake, or rototiller to remove the leftovers of the dead plants. Start by watering the planting area, then spray a herbicide across it covering the whole area entirely. Let the herbicide sit so it has a chance to fully kill off any vegetation. Then, scrape off any superficial vegetation with a shovel.

Step 2: Test Soil

After you have removed any old vegetation from your lawn, you should test your soil pH level as well as the number of nutrients currently present to find out whether you need to add any amendments before laying down your new sod. You can either do this by sending a sample of your soil to a testing laboratory, or with the use of a home pH testing kit. Generally speaking, grasses need a soil pH of 5.5 to 7 to grow and thrive, but exact optimum pH levels vary depending on the species.

Step 3: Till and Treat Soil 

Till the soil using a rototiller and rake the ground to loosen the soil and reveal any buried rocks. Make sure the soil has been tilled to a depth of at least 6 inches to give your sod the best conditions to become deeply rooted grass. 

After this initial tilling, you can add a 2-inch layer of compost across the area to improve soil quality and suppress unwanted growth before laying the new sod. 2 to 3 inches of sand can also be added to improve drainage if the soil is particularly clay-heavy; ideally, you want to aim for loamy soil which is neither too clay-heavy nor too sandy. Add and till any other soil amendments or pH adjusting materials that your lawn may need as identified by the soil test you’ve previously done. It’s recommended at this point that you add a starter fertilizer high in nitrogen and phosphorus to the area where the new sod will be laid.

Step 4: Level Soil

You’ll need to level the soil so that drainage is diverted away from any structures, and also to prevent hills or dips in the soil that will make mowing the new lawn difficult. Use an iron rake or a shovel to even out the surface of the soil and lower it by 1 to 2 inches, making sure that it is at least 1 inch below any paved surfaces such as your driveway and paths, and the areas next to curbs and sidewalks. You can check whether your lawn is sufficiently level by giving it a good watering and making sure there are no puddles and that the water drains away from your home and/or other nearby structures.

How to Lay Sod

The new sod must be installed on the day of delivery. If not, the sod will dry out causing the grass to die and rendering the whole batch useless. This is doable for you to DIY, but keep in mind that time is of the essence and it will require a bit of labor to get it installed before nightfall. To give you a rough idea of the time it takes, two people are able to install up to 1000 feet of sod per day, so consider asking someone for an extra pair of helping hands to get the job done as quickly as possible. As an additional note, if installing on a sunny day, protect the sod to be laid by placing it in a shady spot. 

Step 1: Dampen Soil

Give your soil a light watering so as to dampen it before you start laying the new sod. 

Step 2: Lay First Row of Sod

The first roll of sod should be unrolled along a straight edge. Find the straightest part of your lawn, which is usually along a building, fenceline, driveway, or garden bed, and start unrolling the first strips along this length. Rake and level the surrounding soil as you unroll each strip. Avoid stepping on the sod as you lay it, and rake out footprints you make in the soil as you move around the lawn.

After you’ve unrolled the first strip, pat down the sheet to smooth it out and remove any air pockets, paying special attention to areas where the sod has become wrinkled or bunched up. Place the next strip so that it is flat and the edges are snug against the previous one, without having them overlap. Press down against the seams of the adjacent strips until you aren’t able to tell where one ends and the next begins. 

Step 3: Lay Next Rows of Sod

Continue to lay the sod throughout the rest of your lawn using the method explained in the previous step. You should lay the rolls of sod against each other, staggering the short ends in the same way that bricks are laid. This helps to prevent the edges of the sod strips from coming apart and results in a more aesthetically pleasing lawn. Start your second row and every other row after that with a piece of sod that has been cut in half to create the brickwork pattern. 

As you lay each row of sod, you’ll need to keep watering each section within a half-hour of it being unrolled to keep it from drying out. If you’re laying any strips on a slope, place them perpendicular to the slope as opposed to horizontally with the slope. 

Step 4: Press Down Sod

Skip this step if it has recently rained, as the soft ground will easily accept the new sod.

When you have finished laying the sod and your lawn is completely covered, you’ll need to press it down. This improves the sod to soil contact, which encourages the grass’ roots to grow deeper, as well as removing any remaining pockets of air. 

The easiest way to do this, especially for large areas, is to use a lawn roller that’s one-third filled with water. Roll the roller one way across the surface of the newly laid sod, then roll over it perpendicular to the first direction until you have covered the entirety of the lawn. If you don’t have access to a lawn roller, you can alternatively use a large flat piece of plywood. Lay the wood along each section and then carefully walk over it to embed the sod into the surface of the soil evenly.

How to Water New Sod

It’s crucial to water new sod immediately upon installation, then to continue a rigorous watering schedule until it has become fully established. As is the case with watering grass, you should always aim to keep the soil moist, without saturating it or letting it dry out. The best time to water new sod is in the morning, as watering during the day will cause the water to evaporate under the sun, and watering at night can encourage fungal disease.

Step 1: Water Sod Immediately Upon Installation

The first watering should happen as you’re installing the sod, watering each section within 30 minutes of installation. Check that the sod has been properly installed and is making good contact with the soil by gently lifting the corner of a section and making sure the ground is moist without being saturated. Try to avoid walking on the new sod if possible.

Step 2: Water Daily Until Sod Roots

For the first week or two after installation, water the new sod relatively heavily every day until the new grass is firmly rooted. Again, lift up the corner of a piece to make sure you are watering heavily enough that it is permeating to the soil below the new layer of sod, and to keep an eye on the growth of the roots.

Step 3: After Sod Roots, Reduce Frequency and Increase Length of Watering

When the sod has finished its rooting-in period, you can start to reduce the frequency of your watering, but increase the amount of water you apply each time so that it permeates deeper into the soil. Aim to water just enough so that the water reaches a depth of about 6 inches. The sod lines should disappear after about 4 to 6 weeks.

Refer to our article How Often to Water New Sod for a more detailed guide on how to water new sod up to 30 days beyond installation.

When to Mow New Sod

You should hold off from mowing new sod straight away. While the grass is still taking root the plants will be delicate, and the spongy ground from the increased amount of watering you’ve been doing leaves your lawn susceptible to divots and trenches. When your new grass has reached about 3 to 4 inches tall, use a walk-behind mower to take off no more than one third of the grass height. This should be about 2 to 3 weeks after installation. Refer to our article on when to mow new sod for more information.

When to Fertilize New Sod

Before laying the new sod, the best move is to add a starter fertilizer to the tilled soil as part of your soil preparation process. Starter fertilizer provides all of the most important nutrients that your new sod needs to root and grow well after installation. You won’t need to fertilize the sod again until around 4 to 6 weeks later, and at this point you should start using a higher-nitrogen fertilizer to maintain the strong and healthy growth of your grass. See our guide for more details on when to fertilize new sod.

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