Need a new lawn in a hurry or just tired of the bare spots? You could buy a bag of grass seed and wait around for weeks coddling tiny seedlings. Or you could let a sod farmer do the preliminary work. “Sod is a rapid way to establish a lawn and to patch areas efficiently,” says Clint Waltz, PhD, extension turfgrass specialist at the University of Georgia’s Turfgrass Research & Education Center. “It’s not difficult. But it is work with lots of bending and lifting, and you’ll need certain tools to do the job right.”
If you’re not afraid of a little sweat equity, here’s how to lay sod that will thrive:
Do a soil test.
“It’s your best opportunity to get the nutrient level correct,” says Waltz. “You want to optimize your chances for success.” Your state’s university cooperative extension service (find yours here) can test your soil for around $20 or less. They’ll also help you decipher the results, figure out what to add before sodding, and advise the best time of year to sod in your region.
Prepare the bed.
Remove scraggly grass, weeds, rocks, and sticks from the area. Loosen the soil to at least four inches deep; rent a small tiller at the garden center to save your back and your patience! Rake out the surface evenly, then smooth the area with a sod roller, which you also can rent.
Tip: Don’t fill the roller with water, which makes it too heavy; use it empty. Finally, wet the prepared surface with a garden hose or sprinkler until moist, not soaked. If you’re patching areas, follow the same steps but add or remove topsoil as needed so the new sod will be level with the existing turf.
Measure the area.
Sod is sold in square or rectangular slabs about a foot wide by 18 inches long, or in rolls about 60 inches long. Prices vary depending on where you live, time of year and type of grass. You can buy it from sod farms (search for “sod farms near me”) or garden centers, though it’s typically fresher from farms because they don’t cut turf until it’s sold. Typically, each slab runs anywhere from 30 cents to $1 a square foot from sod farmers, or a few dollars per slab at garden centers plus delivery charges.
Time it right.
“Because sod is perishable, you don’t want slabs that have been on pallets for days,” says Waltz. Ditto on delivery times; sod shouldn’t sit around in your yard for more than 24 to 36 hours before you get it down. Even in the shade, slabs start “cooking” the grass and microorganisms that naturally live in turf. Ideally, do all your prep the day before, then lay the sod the next day.
Lay the pieces.
Start from the farthest part of your yard like you’re mopping the floor; you don’t want to walk all over it as you work. Place the first row, butting sections up against each other. Use a sod knife to cut from the green side if you need to trim. Stagger subsequent rows so won’t have one big seam. “It’s like the pattern you’d use if you were laying bricks,” says Waltz. Use your sod roller after installation, then again once or twice over the next few days to ensure even contact of the sod to the prepared soil.
Keep sod moist, not sopping wet. Make sure water is getting to the roots by gently lifting a corner of sod to check the bare soil. Skip fertilizer for now. “Most sod has residual fertilizer in it, and new fertilizer will leach through because there are no roots yet to take it up,” says Waltz. Depending on the species, your sod with take ten days to three weeks to get rooted. After about a month, it’s fine to feed it. But avoid herbicides, which aren’t necessary.
Keep off the grass.
Your newly sodded yard isn’t ready for action yet. Keep heavy traffic off for the first 45 to 60 days. Don’t mow until about the third or fourth week, but scale back watering before you mow to prevent the wheels from sinking in and gouging the surface. Now, sit back and enjoy your new lawn!
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