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How to Lay Sod

When you just can’t wait for a new lawn, choose sod over seeds.

If you've reached the point of no return when it comes to your lawn—you know, when the grass has retreated to the point where there is nothing but weeds as far at the eye can see—it's time to start over. You've got two choices: Reseed or lay down sod. While reseeding might be cheaper and involve a little less effort, it also takes longer to get that gorgeous green lawn you're longing for.

Laying sod, on the other hand, is a path to near-instant gratification. Instead of waiting 6 weeks for seed to grow, you get a finished-looking lawn right after you complete the job. The key here is the word "looking"—it's not really finished until the grassroots are established and have bonded with the underlying soil, which can take anywhere from 2 to 6 weeks. 

What is Sod?

Sod is a layer of established grass that is dug up with roots and some soil still attached. Sod farms harvest it in long strips and roll it up, soil side out. You should always buy sod that can be harvested and delivered the same day you will be installing it in your yard. Sod that's laid down more than 24 hours after harvesting may not survive—and that would be a serious waste of time, effort, and money.

How to Lay Sod

Just follow these 7 steps to do a DIY sod installation. Yes, it's going to take a while (especially step 1), but it'll be worth it.

  1. Remove the Old Grass
  2. Prepare the Soil
  3. Lay the Sod
  4. Neaten the Edges
  5. Water Frequently
  6. Don't Forget to Fertilize
  7. Overseed the Shady Spots

1. Remove the Old Grass

Before laying sod, the old grass and a bit of the old soil beneath it has to be taken away. The goal is to end up with a level stretch of soil that is about an inch below the surrounding surfaces. To do this, you'll need to rent a sod cutter (or two, if you recruit a friend or family member to help out), which is a frame with a sharp blade attached that cuts under the grass roots, loosening the grass in long strips—much like the sod rolls that will be delivered to your house. You can throw the old sod into your compost pile, or call a local garden center and ask whether they will accept it to use in their own compost.

2. Prepare the Soil

Use a garden rake (also known as a bow rake) to level the soil and break up any large chunks. Make sure that the finished, leveled soil is 1 inch below all the paved surfaces that surround it, leaving vertical room for the new sod. The finished soil should be loose, not compacted, so it will be easy for the new roots to penetrate. Adding a layer of Scotts® Turf Builder® LawnSoil™ will help the new roots grow and bond quickly with the native soil. Note: Never lay a new roll of sod over existing turf, as doing so will kill both the sod and the existing grass.

3. Lay the Sod

Start by dampening the soil with a sprinkler or hose, then rake out any footprints you've left behind. Unroll the first roll of sod against the longest edge of surrounding landscaping or concrete, making sure the entire length makes contact with the soil below it. Rake your footprints out of the next patch of dirt and unroll the next sod roll. Lay the rolls out in a brick-wall pattern, staggering the cuts and leaving no gaps (but don't overlap the edges.) If your property is sloped, you'll get better water retention if you lay the sod horizontally across the slope rather than vertically down the slope.

Make sure that you don't walk on the newly placed sod while you're laying it out. You should stand on the bare soil, lay the sod in front of you, and back up as you go. If you stand on the newly laid sod, your body weight will cause the sod to shift, leaving gaps between the edges. 

4. Neaten the Edges

When you finish laying all of the rolls, the edges around your space probably won't be straight. No problem! Simply fold back the excess and use a box cutter (or other sharp knife) to trim the sod. Be sure to cut from the soil side through to the grass side, then pat down the new edge, making sure you don't leave any gaps. 

5. Water Frequently

Water the newly laid sod twice a day until it takes root and bonds with the soil below it (usually 2 to 6 weeks). After the first watering, pull back a corner of the newly laid sod. The original soil beneath it should be moist, but not muddy. Use this as a way to determine how much to water each time until the sod and native soil bond.

6. Don't Forget to Fertilize

Applying Scotts® Turf Builder® Starter® Food for New Grass will encourage the sod roots to develop and bond quickly with the native soil below it. 

7. Overseed the Shady Spots

Since sod farms grow their crop in full sun, the sod that you purchased is likely to be a full-sun grass seed. If you have shady spots in your yard, you will want to lightly overseed those areas of new sod with a shady mix grass seed, such as Scotts® Classic® Grass Seed Sun & Shade Mix®. The new seed will slowly mix in and help your new grass thrive in shade. The easy-to-use Scotts® Whirl™ Hand-Powered Spreader is perfect for doing light overseeding in small areas.

Once your new lawn is in place, remember this: For the first 4 weeks, the less walking, the better. Frequent or heavy lawn use can disturb the new roots forming underneath the sod, leading to a less than stellar lawn down the road.

After about 2 to 6 weeks, your new sod will be bonded with the native soil. Once that happens, cut back on watering to a couple of times a week, making sure to soak the soil each time. Keep the nutrition coming by starting a regular fertilizer program 6 to 8 weeks after laying new sod. Scotts® Turf Builder® Lawn Food helps grass grow thick, strong, and green, leaving little room for weeds. 

Laying sod is the fastest way to give your yard a complete new-lawn makeover, turning it from a space you avoid to somewhere you'll want to hang out all day long. Welcome back, grass!