Successfully installing sod requires several important steps, some even before the sod even arrives at your site. Below, we’ll walk you through the entire process, so that your investment — i.e., your sod purchase — pays off with an attractive, durable and highly usable turfgrass surface for years to come.
Unfortunately, many people hurry through (or even skip entirely) site preparation. Please don’t be tempted to do so yourself — even the highest-quality, most-beautiful sod simply won’t grow on bad soil.
1. Conduct a soil test.
Purchase a soil test kit from your local garden center or farmer’s cooperative, and send the soil sample to a soil-testing laboratory for analysis. Most labs will provide recommendations based on any soil deficiencies, such as a need for certain nutrients or soil amendments (such as lime to adjust the soil’s pH).
2. Start with bare soil.
For sod’s roots to grow down into the new soil, they must have good sod-to-soil contact — therefore, sod should be put down on top of bare ground. If you wish to install sod over an existing stand of turfgrass, first apply a non-selective herbicide to eliminate all plant growth (grass and weeds) that is already there. Preferably, this should be done a few weeks before the intended installation date, to allow for a second herbicide application on difficult-to-kill weeds or grasses (such as common bermudagrass).
3. Loosen the soil, and add amendments.
After all existing plant growth has been killed, loosen the soil with a tiller to a depth of at least 4” to 6”. This will reduce soil compaction, enabling the new sod’s roots to more easily grow down deeper into the rootzone. This is also an ideal time to apply and till any recommended starter fertilizer and amendments (such as topsoil, compost and/or lime) into the top several inches of soil.
After tilling, remove any debris that could interfere with the sod’s root growth and water movement into the soil, like rocks, sticks, tree stumps, construction scraps and even large dirt clumps.
If an in-ground irrigation system will be installed, this should be done after the ground has been loosened, but before the final surface is prepped (Step #4). And, if the sod is to be installed during the heat of summer, make sure the irrigation system works, before the sod arrives.
4. Smooth and firm the soil surface.
Firm the freshly tilled soil by irrigating and/or rolling with a lawn roller one-third full of water. This will reveal any low areas that need more soil. Keep the grade 1” below sidewalks or driveways.
Finish-grade the entire site with a heavy-duty rake for smaller sites or a tractor-mounted box blade for large areas. Whenever possible, this step should be done by hand with a rake; running a drag behind a tractor will significantly compact the newly loosened ground.
5. Moisten the soil before the sod is delivered.
The soil should be moist, but not sloppy or saturated when the sod is installed. So, a day or two before the sod is delivered, lightly water the soil to provide an inviting foundation for the new sod.
1. Install the sod immediately after delivery.
Do not order your new sod until the site/soil preparation has been completed, since sod should be installed as soon as possible after it arrives at the site (preferably the same day). The longer the sod sits on a pallet, the more it will deteriorate, particularly in summertime. In hot weather, protect un-laid sod by placing the pallets in shade, covering them with moist burlap bags and/or sprinkling them with cool water.
2. Begin installing at the site’s longest straight line.
Begin installing the first row of sod along the site’s longest straight line, such as down a driveway or along a sidewalk. As you continue laying the rows of sod, stagger the end edges of the sod pieces (like laying bricks on a house) so that all the joints/end edges do not line up with each other.
3. Butt the edges tightly.
Do not leave loose or sloppy seams between the edges and ends of the sod pieces; instead, butt and push the sod pieces together tightly without stretching. The soil at just about every site is filled with weed seeds, and if you leave any bare soil — even just cracks between sod pieces — those seeds will come up.
4. Roll the surface
After installing the sod, roll the entire surface to remove air pockets and improve sod-to-soil contact.
5. Irrigate soon.
Begin watering newly laid sod within 30 minutes of installation. Turf is a living plant that requires ground contact and moisture to survive. If the weather is particularly hot and dry, you may need to start irrigating the completed areas before the entire site is laid.
Until it has rooted, new sod will require a fair amount of water. Keep an eye on weather conditions, and every day, pick up a corner of a sod piece to check the soil underneath. Irrigate often enough to keep the soil damp/moist but not saturated with puddles on top.
Within a couple of weeks, after the sod’s roots have started growing down into the soil, you will not have to water it as much. In fact, after the sod is well established (several weeks after installation), irrigating deeply and infrequently will encourage the turf’s roots to grow further down into the soil, ultimately making it more tolerant to drought.