How to Lay Sod
It is not difficult to grow a lawn from seed, but it takes time and a little work, so most gardeners opt for sod when they want to put in a new lawn. Laying sod is an enjoyable and satisfying project that gives great instant results. If you do it right you will be really proud of the beautiful lawn you have made.
Preparing the Ground
Whatever size of sod you lay, the ground must be prepared in the same way. The goal is to have a level surface that is evenly firm and will not sink in spots after the sod is layed. So if you have dug trenches or removed trees from the area, those spots can sink later as the soil may be looser. Take extra care when filling in those holes to firm the soil down in layers as you go, to get the lowers levels firmly compacted to reduce future sinking. Beside paths and driveways, make the soil level one half-inch or a little more below the level of the path. That way the sod will fit neatly against it and you won’t have a lump or a hard-to-trim spot.
If your new lawn area is near a building, make sure you slope the ground by about 2% away from the building. That means that over 50 feet the ground should fall by one foot. Use a length of string, a level and a measure to check this, or you may find your basement flooding every time you water the lawn!
Rake out larger stones from the soil and drag a long board over the ground to get the area as level and smooth as you possibly can. Keep raking and firming with your feet or a roller until the soil is hard enough to just show a faint footprint when you walk across it. Deep footprints equals too soft, no footprints equals too hard. When you are almost done, spread some turf-starter fertilizer over the area according to the directions. Rake this into the top couple of inches of the soil. Extra work at this stage will pay off when you see the perfect lawn you have made.
Buying the Sod
Sod comes in two basic sizes, pieces 16 x 24 inches and rolls 12 to 18 inches wide and 40 to 60 inches long. Larger rolls can be heavy and a little difficult to work with, while smaller rolls are quick to lay over a large area. So check exactly what you are buying and shop around for the size that suits you best.
Once you are happy with your nice level surface it is time to have the sod delivered. Since sod is a perishable product you should have all this work done before the morning your sod is delivered. Measure the area you want to cover, calculate the square yards and add about 5% for cutting. A pallet of sod may contain 50 square yards, but check with your supplier as this can vary a lot. Remember that in hot, humid weather a pallet only lasts 24 hours, so you need to get everything layed in one day if possible – get in some friends to help!
Now it is time to start laying your sod. Here are the steps to follow to get the perfect result you are looking for:
- The day before your sod is delivered, give the lawn area a good watering.
- Look at the area and figure out which is the longest distance across it. Run a tight string from one end to the other, along this longest distance. So if you were laying a square or rectangle, this would be on the diagonal from one corner to the opposite one. Don’t start laying along one side, the way you might lay floor tiles.
- Lay the first line of sod right beside that string and keep it as straight as you can. Remove the string. Now start laying the next row right alongside the first one. If you have several people you can lay in both directions without getting in each other’s way.
- A linoleum installation knife is the ideal tool for cutting sod, because it has a curved end, but a large utility knife can also be used. Don’t hack at it with a spade or shovel.
- Before you put down a piece of sod, run a rake lightly over the surface so it is a little rough, without any footprints or hollows.
- Don’t throw the sod – this stretches it. Instead, put the roll on the ground and then roll it out.
- Push the edges together so there are no gaps, but don’t overlap the pieces at all.
- Stagger the pieces so the ends are not all in a row. Starting every second row with a piece that you have cut in half is the easiest way to do this.
- Leave trimming the edges until you have layed most of the area, because you want to get everything down on the ground before it dries out or over-heats on the pallet.
- If the weather is warm and the pallet is in the sun, roll out a couple of rolls grass-side up and use them to cover the remaining rolls to keep them moist.
- You can pass a lawn-roller over the area when you have finished, but if you did a good job it is not usually necessary. Don’t use a roller to try to make rolls meet if you have left gaps, it won’t work. Instead make sure you push each roll tightly against the next one when you put it down.
- Trim around the beds or walkways neatly. Never re-use a piece of sod less than about 12 inches square – small pieces usually die.
- To make two pieces of sod meet neatly at an angle, lay one over the other and cut through both pieces. Turn back the top piece and remove the bottom one. You will have a perfect fit.
Watering Your New Lawn
Once all your sod is on the ground and trimmed, water it thoroughly. This first watering should completely flood the area – it is OK if puddles form on the surface – lots of water is what you need. After that first watering, keep the sod damp by watering once a day, or even twice in hot, dry weather. Don’t let the sod become dry as it will shrink and be hard to wet again. After a week, gently lift one corner. If it is hard to lift and there are white roots visible going into the ground, that is the time to start reducing the watering, first to every second day and then gradually to once a week.
The First Mowing
Start mowing once the grass is established and growing. Keep the mower a little higher for the first few cuts, gradually bringing it down to the final height. For a tough, drough-resistant and weed-proof lawn, leave the grass two to three inches tall after mowing and never cut off more than one-third of the length. So if your desired height is two inches, mow when the grass reaches three inches tall. Your lawn will not look quite as trim with longer grass, but it will be healthier and produced a lot fewer weeds.