How to Plant a Lawn From Sod

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Water the soil surface before laying sod.
Water the soil surface before laying sod. (Image: Allison Herreid/iStock/Getty Images)

Laying sod has the effect of creating an "instant" lawn. Even for grasses that grow well from seed, laying sod gives you a good covering of grass much more quickly than seeding. For certain varieties of grass, particularly warm-season grasses, sod is also the most reliable way to start a new lawn.

Choosing Turfgrass

The best grass for your area depends on hardiness zone, soil conditions and sun/shade requirements. Bermudagrass (Cynodon spp.) is a good choice for warm climates and full-sun lawns, though it may become invasive. It is hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 10, and thrives in most soil types. Zoysiagrass (Zoysia spp.) is another warm-season species available as sod. It is slow growing, not picky about soil conditions, tolerates some shade and is hardy in USDA zones 6 through 9. For cool-season grasses, sod often includes a mixture of species. Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis) is a popular choice that grows best in full sun and soil that doesn't stay moist. It is often mixed with fine fescue (Festuca spp.) and tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea), which are sturdier grasses with a high tolerance for shade. Bluegrass and these fescues are hardy in USDA zones 2 through 7.

Preparing Soil

Sod grows best if planted on firm topsoil that has recently been worked to a depth of at least 6 inches. To improve the soil, add organic matter such as composted manure at a rate of 1 to 3 cubic yards per 1,000 square feet. Work the organic matter into the top 6 to 8 inches of soil with a rototiller. Add a slow-release starter fertilizer to the soil, and work that in to a depth of 4 to 6 inches. Starter fertilizers are high in phosphorous to promote strong root growth. For a fertilizer with an N-P-K ratio of 18-24-10, use 8 to 11 pounds per 1,000 square feet. Applications rates vary depending on the brand, so always read and follow label directions. Ensure the site is free of weeds and trash, and then use a hand rake to even-out the soil surface. Before planting, firm the soil using a water ballast roller, then lightly water the surface.

Laying Sod

Sod can be planted whenever the soil is not frozen and the weather isn't extremely hot. However, the best time to lay cool-season sod is early fall, and the best time to lay warm-season sod is in the early summer. Install the sod as soon as possible after it is delivered, and remember to lightly water the sod as needed to keep it from drying out. Begin laying sod along a straight line, such as a sidewalk. When you start the next row, stagger the joints as if laying bricks. Make sure the ends of each piece are firm against each other, but do not overlap. Avoid stretching the sod when laying it, as this will result in cracks in the lawn as the sod dries. If you are laying sod on a slope, start at the bottom and work your way up-hill. When you have to cut the sod, use a sharpened concrete trowel or a large, sharp knife.

Ongoing Care

Once the sod is laid, use a water ballast roller to lightly press the sod. This ensures good contact between the grass roots and the soil below. Water the sod immediately after planting, with enough water to moisten the soil to a depth of 4 inches. Unless there is rain, water the sod daily in the early morning to keep the top 3 to 4 inches of soil moist. Continue watering daily until the sod is rooted, which takes about 10 to 14 days. You can check for roots by gently tugging on one corner of a piece of sod. If it is attached to the soil below, you can decrease watering frequency. After the sod is well-rooted, begin mowing by cutting grass about an inch higher than normal for the first two or three mowings. Keep traffic on the lawn to a minimum for about two to three weeks, but after that you're free to enjoy your new lawn.

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