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How To Lay Sod to Start New Lawns

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Laying sod is a quick (but expensive) way to start a new lawn.

Laying sod goes a lot faster than spreading grass seed to begin a new lawn.

David Beaulieu

To start new lawns, many people wonder which is better: laying sod or sowing grass seed. While seeding is cheaper and offers a wider variety of grass types, many people are won over to using sod by two convincing arguments: sodding is fast and produces high-quality new lawns.

In fact, laying sod is so fast, it's fair to say it gives you an "instant lawn." Check with your county extension to learn which grass types are best for your region.

Difficulty: Average
Time Required: 1 hr./10 square feet (just for steps 8-12)

Here's How:

  1. Remove the old lawn and/or weeds, if any exist. One way to accomplish this is by digging them out with a flat-bladed shovel (make sure you get the roots). Another method is to apply an herbicide, then rent a sod-cutter to remove roots and all. Before proceeding further, have your soil pH tested. Most lawn grasses prefer a pH of 6.0 to 7.5. If the test reveals that you need to adjust the soil pH, do so in conjunction with Step #2.
  2. Break up the compacted soil with a tiller. Tillers (also called rototillers) can be rented from your local rental center.
  3. Spread a starter fertilizer over the now-loosened soil. This type of fertilizer is high in phosphorus, the middle number in the NPK sequence on a fertilizer bag.
  4. Also spread a soil conditioner over the soil. "Soil conditioner" is often what it's called at the store, but if you have a good supply of compost at home, it will serve just as well as a soil amendment.
  5. Again using the tiller, till the starter fertilizer and soil conditioner (or equivalent) into the soil. I know this seems like a lot of work, but good soil preparation is one key to success in laying sod to start new lawns.
  6. Now rake the soil to begin to level it out, removing any rocks and debris that you find. To avoid problems with excess water-runoff, make sure that any site grading you do allows water to flow away from your house.
  7. This step requires a roller. Rollers, like tillers, can be rented from your local rental center. Fill the roller's drum with water, then use the roller to finish leveling the soil.
  8. Start laying your sod. Begin on the outer edges, unrolling a roll of sod on the far left-hand side, then another on the far right-hand side (or vice versa). After laying these 2 rolls of sod, work your way in towards the center with subsequent strips.
  9. A single roll of sod may not be long enough to cover the whole length of the lawn. This means you'll have to lay separate rolls, end to end, pressing the ends firmly together so that they abut tightly, but without overlapping.
  10. For the strips of sod in the adjacent row, make sure you stagger the ends of sod rolls, so that the seams don't line up. Think of it as a "brickwork" pattern.
  11. If a strip of sod appears too low, "shim" it with topsoil to bring it up to the proper level.
  12. When you're done laying sod, it's time to use the roller again. Push it over the sod to press it down firmly against the soil. This removes air pockets, promoting good contact with the soil, allowing your sod's roots to go to work immediately.
  13. For a couple of weeks after laying sod, remember to water faithfully every day. If you know your schedule won't permit this, now's the time to look into automatic irrigation systems, before starting a new lawn.

Tips:

  1. In Step #8, I had you begin laying sod on the edges first. Why? Because the sod on the edges has the greatest tendency to dry out. By starting on the edges, you ensure that the edges will at least have sod strips of the full width, making them less likely to dry out. When you get to the center, sod widths may have to be trimmed (use a sharp knife). But better there than on the edges, for the reason just stated. In a nutshell: you may have to trim somewhere, so make sure it's not on the edges.
  2. What's the best time for laying sod? Your supplier will have the most accurate info on this topic, since they're experts on the grass type you'll be purchasing. They will also know when it's best to lay sod in your area. Obviously, Step #2 can only be executed during those times of the year when the ground is not frozen. At the other extreme, mid-summer is less than ideal for starting new lawns, since the extreme heat makes drying out more likely. Early fall and early spring are the best times.
  3. If, instead of laying sod, you prefer the seeding method, see my tips for seeding lawns. The first 7 steps (soil preparation) are the same as for starting new lawns via the sodding method.

What You Need

  • Tiller (Rototiller)
  • Roller
  • Sod
  • Starter Fertilizer
  • Soil Conditioner
  • Rake
  • Sharp Knife
  • (Depending on option selected in Step #1) Either a flat-bladed shovel...
  • ...or herbicide and a sod-cutter.
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