Your lawn looked fantastic until Fido decided it was digging time. When you need to replace a bare patch of lawn with turf, homegrown sod is a speedy and relatively easy landscaping solution.
From increasing your property value to preventing weeds, sod boasts a host of benefits, and growing your own sod can be a rewarding DIY project. We’ll walk you through why, when, and how to grow thick, healthy grass to transplant onto your lawn.
Materials you’ll need
- Grass seed
- A greenhouse or sunny, moist area (like a sunroom or patio)
- Planting trays (aka garden trays)
- Scissors to cut the ends off the planting trays
- Duct tape to secure trays together
- Potting soil to grow grass
- A spray bottle to water grass seeds
- Liquid plant food to fertilize grass seeds (optional)
- A rototiller to till existing soil
- Compost to add nutrients to existing soil
- A rake to level the soil
- A wheelbarrow to transport sod
- A sod knife to trim sod
- A lawn roller to smooth out the turf (optional)
10 steps to grow your own sod
1. Choose your grass seed
If you’re growing a large area from scratch, pick a grass type that will thrive in your region and climate. If you’re patching up a fresh sod lawn, remember to grow the same grass seed as your existing sod. Otherwise, your lawn will have irregular patches of different grass types.
Not sure what type of sod you need? Check with the landscaping company that installed your sod or call your local cooperative extension office for guidance on the best grasses for your region.
In general, if you live in the northern half of the U.S., you’ll want a cool-season grass, and if you live in the southern half of the U.S., you’ll want a warm-season grass.
2. Set up greenhouse shelves and trays
Set up your greenhouse to maximize shelving space. Choose shelves that extend the length of your greenhouse, and stack them with 12 inches of space in between.
Then, buy 24-inch-long planting trays from your local garden center or home improvement store. Snag as many as you need to fill up your greenhouse for your desired amount of sod.
For example, if your greenhouse fits four 6-foot-long shelves, plus the floor (let’s say the floor can fit 6 more feet of tray space), then you have 30 feet of tray space available and will need 15 trays.
Lay trays side by side along the shelves and use scissors to cut off the ends of middle trays to create longer portions of sod. Allow for a little overlap and use duct tape to secure the trays in place.
Pro Tip: Trays must have proper drainage. If need be, use a hammer and nail to poke holes (3 inches apart) in the bottom of the trays.
3. Fill trays with soil
It’s time to let your soil mix and mingle. In a large container, mix a combination of one-third vermiculite, one-third topsoil, and one-third peat moss. Or, to make it easier, you can purchase potting soil and skip the mixing process. Fill your trays with 1 1/2 inches of soil.
4. Plant your grass seed
Let’s introduce the stars of the show: Your grass seeds! Follow the seeding instructions for your particular grass variety, sprinkling a thick layer of seed over your soil. Then, spread another quarter of an inch of potting soil over your seeds.
Pro Tip: Have a boatload of coffee filters from a Costco run? Save money on potting soil by spreading dampened coffee filters over your seeds instead. Once grass has started to sprout, remove the filters.
5. Water and wait
Fill a large spray bottle with water and mix in a few drops of liquid plant food to encourage germination. Thoroughly spray your seeds as soon as you’ve finished planting.
Water your grass seeds daily or multiple times a day for six to eight weeks to keep the soil moist. By the six-week mark, grass should look healthy and dense.
6. Till your area
Clear the planting area of roots, rocks, and twigs. Then, use a rototiller to loosen existing soil so it’s ready for your new sod. Till to a depth of 6 to 8 inches and remove additional rocks and debris that come to the surface. Rototilling alleviates soil compaction so new grass can easily grow into the ground.
7. Add compost
If your soil is clay-heavy or sandy, mix in 1 to 3 inches of topsoil and compost, grass clippings, or decomposing leaves. These nutrient-rich amendments will keep soil loose and oxygen-rich to encourage healthy grass growth.
Level your soil with a rake to ensure there aren’t any hills or ditches where water could pool. Then, lightly water the area to see how the water flows, so you can even out sneaky low spots where puddles form.
9. Plant your new sod
Now is the moment of truth! It’s time to transport your sod from your greenhouse to its permanent home.
- Lift your sod out of the tray at one end. The grass roots will have meshed together, so sod should come out in one strip.
- Roll your sod into a cylinder like it’s a grassy cinnamon roll. Transport it across your lawn in a wheelbarrow.
- Lay your sod over your desired area and use a sod knife to trim it to size.
- Roll your sod out with a sod roller once it’s in place. This will smooth the surface and remove air pockets.
10. Water your sod
Water your new sod deeply, either with a hose, sprinkler, or drip irrigation system. Keep sod moist by watering daily in the morning (or multiple times a day, during dry periods) for the first 10 to 14 days after installation, until the sod has taken root. Avoid walking on your sod during the first week.
How to care for your fresh sod
- After the first 10 to 14 days, switch your watering schedule to once or twice a week, giving your turf 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week.
- After the sod has rooted and grown 3 to 3.5 inches tall (about two weeks after installation), mow it on the highest mower setting. This will protect your sod from accidental scalping.
- Apply a nitrogen-rich fertilizer three to four weeks after sodding. (If you choose to install sod in winter, wait to fertilize until spring, after your grass has greened up.)
- Fertilize your sodded area again after 30 to 60 days. After this, put your new sod on the same fertilizing schedule as the rest of your lawn.
Why grow your own sod?
Unless you have an enormous greenhouse, you probably won’t fill your entire lawn with homegrown sod. However, growing sod is perfect if:
- Your yard has a patch of sod that failed to establish and turned brown.
- You have a xeriscape or rock garden and want to add a pop of green.
- Your dog or kids ripped up a patch of sod while playing.
- You haven’t replaced the turfgrass around your mailbox in a while and it’s starting to get patchy.
When can I grow sod?
If you have a greenhouse or protected sunny space, you can grow sod at most times of the year, as long as soil temperatures aren’t too hot (above 85 degrees Fahrenheit) or too cold (below 50 degrees Fahrenheit). Sod will be ready for transplant six to eight weeks after seeds are planted.
Begin growing sod before your lawn gets patchy, so you won’t have to wait six weeks to repair that hole Fido dug.
Here are the best times of the year to grow and install sod:
If you live in the warmer lower half of the U.S. and are installing warm-season grass (like bermuda grass, centipedegrass, St. Augustinegrass, and Zoysia), start growing sod in late winter to early spring so you can install it in mid-spring to early summer.
If you live in the cooler upper half of the U.S. and are installing cool-season grass (like Kentucky bluegrass, fescue, or ryegrass), start growing sod in early to mid-summer so you can install it in late summer to late fall. The second-best option is to start growing sod in late winter to early spring for installation in late spring.
If you live in the middle belt of the country sandwiched between the cool-season North and warm-season South, you’re in the Transition Zone. This is where you may grow either type of grass, depending on your specific climate and soil type. Choose your Transition Zone grass type and then start growing grass according to its growing season.
For example, if you live in the southern portion of the Transition Zone, you may opt for warm-season bermuda grass or Zoysia and begin growing it in late winter to early spring.
Cost of growing sod yourself vs. buying it
Growing your own sod can be an enjoyable DIY project. But, once you’ve factored in the cost of trays, potting soil, seed, and liquid plant food, growing your own sod may not make as much financial sense as simply buying it from your local garden center. And if you have to buy a greenhouse just to grow your sod, it’s probably not the best choice.
Here’s how the math adds up.
Let’s say you need 32 square feet of sod to patch up your lawn and you’re going to install it yourself.
|Trays||$3.50 per tray x 15 trays = $52.50|
|Potting soil||$7.50 per cubic foot x 5 cubic feet* = $37.50|
|Seed||$0.13 per square foot x 32 square feet = $4.16|
|Liquid plant food||$8.00 x 1 bottle = $8.00|
* How do you know how many cubic feet of potting soil you need? Your area is 32 square feet, and the depth of the potting soil will be 1.75 inches (1.5 inches + the quarter of an inch on top of your seeds). To find the cubic feet of potting soil needed, first convert inches of potting soil to feet.
1.75 inches of potting soil / 12 inches in a foot = 0.15 feet of potting soil
Then, multiply your area in square feet by the depth of potting soil in feet to find the cubic feet of potting soil needed.
32 square feet x 0.15 feet of potting soil = 4.8 cubic feet of potting soil needed
You’ll need 4.8 cubic feet of potting soil to fill your trays. Round up to 5 because potting soil is generally sold by the cubic foot.
Most sod farmers won’t sell just 32 square feet of sod (they tend to sell a minimum of 300 square feet), but you can buy sod from a garden center for an average of $0.27 to $0.91 per square foot.
|Sod||$0.59 per square foot x 32 square feet = $18.88|
Even if you pay closer to a dollar for your sod, you’ll still save over $70 by buying sod.
The bottom line: Unless you already own the materials to grow sod by hand, it’s financially savvy to buy sod at your local garden center.
FAQ about growing your own sod
Sod (also known as turf) is pre-grown, mature grass that has been farmed for 10 to 24 months under ideal growing conditions. You can buy large rolls of sod from a sod farm or smaller sections from your local garden center.
A note about homegrown vs. farmed sod: Homegrown sod isn’t as mature as professionally farmed sod, so it won’t be as dense and weed-resistant as sod you buy from a sod farm.
Pros of sod:
✓ Sod offers faster, more reliable growing success than seeds.
✓ Sod quickly reduces erosion and stabilizes soil, so it’s perfect for slopes.
✓ Sod lets you establish a full, green lawn in areas where planting conditions are not ideal.
✓ Sod immediately minimizes the amount of soil tracked indoors.
✓ Sod resists weed encroachment: Sod (especially farmed sod) is already growing densely, so unlike tender grass shoots, it will give you a relatively weed-free grass.
✓ Sod (especially farmed sod) gives you an instant green lawn, while you may have to wait up to two years for seeded lawns to grow densely.
✓ A rich green lawn with attractive landscaping increases property value by as much as 14% and can speed up sales by six weeks. If you want to sell your house in the next few months, sod is the way to go.
Cons of sod:
✗ More expensive than grass seed.
✗ Newly laid sod is prone to fungus which must be treated.
✗ Some patches of sod may fail to take root and will need to be removed and replaced to ensure lawn uniformity.
✗ Installation takes thoughtful planning and can be labor-intensive.
✗ Limited choice of grass types: If you’re purchasing farmed sod, only certain turfgrasses are available, whereas you have your pick of grass seeds.
Laying a full sod lawn takes careful planning, site preparation, and a few pairs of extra hands. You’ll need to:
1. Test your soil
2. Measure your lawn area
3. Remove grass
4. Clean up debris
5. Till the soil
6. Amend your soil
7. Grade the area
8. Order and lay sod
9. Roll out your lawn
10. Soak the soil
It’s a good idea to replace bare spots with sod so you maintain an even look and prevent weeds from encroaching. It can take a seeded area three months to two years to grow densely, and in the meantime, that patch of lawn will look scraggly compared to the rest of your grass.
Patching it up with sod
Whether your pup decided your newly sodded lawn was the perfect place to hide his bone or you want to convert old garden beds into grassy space, growing sod can be a fun and rewarding DIY project. Though it may not save money, it will make you feel like a real green thumb.
Don’t want to spend your precious weekend tilling, raking, and laying sod? Call a local lawn care pro to fix the results of Fido’s frenzy in a jiffy.