How to Install Sod

Laying sod

You’ve heard of instant gratification, but how about instant grass-ification? ​​Transform your old, patchy, drab lawn into gorgeous greenery by installing sod, so you can enjoy a verdant outdoor space without the wait.

Ready to unfurl the green carpet? Discover how to install sod in your yard. We’ll walk you through the steps, including how to prepare your soil, lay your sod, and care for your fresh new lawn. 

What is sod?

Sod, also known as turf, is a popular and efficient way to establish a lush, green lawn. It comprises pre-grown, mature grass plants held together by a layer of soil and roots. Specialized sod farms spend 10 to 24 months growing sod rolls or squares under ideal conditions. When installed correctly, sod provides an instant and uniform lawn, making it a convenient choice for homeowners looking to transform their outdoor space quickly. 

How to install sod on your lawn

Laying new sod grass
Photo Credit: DIGIcal | Canva Pro | License

Whether you are starting from scratch or looking to revamp an existing lawn, there are a few tools you will need to install your new sod. 

  • Shovel or turf cutter to remove existing grass, weeds, and debris
  • Garden rake to level and smooth the soil
  • Measuring tape to measure your lawn and calculate the amount of sod your project requires
  • Sharp knife or sod cutter for cutting and fitting your sod pieces along the edges and borders of your lawn
  • Wheelbarrow for moving sod pieces and transporting soil amendments
  • Garden hose and sprinkler to water the soil and fresh sod
  • Lawn roller to press the sod firmly into the soil, ensuring good sod-to-soil contact
  • Stakes and string for creating guidelines and ensuring straight edges while laying your sod
  • Fertilizer and soil amendments (optional) to amend your soil based on your soil test results
  • Lawn mower to maintain your new sod and turfgrass

Step 1: Prepare your lawn

Before diving into the exciting process of laying sod, proper preparation is crucial. Begin by clearing the area of any existing grass, weeds, or debris using a shovel or turf cutter. A well-prepared base is essential for your new sod to thrive. 

After clearing the surface, use a rake to level the topsoil, ensuring it is smooth and free of low spots. Adequate soil preparation not only provides a level surface but also aids in proper drainage, preventing puddles on your lawn.

Get a soil test for optimal results

To set the stage for a healthy lawn, consider conducting a soil test before installing your sod. A soil test provides valuable insights into your soil’s pH levels, nutrient content, and composition. 

You can get soil testing kits from local garden centers or contact your county extension office for help. Understanding your soil’s characteristics allows you to make informed decisions about soil amendments and fertilization, ensuring that your sod has the ideal conditions for root development and growth. 

Based on the results of your soil test, you may need to consider soil amendments. These can include adding organic matter, such as compost, to improve soil structure and nutrient content. Properly amended soil provides a fertile and welcoming environment for your sod’s roots.

Starter fertilizer

In addition to soil amendments, consider applying a starter fertilizer designed for new sod. Starter fertilizers typically contain essential nutrients like phosphorus, which is crucial for root development. Applying a starter fertilizer helps provide your sod with the nutrients for a strong beginning and faster establishment.

Step 2: Measure and order your sod

Once you have prepared your lawn and determined it is ready for the sod installation, the next crucial step is measuring the area in square feet to determine how much sod your project requires and ordering rolls of sod. 

  • Measure your lawn: Start by measuring the length and width of the lawn area you intend to sod. Multiply these two dimensions to calculate the square footage. If your lawn has irregular shapes, divide it into smaller, more manageable sections for measurement.
  • Account for waste: Always order slightly more sod than your calculated square footage to account for any irregular shapes or cutting needed to fit around obstacles. A 5% to 10% buffer is a good rule of thumb.
  • Choose the right sod: Select the type of sod that is best suited for your climate and intended use. Local sod suppliers can guide you on the most appropriate grass variety for your region.
  • Order your sod: Contact a reputable sod supplier or visit a local nursery to place your order. Provide them with the square footage you calculated and any specific instructions regarding your sod delivery date.
  • Freshness matters: Request fresh sod that has been harvested within the last 24 hours, if possible. Fresh sod has a higher chance of success because it retains more moisture and nutrients.

Step 3: Time your sod delivery

The timely delivery of your sod is crucial to ensure its health and vitality. Plan your sod delivery for a day when you can begin installation immediately. You should install your sod within 24 hours of delivery to prevent it from drying out.

Maintain open communication with your sod supplier regarding your delivery date and time. Confirm that they understand your schedule and can meet your delivery requirements. Upon delivery, inspect the sod to ensure it is fresh. Fresh sod will have a vibrant green color and moist soil underneath. Reject any sod that appears dry, yellowed, or damaged.

If you cannot begin installation immediately, store the sod in a shaded area and keep it moist by lightly sprinkling water on the rolls or stacks. Avoid leaving it exposed to direct sunlight or wind. Sod only lasts around 24 hours in the summer. However, with consistent moisture, it lasts three to five days on the pallet in the winter. 

Pro tip: Schedule your sod delivery for the morning when temperatures are cooler to reduce the risk of your sod overheating and drying out during transportation.

Step 4: Start laying your sod

With your lawn prepared and fresh sod on hand, it is time to begin the exciting step-by-step process of laying the foundation for your new lawn. Follow these steps for a successful sod installation:

  • Establish a straight edge: Begin by laying the first row of sod along a straight edge, such as a sidewalk or driveway. This initial row will serve as a neat boundary for the rest of your lawn.
  • Stagger the seams: To create a stable and visually appealing layout, stagger the seams of each sod piece in a brickwork or offset pattern. This arrangement enhances the sod’s structural integrity and encourages root growth.
  • Fit around obstacles: Use a sharp blade or sod cutter to trim and shape the sod pieces to fit around trees, shrubs, flower beds, or other obstacles in your lawn. Ensure a snug fit for a seamless appearance.
  • Butt the edges: Place each piece of sod tightly against its neighboring piece, eliminating gaps or overlaps. This ensures good sod-to-soil contact, aiding in root establishment.
  • Avoid stretching: Refrain from stretching the sod to make it fit; instead, use the natural contours of your lawn area. Stretching can lead to gaps and poor root contact.
  • Compact sod: After laying each section or row of sod, use a lawn roller to press gently down on it. This step helps eliminate air pockets and creates a firm connection between the sod and the soil, promoting root growth.
  • Water immediately: Immediately after laying each section or row of sod, water it thoroughly to help it settle into place and provide essential moisture to the roots.
  • Continue in rows: Work row by row, overlapping the edges slightly until you have covered your entire lawn area.

Pro tip: Use stakes and strings to maintain straight lines and proper spacing. This ensures that your rows are even and well-aligned.

Step 5: Trim sod edges

As you continue with your sod installation, it is essential to pay attention to the edges and borders of your lawn. Trimming the sod edges ensures a polished and professional finish. Here’s how to do it:

  • Create clean borders: Walk around your newly laid sod and identify areas where the sod overhangs or extends beyond the desired boundaries of your lawn. This often occurs along sidewalks, driveways, or flower beds.
  • Measure and mark: Use a measuring tape to determine how much excess sod needs to be trimmed. Mark these areas with stakes or strings to create a clear cutting guideline.
  • Make the cuts: Carefully cut along the marked lines, ensuring a straight and even edge. Take your time to avoid jagged or uneven edges.
  • Dispose of trimmings: Remove the excess sod pieces and dispose of them properly. You can add them to a compost pile if you have one, or follow local guidelines for yard waste disposal.
  • Maintain consistency: Continue to trim sod edges as you progress through your installation, especially when working around irregular shapes or obstacles. The goal is to create a seamless transition between the sod and any existing landscaping features.

Step 6: Water sod

After successfully laying and trimming the sod, the next critical step is to provide proper hydration. Watering your newly installed sod is essential for its immediate health and long-term vitality. Follow these guidelines for effective watering:

  • Water immediately: Begin watering your sod immediately after installation. The initial watering is crucial for settling the sod into place and eliminating air pockets underneath.
  • Soak thoroughly: Use a garden hose or sprinkler heads to saturate the sod with water. Ensure that the soil beneath the sod is moist but not waterlogged.
  • Water frequently: In the first week, it is essential to keep your sod consistently moist. Water lightly several times per day to prevent it from drying out. This is especially crucial during hot, dry weather.
  • Avoid overwatering: While it is important to keep your sod moist, avoid overwatering, which can lead to waterlogged soil and root rot. Your goal is to maintain a consistent level of moisture without creating puddles.
  • Water in the early morning: The best time to water your sod is early in the morning between 6 am to 10 am. This allows your grass to dry before evening, reducing the risk of disease.
  • Adjust as needed: Newly installed sod requires 1 to 1.5 inches of water per week. Adjust your watering schedule based on weather. During rainy periods, you may need to water less frequently, while dry spells may require more frequent watering.
  • Check soil moisture: Periodically check the moisture level of the soil beneath the sod. You can do this by gently lifting a corner of the sod to see if the soil is adequately moist.
  • Gradual reduction: Over a few weeks, gradually reduce the frequency of watering as the sod establishes its roots. Aim for deep but less frequent watering sessions to encourage deep root growth. Reduce your watering sessions to 15 to 20 minutes, twice weekly. 
  • Monitor growth: Monitor the sod’s progress. As it takes root and establishes itself, you can transition to a standard lawn watering schedule.

Pro tip: 1 to 1.5 inches of water is equivalent to two 30- to 45-minute watering sessions per week with an automatic irrigation system. If you are using a traditional garden hose and sprinkler, aim to water your lawn for 60 to 90 minutes per session. 

Step 7: Avoid heavy foot traffic

While it is tempting to enjoy your newly laid sod immediately, it is essential to exercise caution and avoid heavy foot traffic during the initial stages of the establishment. The young grass and developing root systems are sensitive and vulnerable to damage.

Sod requires time to establish a strong root system in the soil. Heavy foot traffic can compact the soil, inhibit root growth, and cause stress to your grass, making it more susceptible to diseases and other issues. 

Allowing the soil to settle naturally and your sod to take root without disturbance is essential for the long-term health of your lawn. Heavy foot traffic disrupts this process and can lead to uneven settling.

Pro tip: Designate walkways to access areas with newly laid sod using boards or stepping stones. This prevents concentrated traffic on your grass and distributes weight more evenly.

Step 8: Mow and maintain your new sod

Your journey to a beautiful, lush lawn doesn’t end with the installation of sod. Proper maintenance is essential to ensure your new grass remains healthy and vibrant. Here’s how to care for your newly sodded lawn:

  • Wait for the right time to mow: After your sod has established itself, typically about two weeks after installation, it is time to give it its first mow. Ensure that your grass has reached the recommended mowing height for your chosen grass variety. Generally, aim to remove no more than one-third of the grass height in a single mowing session.
  • Leave grass clippings: Consider leaving grass clippings on your lawn after mowing. They can provide valuable nutrients to the soil and help with moisture retention. However, be sure the clippings are small and do not smother your new grass.
  • Fertilize and water: Continue to follow a regular lawn care routine, including fertilization and weed control, as recommended for your specific grass type and region. Adequate watering is also crucial; monitor the soil’s moisture level and adjust your watering schedule accordingly.
  • Avoid heavy traffic: Just as during the initial sod installation, be mindful of heavy foot traffic on your lawn. Minimize activities that may compact the soil or stress your grass, especially during the early stages of sod establishment.
  • Address issues promptly: Keep an eye out for any signs of pests, diseases, or other issues on your lawn. Address problems promptly to prevent them from spreading and causing further damage.

Why should you install sod on your lawn?

When it comes to creating a vibrant and attractive lawn, there are several compelling reasons to consider installing sod over other methods of grass establishment. Unlike grass seed, which can take weeks to germinate and months to establish, sod instantly transforms your outdoor space into a lush and green oasis.

Sod also creates a uniform and consistent appearance, free of patchy areas or bare spots. This results in a polished and manicured look right from the start. Additionally, sod helps prevent soil erosion, making it an ideal choice for sloped or hilly areas where erosion can be a concern.

A well-laid sod lawn naturally suppresses weed growth because of its dense and established grass cover. This reduces the need for herbicides and weed control measures. Furthermore, sod reduces mud and dust, providing a cleaner and more enjoyable outdoor environment for you and your family. A well-maintained sod lawn enhances your property’s curb appeal and can increase its value.

When to install sod on your lawn 

The timing of when to install sod on your lawn can significantly impact its success. The ideal time for sod installation depends on various factors, including the type of grass you are planting, your local climate, and your specific goals. Here are some general guidelines to help you determine the best time to install sod:

  • Spring (March to May): Spring is an excellent time to install sod for cool-season grasses like Kentucky bluegrass, fescue, and perennial ryegrass. The mild temperatures and increased moisture promote fast root growth.
  • Fall (September to October): Fall is the optimal time for both cool-season and warm-season grasses. Cooler temperatures and reduced weed competition during this season provide an ideal environment for sod establishment.
  • Early summer (June to July): While summer can be challenging due to heat and water requirements, you can still successfully install sod if you take extra care with watering. It’s best for warm-season grasses like Bermudagrass, Zoysiagrass, and St. Augustine.
  • Late fall to early winter (November to December): In regions with mild winters, sod can be installed during late fall or early winter. The grass will become dormant, but will establish roots during the dormant period. This is more suitable for warm-season grasses in areas with mild winters.
  • Year-round: In regions with mild climates, such as the southern parts of the United States, sod can be installed year-round, except during extreme weather.

Regardless of the season, avoid installing sod during periods of extreme weather, such as heavy rainfall, extreme heat, or severe cold. These conditions can stress the sod and hinder its establishment.

Pro tip: Consult with local nurseries, sod suppliers, or agricultural extension services for specific recommendations based on your region’s climate and the type of grass you plan to install.

DIY vs. professional sod installation

Choosing between DIY and professional installation for your sod depends on your budget, expertise, available time, and the scale of your project. Here’s a comparison of the two approaches to help you make an informed decision:

Pros and cons of DIY sod installation

Cost savingsLabor-intensive
Flexible scheduleRequires some skill and knowledge
Hands-on learning opportunityTime-consuming
Suitable for lawn repairRisk of suboptimal results

Pros and cons of professional sod installation

Time-efficientLess control over results
Quality assuranceUnforeseen costs
Suitable for large-scale projectsScheduling conflicts

Ultimately, the choice between DIY and professional sod installation depends on your priorities. If you have the time, physical capability, and desire to learn, DIY can be a cost-effective and rewarding option for small to medium-sized projects. 

On the other hand, if you prioritize a hassle-free and professionally executed lawn, especially for larger or more complex areas, professional installation may be the best choice to ensure a successful outcome and long-term satisfaction with your new sodded lawn.

FAQ about installing sod

Can I lay sod over my existing grass? 

No. Experts do not recommend installing sod over existing grass. It can cause an uneven surface, resource competition, and weed issues. 

How long does it take for sod to take root? 

Sod typically establishes roots within the first two to four weeks after installation.

Why isn’t my sod growing? 

Several factors can contribute to slow or poor sod growth. Common reasons include inadequate watering, poor soil preparation, insufficient sunlight, pests or diseases, and improper maintenance.

How much does professional sod installation cost?

Sod installation costs between $0.35 to $0.80 per square foot. 

Professional sod installation

Eager to host a backyard party? Send out the invites and make laying sod a fun DIY project. Just make sure you test your soil at least a month in advance so you have time to make soil amendments.

If you would rather host a cozy wine night and leave the tilling, grading, and rolling to the pros, let Lawn Love connect you with a local landscaping pro so you can achieve instant grass-ification.

Main Photo Credit: brebcaphotos | Canva Pro | License

Kimberly Magerl

Kimberly Magerl is a writer and data analyst specializing in landscaping, gardening, lawn care, and pest control. She enjoys growing orchids, tending to fruits and vegetables in her garden, and getting outdoors. A resident of Texas, when she isn't gardening, Kimberly enjoys trying new recipes and cooking with her home-grown herbs.