How to Install Sod

Laying sod

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

Ready to unfurl the green carpet? Here’s a step-by-step guide to installing sod in your yard. We’ll walk you through how to prepare your soil, lay your sod, and care for your fresh green turf. 

When to install sod

You can install sod any time of year, as long as the ground isn’t frozen, snow-covered, or soaking. However, there are specific seasons when it’s best to install sod.

If you live in the cooler upper half of the U.S. and are installing cool-season grass (like Kentucky bluegrass, fescue, or ryegrass), install sod in late summer to late fall (September to November).

If you live in the warmer lower half of the U.S. and are installing warm-season grass (like bermudagrass, centipedegrass, St. Augustinegrass, and Zoysiagrass), install sod in mid-spring to early summer (March to June). 

If you live in the Transition Zone (the middle belt of the country), you may install cool-season or warm-season sod, depending on your specific region and climate. Choose your Transition Zone grass type and then install sod according to its growing season. 

For example, if you live in the northern part of the Transition Zone, you may choose cool-season Kentucky bluegrass and install it in late summer to late fall. 

Pro Tip: Sod won’t grow well in hot, dry soil, so postpone sod installation if temperatures rise above 85 degrees Fahrenheit.

What you’ll need

  • Soil test to learn what amendments your soil needs
  • Tape measure to measure the area of your lawn
  • Wheelbarrow to transport topsoil, compost, and sod
  • Rototiller to till your soil
  • Rake to even out soil
  • Lawn roller to smooth and firm up soil
  • Topsoil and compost to amend your soil and fill in low areas
  • Starter fertilizer (optional)
  • Fertilizer spreader (optional)
  • Irrigation system (optional)
  • Sod to lay over your bare yard
  • Sod knife to cut sod
  • Shovel to pat down sod

14 steps to install sod

Installing sod may sound intimidating, but with thoughtful planning and help from friends and family, you can get your yard green almost any time of the year. 

1. Test your soil

Order a soil test kit from a local soil lab at least a month before sod installation. This will give you time to get the results back and amend your soil accordingly before laying sod.

It’s tempting to skip right to laying down sod, but testing and amending your soil are key to successfully establishing sod. You don’t want to spend loads of money on an instant grass lawn, only to have it turn yellow and die within the first month.

Pro Tip: Contact your local cooperative extension service office to learn how to order a soil test.

2. Measure your lawn area

Use a tape measure or smartphone app like Measure My Lawn, Planimeter, or Google Maps to measure the square footage of the area you want to sod.

3. Remove grass (if needed)

If you have a pre-existing grass lawn, you’ll need to kill the grass and remove it before installing fresh sod. If you’re starting with a bare lawn, jump right to step four.

If you need to remove grass, you can kill it using:

4. Clean up debris

Remove rocks, twigs, plastic, and any construction scraps around the area. You don’t want any objects to block sod from growing into the soil.

5. Till the soil

Use a rototiller (a powerful walk-behind tool with rotating blades used to churn up the soil) to loosen the soil in your grass-free area. This will alleviate soil compaction so roots can easily grow into your existing soil. Till to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. Remove rocks and debris that come to the surface.

6. Amend your soil

Now is the time to put that soil test to use. Based on the test results and the recommendations the soil lab gives for your lawn needs, make the necessary amendments to fix the soil pH and adjust nutrient levels. 

If your soil is highly acidic, you may need to add garden lime or wood ash to raise the soil pH. If your soil is clay-heavy or sandy, mix in 1 to 3 inches of compost and topsoil to increase the flow of oxygen to roots and give your grass a natural nutrient boost. 

Before rushing out to buy soil amendments, take the size of your area and the application rate of the amendment into account. 

For example, the recommended application rate for lime is 50 pounds per 1,000 square feet. So, if your lawn is 10,000 square feet, multiply 50 pounds of lime by 10 to find the total amount of lime needed: 500 pounds of lime. Most garden lime is sold in 50-pound bags, so you’ll need to purchase 10 bags when you go to the garden store.

How to spread soil amendments depends on the amendments your lawn needs, but here are the general steps for amending your soil

  • Evenly spread the amendment on top of the existing soil 
  • Use a garden fork or spade to mix the amendment 6 to 8 inches deep into the soil
  • Thoroughly water the soil
  • Wait at least 2 weeks before planting anything

  By amending your soil, you’ll give new grass a healthy, hospitable environment to grow.

7. Apply a starter fertilizer (if needed)

If your soil test indicates that your soil is low in phosphorus, spread a layer of phosphorus-rich starter fertilizer over the area and till the soil to a depth of 4 to 6 inches. 

When it comes to encouraging root growth, phosphorus is a lawn superhero, but only apply it if necessary: Too much phosphorus fertilizer wreaks havoc on aquatic ecosystems, and many states have banned phosphorus applications on already-established lawns. 

8. Install an irrigation system (if needed)

Don’t want the hassle of hand-watering your lawn? If you don’t have pre-existing sprinklers or drip irrigation lines, now is the time to set them up. Make sure your irrigation system has head-to-head coverage so your fresh sod doesn’t end up with dry spots.

9. Grade the area

Use a rake to level out the area where you’ll install the sod and add topsoil to any low spots where puddles could form. 

Once you’ve raked, water the area lightly to see how water flows across your lawn and identify additional spots that need to be fixed. You want a smooth, level surface without any ditches, bumps, or valleys. 

Your soil should be 1 inch below the grade of sprinkler heads and paved areas like walkways, sidewalks, and patios. That way, roots won’t dry out and the edges of your grass lawn won’t get damaged by foot traffic. 

Gently roll out your soil with a lawn roller to make it firm and smooth. Don’t apply too much pressure, though. You don’t want to compact your newly amended soil. 

Pro Tip: If your yard has drainage issues, increase the grade of your lawn by spreading topsoil around the foundation of your home, sloping downward away from the house. 

10. Order sod

Call your local sod farm or garden center a few days in advance to check that they have your grass type. Then, order your sod the morning you plan to install it. Most sod distributors offer same-day delivery. Make sure to plan out your day so that sod arrives early enough for you to lay it before nightfall.

Once you have your sod, install it immediately to prevent it from drying and wilting in the sun. Keep sod in the shade (or in a cool garage or shed) until you unroll it. 

Purchase high-quality, certified sod from a reputable sod farm. Certified sod is weed-free, doesn’t contain unwanted grasses, and resists insects and diseases. 

Buy 5% to 10% more sod than you think your lawn needs to account for the small chunks of sod that you’ll trim off of edges and corners and won’t be able to use for other areas. 

Pro Tip: Call your local cooperative extension service for advice on what types of grasses grow best in your area. They’ll help you determine which sod is right for your region and climate. 

11. Lay your sod

It’s the moment of truth! Water the soil lightly, and then unroll and lay the first strip of sod along a long, straight edge (parallel to your driveway, patio, or sidewalk). 

Here are some guidelines for laying your first row of sod: 

  • Rake your soil as you lay the sod to remove any bumps under the surface. 
  • Do not step on the sod as you’re installing it. 
  • Press the seams of your sod together with your hands to create a uniform look and prevent the soil from drying.
  • Pat down newly laid sod with a shovel to remove air pockets and ensure good soil-sod contact. 
  • Lightly water fresh sod every 30 minutes. 

For the second row, cut your roll of sod in half. Lay it parallel to your first row so that the seams are staggered. Think of laying sod like you’re laying bricks for a sturdy foundation. By staggering sod, you’ll stop it from sagging on slopes and prevent ribbons of bare soil.

Lay sod strips tightly beside each other. You don’t want any gaps in your sod, but you also don’t want any overlap. 

Stagger each new row of sod and repeat the process, using a sharp knife to cut the sod around edges, curves, and obstacles like sprinkler heads. Slice from the underside of your sod (not the grass side) for a cleaner, easier cut.

Pro Tip: If you’re sodding on a slope, start at the bottom and work your way to the top. 

12. Fill in gaps

Once you’ve laid your sod, stand back and admire your handiwork. Check for bare spots in hard-to-reach, curved areas. Then, patch them up with topsoil and sod scraps. Just note that small sod scraps tend to dry rapidly, so these spots will need more water to establish. 

13. Roll out your lawn

Once your new sod is fully installed, grab that lawn roller again and gently roll it over your lawn to ensure an even, smooth surface (without bumps or air pockets) and strong contact between sod and soil. When walking over your sod with the lawn roller, step softly to avoid making heavy footprints. 

Pro Tip: If it rained heavily while you were installing your sod, you don’t need to use a roller. Your soil will already be soft, and using a roller could compact it and shift the sod.

14. Give sod a good soaking

Water your new sod deeply. It’s best to water by hand rather than with an automated system to make sure each area gets the right amount of water. 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 sod has taken root. Avoid walking on your sod for the first week.

How to tell if sod has taken root: Gently lift the corner of your sod. If you feel little to no resistance and can easily pick up the sod, your sod has not taken root. If you feel resistance, your sod has taken root and the resistance you feel is from roots straining to stay in the soil.

Repeat the process in a few different locations. New roots will be white and old roots will be brown.

How to care for your new sod lawn

  • 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 sod has rooted and grown 3 to 3.5 inches tall (about two weeks after installation), mow your lawn on the highest mower setting. This will protect your lawn from accidental scalping. 
  • If you installed sod during the growing season, apply a nitrogen-rich fertilizer three to four weeks after sodding, and again 30 to 60 days later. These initial fertilizer applications will give your sod a strong start so you won’t have to worry about disease and weeds. 

Only fertilize during your grass’s growing season. If you installed sod in winter, delay fertilizing until spring after your grass has fully greened up. 

What is sod?

Sod (also known as turf) is pre-grown, mature grass that has been farmed for 10 to 24 months under ideal growing conditions. 

Where does sod come from? 

Sod comes from sod farms ⁠— field operations designed specifically to grow healthy, weed-free grass for homeowners and farmers. When you call your local sod farm and order sod, sod farmers slice it out of the ground in thick sheets that include underlying roots and soil. Then, they deliver it straight to your home.

Why install sod

Installing sod gives you an instant healthy green lawn. When you spread seeds, you typically have to wait one to two years for your grass to fill in. With sod, you can be proud of your dense, green lawn as soon as it’s installed.

Sod is perfect for increasing your home value and adding curb appeal. Whether you’re planning to sell your home or just want to beautify your property, sod can make your lawn the belle of the ball.

Benefits and disadvantages of sod

Choosing between sodding and seeding? Here’s how sod stacks up with grass seeds.

Benefits of sod

✓ Sod offers more reliable growing success than seeds: You won’t have to worry about sod washing away in the rain or failing to germinate.
✓ Relatively weed-free establishment: Sod is already growing densely, so unlike tender grass shoots, it resists weed encroachment. This also means you won’t have to apply as much herbicide.
✓ Sod gives you an instantly green lawn. Unlike grass seeds, it’s dense and healthy from the start.
✓ Flexible planting times: You can install sod at almost any time of the year, though it is best to install it during the growing season. Seeding offers a narrower window for successful growth.
✓ Sod establishes faster than seeds, so you don’t have to babysit your grass for long.
✓ 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.
✓ A rich green lawn with attractive landscaping increases property value by as much as 14% and can speed up sales by six weeks.

Disadvantages of sod

✗ More expensive than grass seed: If you have a large lawn, sod costs could be prohibitive. Sod costs about $0.27 to $0.91 per square foot, so if you need 10,000 square feet of grass, you could pay over $8,000. It will cost $400 to $1,000 to spread seed over that same area. 
✗ Limited choice of grass types: Only certain turfgrasses are available in sod form, whereas you have your pick of grass seeds. 
✗ Newly laid sod is prone to fungus, which must be treated. 
✗ Some patches of sod may fail to take root. They’ll need to be removed and replaced to ensure lawn uniformity, which can be physically and financially taxing.
✗ Installation takes careful planning and can be labor-intensive. 

Installing sod yourself or calling a pro

Installing sod takes planning, time, and energy. Hiring lawn care pros means you’ll have to pay for labor, but it also means you won’t have to rent a lawn roller or rototiller; load up your car with compost, topsoil, and fertilizer; and work all day (or multiple days). The pros will do the heavy lifting for you.

Choosing whether to make sodding a DIY project or a professional endeavor depends on:

  • How much money you’re willing to spend for an improved lawn appearance.

Sod alone costs $0.27 to $0.91 per square foot, and pros charge $0.78 and $1.94 per square foot for labor and materials. 

It’s a trade-off between money and looks. Go with the pros if you’re willing to pay a little less than double what you would for sod alone for a more even, attractive lawn. If you’re happy with a slightly less polished lawn look, you can save some cash by doing it yourself. 

  • How large your project area is.

If you have a 15,000-square-foot lawn, you’ll need extra hands to sod the area in a timely manner before sod dries out. If you only need to install 500 square feet of turf, it’s an easy DIY.

  • The physical shape of your lawn. 

If your lawn is an odd shape, it may be better for the pros to sod it so it doesn’t end up looking messy and patched together. If your lawn is a simple rectangle or square, it’s a straightforward project you can do yourself.

  • Whether you’re starting with bare ground or a grass lawn.

Removing pre-existing grass takes planning, time, and labor. It may be easier to hire a pro to get grass fully gone and start your new turf on the right foot. 

  • How much time you can devote to sodding.

Laying sod takes planning and preparation at least a month in advance, and if you’re sodding your whole lawn, there’s a high likelihood that it will be an all-day or multiple-day project. If your life is already hectic, installing sod may be one task you can hand off to the pros. 

FAQ about installing sod

1. Can I install sod over my pre-existing grass? 

No. The existing lawn will decompose underneath your sod and heat up during the process, which will kill your sod roots. Plus, your old, dead grass will create a barrier between fresh sod and your existing soil. No matter how tempting it is to simply cover living grass with sod, don’t do it. Kill your grass before laying sod. 

2. How much does a lawn roller cost?

You can rent a lawn roller from most home improvement stores for $20 to $25 per day. If you want to invest, a new lawn roller costs $100 to $250.

3. How long does it take for sod to take root? 

It takes about two weeks for shallow roots to grow into the surrounding soil and six weeks for deeper root growth.

4. Why isn’t my sod growing? 

If you’re experiencing establishment problems, reevaluate your watering schedule. Remember, during dry periods, you may need to water sod multiple times a day to keep it moist.

Another common problem is foot traffic. Keep everyone off the lawn for three to four weeks after installing your sod to give the grass a chance to anchor. 

If you’re installing in winter and the sod is dormant, keep watering it. According to the Purdue University extension, “Lack of irrigation is the number one reason dormant sodding is unsuccessful.”

5. How large is a roll of sod? 

Most rolls of sod are about 5 feet long by 2 feet wide, covering 10 square feet of lawn. However, sod comes in a variety of shapes and sizes: Sheets range from 1-foot-by-1-foot squares to enormous 90-foot-long rolls. 

6. How long does it take to install sod? 

Here’s where laying sod can get tricky: In general, it takes a person two to three hours to lay 1,000 square feet of sod, and that doesn’t include removing grass or preparing the area. If your lawn is 10,000 square feet (an average lawn size), it will take you 20 to 30 hours to install sod. But you need to sleep! 

Here are some solutions to the time crunch:

Space out sod delivery over two or three days so sod doesn’t dry out.
Make it a party! Invite your friends to a sod-laying pizza party or barbeque.
Call a team of local lawn care pros to do the sodding for you.

Prepare your yard for sod success

Eager to host a backyard party? Send out the invites and make sodding 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’d rather host a cozy wine night and leave the tilling, grading, and rolling to the pros, you can call a local lawn care team for instant grass-ification.

Main Photo Credit:

Maille Smith

Maille-Rose Smith is a freelance writer and actor based in New York. She graduated from the University of Virginia. She enjoys watching theatre, reading mysteries, and listening to psychology podcasts. She is an orchid enthusiast and always has a basil plant growing in her kitchen.