The grass is greener on the sodded side
Whether you live in a windy place that keeps sending your grass seeds into the sky or you want the greenest yard possible as soon as possible, installing sod may be the perfect way to get the luxurious lawn of your dreams. But first, you have to actually learn how to lay sod.
While there is a time commitment to getting your soil in shape before starting, the process of laying sod can (and should) be completed in just one day, making this project a DIYer’s dream.
What Is Sod?
Sod farmers plant grass seeds just like you would on your lawn, but they do it in bulk on a sod farm (exactly like a regular farm but exclusively for grass). Once the grass seeds have developed roots and have grown for a little over a year, farmers will then cut patches of the grass out of the ground (keeping the roots intact), roll them up, and ship them away to sellers.
Sod is often preferred over seeds because sod helps establish grass quickly, allowing you to enjoy your lawn sooner. There are various types of sod available, like Bermuda grass and Bella bluegrass, depending on the type of grass you want for your lawn. It's essential to purchase sod that’s suitable for your climate and has a maintenance level that’s agreeable with your schedule.
How Much Does It Cost to Lay Sod?
The average cost to sod a yard yourself is $2,000, but it can range from $0.35 to $0.85 per square foot depending on the type of grass, the company you purchase it from, and your geographic location.
Prepping to Lay Sod
Preparation is the key to success, and laying sod is no exception.
Measure Your Space
Before you learn how to lay sod, you need to determine the size of the area that needs to be covered with sod so that you know exactly how much sod to buy. For smaller areas, you can use a tape measure, but for larger yards, it may be easier for you to use a measuring wheel to get more accurate measurements.
Multiply the length and width of your yard to get the square footage. Then, subtract the square footage of any hardscaping or obstacles in the yard, such as driveways, decking, patios, or sheds, from the total square footage of your yard.
For example, if the area you want to sod is 12 feet long and 24 feet wide, that’s 288 square feet. However, if you have a flower bed in that area, you’ll need to remove that from the overall square footage since you won’t be sodding that space. If your flower bed is 4 feet long and 5 feet wide, that’s 20 square feet, meaning the entire area you need to sod is 268 square feet.
Decide What Grass You Want
You should also decide what kind of sod you wish to buy. There are many kinds of sod available in tons of grass varieties. Experts typically divide grass into two main categories: cool-season grasses and warm-season grasses. It’s important to pay attention to your geographic area and growing zone before making your final decision.
If you’re covering only a portion of your yard, try your best to match the existing grass type when you purchase sod. If you’re laying sod over brand-new soil, you can choose the type of sod based on its particular properties. For example, some types of grass grow faster than others, and some grasses can withstand more wear and tear.
Order Your Sod
Once you know what kind of sod you want and you have the measurements for your yard, you can order the sod. Professionals recommended that you order 5% to 10% more sod than you measured for to account for cutoffs. Remember, if you’re covering a large surface area, it’s more cost-effective to order sod in larger rolls or pallets.
When scheduling the delivery of your sod, choose a day when you can install it right away to prevent decomposition and damage. Opt for a clear weather day that hasn't been overly dry in the weeks leading up to the installation to ensure the sod can take root and properly grow. Plan ahead and select a delivery date two to three weeks in advance. Scheduling ahead of time will give you enough leeway to prep your lawn and test its pH.
If you're concerned about being able to install your sod in one day, we’ve got some tips for you to extend the life of the sod, given that the weather in your area isn't too hot.
Take the rolls off of their delivery pallets.
Store unused rolls in a shady area.
Unroll the sod.
Lightly water unrolled sod to keep it from drying out.
Do not water rolled-up sod. Doing so will make it die very quickly.
Try not to let your sod sit for more than 24 hours before being installed, as it will wither and go brown fast.
How to Lay Sod
While you’re waiting for your sod to get delivered, you can start the process of getting your soil ready, putting you one step closer to an incredibly lush lawn.
Prep the Soil
Water the area where you plan to lay the sod.
Remove old grass using a sod cutter.
Kill any remaining vegetation or weeds with an herbicide or an all-natural, homemade weed killer.
Once the existing weeds and vegetation have died off, loosen the soil with a rototiller, making sure you’re working 6 to 8 inches deep.
Remove any large rocks or obstructions that you’ve unearthed.
Test your soil with a soil test kit and check that the pH and mineral levels are ideal for your type of sod.
Spread 2 inches of finished compost over the tilled soil.
If you have claylike soil, top the compost off with 2 to 3 inches of sand to improve drainage.
Use a till to work in the soil amendments.
Depending on the results of your soil pH testing kit, add in any appropriate fertilizers.
Make sure your lawn is level and 1 inch below the level of any sidewalks, patios, or sprinkler heads.
Water the ground lightly to dampen the soil.
Use a lawn roller to smooth out the soil’s surface.
Lay the First Row of Sod
Start laying your sod on the same day that it’s delivered.
Store your sod in a shaded area while you work.
Find the longest straight edge of your yard (such as where your lawn meets your patio, driveway, or fence) and unroll the first patch of sod alongside it. Do not step on the sod as you’re working.
Pat down the sod with a shovel, making sure to tap out any air pockets or wrinkles.
Lay the Next Rows
Use a utility knife to cut the next piece of sod in half so you can stagger the installation, as you would with brickwork.
Smooth out any footprints that have formed in the soil from installing the first row.
Make sure the sod pieces fit snugly next to one another with no overlap.
Using the utility knife, cut out holes for in-ground sprinkler heads and irregularly-shaped areas, such as planting beds.
Continue to lightly tap down the sod with a shovel and work out any new wrinkles or bubbles.
Fill in Gaps and Trim Excess Sod
Check your lawn for any gaps in the sod.
Cut pieces sod into the missing shapes using the utility knife.
Place the sod into the gaps, making sure it’s a perfect, snug fit, like the missing piece of a puzzle.
If any sod has crept over a driveway, patio, or another area where it’s not wanted, carefully trim the excess with your utility knife.
Smooth Out the Sod
Use a lawn roller to press out any remaining air pockets and secure the sod to the ground.
Roll in one direction, then roll in the perpendicular direction, creating a cross-hatch pattern.
Water the newly laid sod thoroughly.
Keep foot traffic away from the yard for the next two to three weeks.
Taking Care of Your Newly Laid Sod
After laying the sod, it's crucial to water it thoroughly and avoid walking on it. To make sure that the sod has good contact with the soil, gently lift a corner of the sod after watering to check if the ground underneath is moist. Adjust the watering level if necessary, depending on the soil's moisture level.
For one week after installation, water the sod daily, then switch to every other day until the grass begins to take root. Once the sod’s roots have established themselves, you can water the sod twice per week. After four weeks, you can test if the sod is ready for mowing by gently pulling a handful of grass to see if it lifts an entire patch. If most of the grass remains in place, you can safely mow the lawn at a high height, provided that it's dry. Keep in mind that the sod's rooting time may vary depending on the conditions of your area.
To prevent weeds and promote healthy growth, fertilize the lawn after the first mow.
DIY vs. Hire a Pro
If you aren’t handy with yard tools or are worried about the time crunch that comes with laying fresh sod, you might opt to have a professional come in and take over the task. The cost to hire a local sod company will include the cost of the sod, which depends on the type of sod you want, plus labor, which runs from $1 to $2 per square foot. The average total is about $2,000.
Another consideration for deciding on DIYing or hiring a pro is what tools you already have on hand. If you would need to rent a lot of equipment for the project, it might make more sense (aka be more wallet-friendly) to hire a pro and enjoy your time off on Saturday.
Paul Pogue contributed to this piece.
Frequently Asked Questions
You can install sod at any time during your region’s growing season; however, many people prefer to lay it in the early fall when the soil is still warm but daytime temperatures are more moderate. Avoid laying sod in early spring or winter, as the soil and air temperatures will be too cold for the grass to take root in your yard or grow.
You may be trying to decide between installing sod or planting grass seed. Looking at the pros and cons of sod may make your decision easier.
Sod can be great because it provides instant gratification, can be installed any time throughout the growing season, is less likely to get weeds, is resistant to erosion, and has a much more consistent appearance than a seeded lawn. However, sod also has a higher up-front cost and must be installed immediately when it’s delivered. Plus, there are fewer grass varieties to choose from with sod than you can get with seeds.
You can purchase sod from a variety of suppliers, such as garden centers, local home improvement stores, and even directly from sod farms. Keep in mind that some retailers will only sell sod by the pallet, so you may need a more specialized supplier if you only need to cover a small surface area.