To prepare your lawn for sod cutting and removal:
- Choose your sod cutter and review manufacturer instructions.
- Mow your lawn before cutting sod.
- Water your lawn 24–48 hours prior to cutting sod.
- Clearly mark off the area where you intend to remove the sod.
- Establish a pattern for sod removal. You want to remove sod in long, straight lines.
- Adjust sod cutter blade height to remove sod grass along with at least ¾ (2 cm) inch of topsoil.
- Use the sod cutter to cut the sod into sections, disengaging the blade from the soil before making turns.
- Cut sod into 3–4-foot (1 meter) sections for easy transport, replanting, or composting.
Read on for additional details about how to prepare your lawn and use a sod cutter to quickly and easily remove unwanted grass.
10 Steps for How to Use a Sod Cutter
Many home and lawn projects require a sod cutter before more extensive work can begin. Whether you’re preparing on resodding, establishing a garden, or creating a hard surface outdoor space or patio, you’ll need to operate your sod cutter as follows.
Choose the Right Sod Cutter
Although sod can be cut with a square shovel or a manual sod cutter, the best tool for the job is a motorized sod cutter. Most hardware stores offer sod cutters for rental at an hourly rate. Rather than purchasing a new sod cutter, renting a gasoline-powered sod cutter is typically the most economical way to tackle your home improvement mission.
Mow Before You Cut Sod
It’s easier to cut sod when the grass has been mowed to a manageable height. The sod cutter will be easier to operate, it will be easier to see where you have cut strips of sod, and it makes the sod itself lighter and easier to transport.
Mow your lawn to a height of 2.5 inches (6.5 cm) before cutting. You’ll have the best results using your sod cutter and a lot less hassle rolling, sectioning, or replanting sod.
Water Grass to Prepare for Sod Cutting
Water any areas of your yard where you plan to remove sod 24–48 hours prior to cutting sod. This will make the soil moist enough to make for easier cutting and prevent blade slippage that can be caused by overly dry soil. The ideal soil for sod cutting is moist but does not have any standing water.
Mark off the Area for Sod Removal
When removing a section of sod for a garden, a future patio, or a similar project, it’s important to clearly mark off the section for removal using marking flags and/or grass-safe spray chalk. By clearly laying out the area, you prevent any potential for removing too much or too little sod. Remember, it’s easier to remove sod than it is to establish new sod, so make sure not to remove any sections of the lawn you wish to keep.
Plan a Sod Cutting Pattern
Before removing sod, it’s important to survey the area of removal and plan your pattern for sod cutting. Sod cutters cut in straight lines, and the job will go faster the fewer turns you make. Plan to cut rectangular sections so that you cut long, straight strips of sod. Taking the time to plan ahead can make the job a lot easier.
Follow Sod Cutter Safety Guidelines
When operating a sod cutter, adhere to manufacturer guidelines for starting and operation. Wear close-toed shoes, as well as hearing and eye protection. When operating a gas-powered walk-behind sod cutter, remain aware of the blade’s position at all times. Make sure all other people and pets are at least 30 feet (9 meters) away from the sod cutter at all times during operation.
Test Cut a Small Section of Sod
Once you’ve begun using your sod cutter, first test cut a 3-foot section of sod before removing the blade from the turf. Stop the sod cutter and inspect this first piece of sod. Make sure the sod is cut cleanly and that there is ¾–1 inch (2–2.5 cm) of dirt as part of the sod. A test cut like this helps you dial in your sod cutter’s settings early.
Adjust Sod Cutter Blade Height
Sod cutters allow for the adjustment of sod cutter blade height. See your sod cutter’s manual for specific instructions. The ideal blade cuts sod so that there is ¾–1 inch (2–2.5 cm) of soil included with the grass. It’s important to cut sod deeply enough that any new sod or surfacing laid on the ground is 1 inch below any concrete driveways or sidewalks, to allow for proper drainage.
Removing at least ¾ inch of topsoil with sod also removes grass roots, preventing removed grass from resprouting. Cutting sod too shallow will result in uneven ground, poor drainage, and returning grass and weeds.
Use Sod Cutter to Remove Grass
Operate your sod cutter to remove the sod in long, straight strips. Once you reach the end of the strip, remove the sod cutter blade from the soil according to the machine’s operator instructions, turn, and begin the next cut. It’s essential to cut sod in straight strips for easiest removal.
Cut or Roll Sod for Removal or Replanting
When moving or removing sod, you can either roll sod strips into circular bales or use a sod knife to cut the sod into 3–4 foot (1 meter) sections for transport. These smaller sections are the best way to move sod without the aid of machinery.
If you are storing sod for replanting, sprinkle it with water, then roll or stack the sod. Otherwise, dispose of the sod, or add it to your compost pile to create future fertilizer.
Tips for Using a Sod Cutter to Remove Grass
A poor sod-cutting job can lead to a lot of problems—uneven ground, pooling water, difficulty establishing new sod, and an invasion of weeds. With a few tricks, your sod-cutting process will smoothly transition into your next project, laying the groundwork for success.
Should You Water Before Using a Sod Cutter?
Water 24–48 hours before cutting sod. 30–60 minutes of watering with a sprinkler should be adequate. This will moisten the soil, making it much easier for your sod cutter to do its work. Dry soil can result in blade slippage, poorly cut sod, and a much more difficult job for you handling your sod cutter. By watering 1 or 2 days in advance of cutting sod, you’ll create optimal conditions for cutting sod.
How Deep Should You Cut Sod?
You should cut sod deeply enough that ¾–1 inch (2–2.5 cm) of dirt is removed along with the grass. Cutting sod at this depth has the following benefits:
- Creates level ground for future projects
- Cuts down to a level where future sod will lie 1 inch below paved surfaces (driveways, patios, sidewalks, etc.).
- Removes grass and weed roots along with sod, preventing grass and weed regrowth.
Can You Use a Sod Cutter to Remove Weeds?
Along with grass, a sod cutter will also remove any weeds currently growing in your yard. Cutting sod is a good way to begin a clean slate for your yard.
However, there is a chance that deeply-rooted weeds, buried weed seeds, or weed seeds carried by the wind can sprout quickly in bare soil. It’s extremely important to get rid of weeds before laying sod, otherwise, new sod yards can become overrun with weeds.
Using a Manual Sod Cutter
Manual sod cutters do exist on the market today. These are throwbacks to old-style farm tools. They depend on muscle power alone to move them, Kick-type sod cutters literally need to be kicked along to slice through sod. Typically, these are best used for small projects, such as establishing a flowerbed or garden.
When using a manual sod cutter, it’s doubly important to make sure the soil is properly watered and moistened. Either water deeply 24 hours prior to sod removal, or tackle your sod-cutting the day after heavy rain. Manually cutting sod in a dry lawn is backbreaking work.
Steps for Using a Sod Cutter
When learning how to use a sod cutter, be sure to review the safety and operation manual for the sod cutter you have chosen. Then, prepare your lawn for sod cutting by mowing and watering. Next, mark off the area where you plan to remove the sod and plan your cutting pattern to allow for long, straight cuts. Finally, adjust your sod cutter blade to remove at least ¾ inch of topsoil along with the grass, cut the sod, and section the sod for replanting or disposal.