If your yard has soft soil that is not compacted, you can install sod without tilling. This can save you time, money, and result in a beautiful yard. In order to install sod with the no-till method:
- Test your soil to make sure it is soft enough that tilling isn’t necessary
- Remove existing grass with a sod cutter.
- Clear the yard of rocks and vegetative debris.
- Level the yard to fix uneven areas or poor slopes.
- Fill in low areas of the lawn with new topsoil.
- Lay your new sod.
- Apply a liquid lawn starter fertilizer to jumpstart the sod rooting process.
This method works best on sandy or loamy soil. These soils resist compaction and rarely need tilling before sod is laid. This eliminates the downsides of tilling, which include the potential for dormant weed seeds to be brought to the surface and the possibility that recently tilled soil will settle unevenly.
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7 Steps for Laying Sod Without Tilling
If your soil is soft enough that it doesn’t need tilling, you can save yourself a lot of work by installing sod on untilled soil. Simply follow these steps for success laying sod with a no-till method.
Test Your Soil
If you can easily push a screwdriver 4–6 inches into the soil, then you can install sod without the need to till. Tilling is hard work, so this quick test can potentially save you a lot of time.
- Push a screwdriver into the soil when it is moist (not wet).
- If the screwdriver easily sinks 4–6 inches (10–15 cm), it doesn’t need to be tilled.
- If the screwdriver struggles to sink to 4 inches (10 cm) in depth, your lawn needs tilling before sod is laid.
- Test multiple areas of your yard to make sure all of them pass the test.
If your soil is too compact to pass the screwdriver test, it’s time to follow a soil preparation process that includes tilling. But if your lawn is in good shape, you can move forward with the following steps on this list.
Remove Existing Grass and Weeds
Rent a sod cutter from your local hardware store. A motorized sod cutter is best. Use it to remove grass and weeds, along with at least 3/4 inch of topsoil. This will get rid of root matter and create a blank slate for a new sod lawn.
Get Rid of Rocks and Debris
Now that your existing lawn is gone, go over the bare dirt with a rake. Remove any vegetation, rocks, or other materials that may prevent the sod from taking root.
Level Your Yard
Using a garden rake or hoe, level any low spots in your yard. Move dirt from high spots to low spots. Use a tamper or lawn roller to compact any loose dirt you’ve moved.
At this time, it’s also essential to make sure there is a slight slope away from your home and paved surfaces. The ground should slope downward away from these structures, at a rate of 2–3 inches over 10 feet.
If necessary, bring in topsoil to level your yard and create an adequate slope away from structures. Mix compost with this topsoil for an extra fertilizer boost. Then, spread the topsoil and tamp it down to help level the yard.
Remember, the level of the soil should be 1 inch below paved surfaces after this step. This will allow you to lay new sod so that it is at the proper level. If the dirt around driveways and patios is too high, when you lay sod it will stand higher than your paved areas. This leads to water draining onto concrete surfaces, flooding them.
Now that your lawn is level and prepped, install your sod in a brick-like pattern, offsetting the seams. Keep in mind, laying sod is hard work. It’s also important to lay sod the same day it is delivered, so make sure to calculate how long it will take to lay all the pallets of sod you have ordered.
Apply Starter Fertilizer
Now that your sod is in place on your level lawn, use this liquid starter fertilizer to give it a boost. The fertilizer will help sod recover from the stress of being transplanted and encourage it to root into the soil below.
Once you have completed sod installation and fertilized your new lawn, water your sod frequently to prevent it from drying out. In a matter of weeks, your lawn will thrive even if you didn’t till before laying sod.
How Do You Lay Sod Without Tilling?
Before you lay sod without tilling, test the soil to make sure it is soft enough that tilling is unnecessary. If a screwdriver can easily be pushed 4–6 inches into moist (not wet) soil, tilling isn’t necessary. If your soil passes this test, move forward by removing old sod, clearing away rocks and debris, and leveling your yard. Once your yard is level, lay your new sod and apply a liquid lawn starter fertilizer.
Once this process is complete, your new sod lawn will take root. This labor-saving technique can take you from an old lawn to a pristine new one with a lot less time and effort.