The best way to prepare a lawn for successful sod installation is to:
- Plan to lay sod at the right time of year for your grass type.
- Perform a soil test to see if lime is needed.
- Remove the existing lawn with a sod cutter.
- Clear away rocks and plant debris on the soil surface
- Till the soil to a depth of 6 inches to loosen it.
- Add soil amendments (lime and/or fertilizer) and till them into the soil.
- Level and grade your yard for proper drainage.
- Add topsoil to low spots as necessary.
- Roll your yard to provide a firm sod rooting surface.
- Find your yard’s square footage so you’re ready to order sod.
These 10 steps will make sure your sod roots quickly, grows into a healthy lawn, and holds up for years to come. Skipping some of these steps can result in struggling sod with poor root growth. So, it’s essential to take the proper time to prep your yard.
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What Should You Not Do When Laying Sod?
The most important mistake to avoid when laying sod is not removing the existing grass and topsoil. New sod laid over old grass will struggle to root. Not only that, but putting new sod on top of your existing lawn will raise the height of your yard by at least an inch. This will cause water to flow toward foundations and paved areas.
- Never lay new sod without first removing the existing grass and topsoil.
- Make certain to lay sod at the right time for the grass species you’ve chosen.
It’s also important to lay sod at the right time of year for the grass you’re installing. Some grasses experience their best growth in spring and summer, while others thrive in fall. A few grasses can even be laid in winter. However, if you install your sod at the wrong time for the particular species of grass you’ve chosen, it will struggle. The sod may die, costing you money, time, and labor.
10 Steps to Prep Your Lawn for Sod Installation
In order to ensure your sod turns into a seamless green lawn, it’s essential to follow the correct steps. Below is exactly what you need to do to prep your lawn. Once you’ve crossed off everything on this list, you’ll be ready to budget time to lay sod.
Choose the Right Time of Year
Warm-season grass sod should be laid in spring. This includes grass species such as Bermuda, St. Augustine, Centipede grass, and Zoysia. These grasses have the best growth during late spring and summer. So, laying the sod in spring ensures the grass will be established as a beautiful lawn by fall. In some regions, you can even lay warm-season grass sod in winter, then encourage it to root in spring.
- Lay warm season grass sod in spring.
- Warm season grasses include Bermuda grass, Centipede grass, St. Augustine, and Zoysia.
- Lay cool season grass sod in fall.
- Typical cool season grasses are Kentucky Bluegrass, Fescue, and Perennial Ryegrass.
Cool-season grass sod should be installed in early fall. Although it may seem counterintuitive, fall encourages the best growth for grass species such as Kentucky Bluegrass, Fescue, and Ryegrass. By laying the sod in fall, the grass will establish itself by winter. This gives it time for more growth in spring before the summer heat arrives. Cool-season grass sod laid in spring can dry out and die during summer.
Perform a Soil Test
Before you get to work, perform a soil test. Use this soil meter with long prongs to measure soil pH at a depth of 4 inches (10 cm). It’s essential to get a reading on a deeper soil layer since the first inch of topsoil will be removed in Step 3. Additionally, test a few areas in your yard to get an adequate read of the pH on your property.
- Test the pH of the soil in 3–4 areas of your yard.
- pH between 6.0 and 7.0 is ideal for new sod.
- pH below 6.0 is too acidic and requires lime to be added once the soil is tilled.
A pH between 6.0 and 7.0 is ideal for grass. So, if your pH is in this range, you won’t need to add any specialized soil amendments. A pH below 6.0 is a sign of acidic soil. If your soil is acidic, you can reduce acidity by blending lime into the soil in Step 6.
Use a Sod Cutter to Remove Existing Grass
Whether the grass in your lawn is green, dead, or full of weeds, it’s essential to remove it with a sod cutter before proceeding. You can rent a sod cutter from a tool rental company or a local hardware store. It will cut the sod into strips that can be rolled up and discarded.
- Rent this sod cutter to remove your existing lawn.
- Set the sod cutter’s blade depth so that it removes grass and the top ¾-inch (2 cm) of soil.
Set the depth of the sod cutter so that it removes the existing grass as well as the top ¾-inch (2 cm) of topsoil. This removes old root material so you can easily till and prep your soil. It also allows you to lay new sod without raising the level of your yard.
Once the existing sod has been cut out and removed, go back over your yard. Remove any rocks, plant material, or thick roots. A shovel is a perfect tool for this job. After this step, you should be left with bare soil without any large, visible stones.
Till the Soil
Rent a tiller and till the bare soil down to a depth of 6 inches. Tilling the soil is essential for loosening it enough for your sod to establish itself. If given the opportunity, grass roots will grow down to a depth of 6 inches (15 cm). Untilled soil prevents grass roots from growing to this depth, causing your sod to dry out and wither.
Add Soil Amendments
After you’ve initially tilled your lawn, it’s time to spread any fertilizers or other soil additives on the soil, then till again. So, if your soil had a pH below 6.0 in Step 2, now’s the time to spread lime over the soil surface.
- If your soil needs lime, spread it now.
- Consider spreading compost or starter fertilizer on your soil.
- This starter fertilizer is excellent for new sod lawns.
- After spreading lime, compost, and/or fertilizer, use the tiller to mix the amendments into the soil.
Even if your soil doesn’t need lime, it’s a great idea to spread compost to feed your sod. Additionally, now’s a perfect time to add a lawn starter fertilizer to the soil. Once you’ve spread the lime and/or fertilizer according to instructions on the bag, till the soil to a depth of 6 inches again. This will mix the amendments into the soil for long-lasting lawn growth.
Grade the Yard
The previous steps of sod removal, tilling, and mixing amendments into the soil may change the slope of your yard or leave low spots. Use a metal garden rake to level a small yard. If you are laying sod on a large yard, it may be worth renting a box blade to assist in grading.
- Use a garden rake to level the soil after tilling is complete.
- Slope the ground slightly away from foundations and paved surfaces.
- Make sure the dirt is at least 1 inch lower than any paved areas.
- If your yard is large, it may be best to rent a box blade to make tilling and grading easier.
Make sure the dirt is 1 inch below the height of any paved surfaces such as driveways and patios. Also, create a gentle slope away from buildings and paved areas. This ensures that water won’t run off the lawn and flood these areas once the sod is laid.
If your yard has low spots after you attempt to level it, or if the dirt is more than 2 inches below paved areas, you need to add soil to build up your yard. However, it’s important to consider using topsoil mixed with compost to add high-quality dirt to your yard. Bringing in additional topsoil can help level a yard, prevent flooded areas, and encourage proper drainage.
Roll Your Yard
After leveling, use this lawn roller to slightly compact the soil in your yard. Don’t worry—this process won’t undo the work of tilling. However, it will get rid of air pockets in the soil that can cause poor sod rooting. It also helps you see where your yard may need additional soil so you can create a level, well-drained yard.
Calculate Your Yard’s Square Footage
Before you order your sod, you need to know how many square feet of yard you’ve got to cover. In order to get an accurate square footage for your yard, divide the lawn into rectangular sections for easy measuring. Using this system, you may find the square footage of the main backyard before finding the square footage of sections along the side of your home.
- Find the square footage of the area where new sod will be installed.
- Divide your lawn into rectangular areas to easily find the square footage of each rectangle.
- Add the square footage of each rectangle together to find your lawn’s total square footage.
- Order enough sod to cover this square footage, plus 5–10% overage.
After you calculate the square footage of your lawn, you’re ready to order and install your sod. Just remember to order a 5–10% overage to account for pieces of sod that must be trimmed during installation.
How Do You Prepare the Ground for Laying Turf?
To prep your lawn for new sod turf, you should first make sure the time is right for the species of grass you are planting for sod. Then, test the soil pH to see if soil amendments will be needed before new sod is laid. Following this, use a sod cutter to remove the existing lawn. Once the old sod is removed, go over the lawn to remove any additional debris. Next, till the soil to a depth of 6 inches and mix soil amendments into the dirt. Grade your yard so it is level. Add soil as necessary and use a lawn roller to achieve a level surface. Once proper soil preparation is complete, you’re ready to order and install your sod.