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How to Remove Old Grass and Lay New Sod [8 DIY Steps]

In order to replace your existing lawn with new sod, it’s essential to:

  • Use a sod cutter to remove old grass and grass roots.
  • Till the soil to loosen it.
  • Level tilled soil and slope it slightly away from foundations and paved areas.
  • Apply a lawn starter fertilizer to soil before you lay sod.
  • Calculate the square footage of your yard and order sod.
  • Lay your new sod in a brick-like pattern, trimming pieces to fit where necessary.
  • Use a lawn roller to press your sod firmly to the soil for faster rooting.
  • Water your new sod immediately after installation.

By following these steps, you will ensure a new sod lawn that roots quickly, grows vigorously, and that lawn care will be a breeze going forward.

How to remove old grass and lay new sod

Can You Put New Sod Over Old Grass?

Do not lay new sod over old grass or weed growth. Even if the existing lawn is full of dead grass, sod will not properly root. The layer of grass beneath your sod will form a barrier against sod roots and turn into a slimy mess that doesn’t decompose. Meanwhile, the sod you laid on top of the existing lawn will wither and dry out, as it won’t be able to send roots into the soil to pull in water and nutrients.

  • Never lay sod on top of existing grass or weeds.
  • Even if the lawn is dead, it must be removed before you can lay sod.
  • Sod on top of old grass won’t root. It will struggle and likely die.
  • Existing grass and weeds may grow up through seams in your new sod, invading your new lawn.

If you lay sod on top of the ground that has not been properly prepared, it’s very common for weeds to thrust up through your new sod. Few things are as frustrating as battling a weed invasion while trying to get sod to grow. Instead, follow our hassle-free 8-step plan for a new sod lawn.

8 Steps to Remove Your Old Lawn and Install New Sod

Do you want your sod installation to go smoothly and easily? Do you want a seamless, green lawn from sod in just a few weeks? Follow these steps and you will have a healthy lawn that thrives, drains well, and requires very little maintenance.

Remove Your Old Lawn with a Sod Cutter

The best way to get rid of your existing grass is with a sod cutter. A sod cutter can be rented from your local hardware store. It will make quick work of your entire lawn. Simply adjust the sod cutter blade height to remove the grass and the top 1–1.5 inches (2.5–4 cm) of soil. This will remove the grass and roots in one step, preparing your lawn for easy sod rooting.

  • Rent a sod cutter from your local hardware store. It is much faster and easier to remove sod this way than with a shovel.
  • Set the sod cutter to remove the grass and first 1–1.5 inches (2.5–4 cm) of topsoil.
  • This process removes existing grass and grass roots at once, making it easier for new sod to take root.
  • Cuts away the top layer of soil, so that new sod installation will not raise the height of your yard.

One of the biggest benefits of using a sod cutter is that it removes topsoil along with existing grass. This is important because new sod arrives with about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of topsoil clinging to the roots. If you do not use a sod cutter to remove existing topsoil before installing sod, you risk raising the height of your lawn. This can make your lawn higher than paved surfaces, which leads to driveway and patio flooding.

Till the Soil

Rent or purchase a rototiller to till the bare surface of your yard down to a depth of 6 inches (15 cm). This loosens compacted soil and allows new sod to easily root. Not only that, but you can use this opportunity to till compost into your topsoil. Adding compost to topsoil can help your lawn thrive in the long term by adding healthy organic matter.

  • Use a rototiller to till soil down to a depth of 6 inches.
  • Till compost or other soil amendments into the topsoil at this point to boost soil quality.
  • Tilling destroys any remaining root material and makes soil easy to level and re-grade in the following steps.
  • If desired, water tilled soil and wait for two weeks. Kill any weeds that appear.

There is a chance that soil tilling will bring weed seeds to the surface and trigger them to sprout. If you want to kill these weeds rather than risk them invading your new lawn, water the tilled soil for 1–2 weeks and kill any weed growth that comes up.

Correct Soil Height and Slope

Prior to laying sod, your soil should be at least 1 inch (2.5 cm) lower than any paved surfaces, such as driveways, sidewalks, and patios. This way, new sod will come up to the same height as paved surfaces. If your lawn is higher than paved areas, water will flood from the grass onto your concrete. To make sure your soil is at the right height, first, roll it with a lawn roller, then get to work creating a level and well-sloped yard.

  • Use this lawn roller to level newly tilled soil.
  • Soil should be 1–1.5 inches (2.5–4 cm) lower than paved surfaces, to prevent water from flooding from the lawn onto paved areas.
  • Add or remove topsoil as necessary to achieve ideal height.
  • Your yard should slope away from paved areas and foundations at a rate of 2 inches over a 5-foot distance.
  • Measure your yard slope as necessary to achieve ideal drainage.

To further encourage proper lawn drainage, make sure your lawn slopes 2 inches downward in the first 5 feet from building foundations and paved surfaces. Sloping the ground at this slight angle makes sure water won’t pool around your foundation or on your driveway during rain or watering.

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09/16/2021 12:07 am GMT

Spread Lawn Starter Fertilizer

New sod needs nutrients to jumpstart its growth. The best way to provide this is by spreading a lawn starter fertilizer on the soil prior to sod installation. This way, as soon as the sod starts to grow, it takes in essential nutrients. This will make the sod root more quickly, getting it through the fragile initial stages of a new lawn.

  • Spread this lawn starter fertilizer on the tilled and leveled soil.
  • Lawn starter fertilizer contains high levels of phosphorus to encourage grass to develop strong roots.
  • Don’t use a fertilizer designed for an established lawn. It won’t have the proper nutrient balance.

Using a properly designed lawn starter fertilizer is key to making sure new sod establishes itself quickly. Lawn starter has high phosphorus levels, which drives grass root growth. A fertilizer designed for established lawns usually has little to no phosphorus, as mature turf grass has already built a root system.

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Order Your Sod

How much sod should you order? It’s important to know the square footage of your lawn so that you can order the sufficient amount of sod. Using a measuring tape and calculator, measure all sections of your yards and find the square footage. To make the math simple, break the lawn into rectangular sections, such as in the case of L-shaped yards. Then, add the square footage of all the sections together.

  • Break your yard into regular-shaped, easy to measure sections. Calculate the square footage of all the sections and sum them.
  • Sod may be sold by the square yard. In order to transform square footage into square yards, divide by 3. Example: 1,500 square feet = 500 square yards.
  • Order 5–10% more sod than you need. This accounts for pieces that need to be trimmed to fit. For a 1,500 square foot yard, order 1,575–1650 square feet of sod.

It’s better to have a little extra sod than too small of an amount. Keep in mind, some pieces of sod will be wasted where you have to trim them to fit along flower beds, driveways, and other irregular borders. Order an overage of 5–10% to make sure you have enough sod for the job.

Lay Your New Sod

Now comes the time to install your new yard. Sod is typically cut and delivered the same day and can die if it is left on the pallet overnight. So, it’s important to install sod the same day it is delivered. Consider how long it takes to lay sod. You may need some extra hands to help you complete the job.

  • Sod should be installed the same day it is delivered. Sod left on the pallet overnight may die.
  • If you have a large yard, enlist help laying sod.
  • When laying sod, lay the rows in a brick-like pattern, so that the seams are offset.
  • Use this sod knife to cut pieces of sod to fit around concrete areas and the edges of your garden.

It is best to lay sod in rows that are offset in a brick-laying pattern. This prevents sod from slipping and encourages the lawn to erase the seams more quickly as it establishes itself. Use a sod knife to trim sod carefully to fit the curves and edges of your lawn. Taking your time with this step leads to a gap-free lawn.

Roll Your Sod

Once all the new sod has been installed, use your lawn roller on the new grass. The weight of the lawn roller will press the sod into place, removing air pockets and ensuring sod-to-soil contact. This encourages your lawn to take root faster.

  • Use the same lawn roller from Step 3 to roll new sod after installation.
  • Rolling new sod guarantees the sod roots are pressed to the soil below. This will help sod take root more quickly and resist drying out.

The faster your sod roots, the easier your life will be. Unrooted sod is fragile and prone to drying out. Once it digs its roots into the soil it can begin to collect water for itself. Plus, as soon as your sod starts to root, it will begin pulling in the lawn starter fertilizer you spread. This process greatly accelerates sod growth.

Water New Sod

Water your new sod as soon as installation and rolling is complete. Palleted sod is prone to drying out. 10 minutes with a sprinkler is a great way to revitalize sod after the stress of harvesting and installation.

  • Immediately after installation, water new sod for 10 minutes with a sprinkler.
  • Water new sod 2 times per day for the first 2 weeks after installation.
  • Each twice-daily watering session should be 10 minutes long.
  • Once sod begins to root, gradually reduce to once-daily watering sessions, then a twice-weekly standard watering schedule.

The enemy of new sod is water deprivation. Keep your new sod moist but not soggy. Two 10-minute watering sessions per day will keep it healthy through the first 2 weeks. Test to see if the sod resists being pulled up. If it feels lightly “tacked down” it has begun to root. At this point, you can gradually reduce watering frequency while monitoring the lawn for dry areas. In just a few weeks, your lawn will be fully established.

How Do You Prepare a Lawn for New Sod?

To get rid of old grass and lay new sod, it’s essential to first remove the existing lawn with a sod cutter. Then, till the soil to a depth of 6 inches with a rototiller. Following this, roll the lawn to level it and slope ground slightly away from foundations and paved surfaces. Spread a lawn starter fertilizer on your prepared soil. Now, you can order sod and install it. Make sure installed sod is pressed into place with a lawn roller to remove air pockets. Finally, provide newly installed sod with 10 minutes of water from a sprinkler. With these steps, you can create a flawless new lawn from sod.

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