An instant lush, full lawn is possible when using sod. Check out these tips from Envision before you start rolling out the new grass!
If your yard suffers from patchy turf or full-out dead zones, and you’ve had limited success growing new grass from seed, the idea of getting a fresh lawn with sod may have crossed your mind. Starting from seed is certainly the cheaper alternative, but growing grass from seed can be a very long – and often unpredictable – process that takes hours upon hours of care each week. And, growing grass from seed can take months of care – sometimes even an entire season – to get reasonably full, healthy grass. When starting with seed, you must be tenacious, adhering to a strict watering, fertilizing, and over-seeding schedule –while vigilantly protecting the young seeds and seedlings from foot traffic, hungry birds, curious animals, and washouts from heavy rain.
Beyond the practical benefit that sod provides in achieving a near-instantly lush lawn, sod is also much easier to maintain when planted on sloping areas of a property than seed. When seed is planted on an incline, there is the constant risk of all the hard work being washed away during heavy rain – or even during watering. Sod can be staked down with special biodegradable sod staples holding it neatly and safely in place until roots connect it to the soil below. And, after the first month of planting, sod is much lower maintenance than grass grown from seed – which needs constant care, fertilizing, watering, over-seeding, and weeding to remain healthy.
Preparing Your Lawn for New Sod
As with most home projects, proper preparation is essential to making the entire process worth the time and expense. Begin by removing old grass and any debris from your yard, like rocks or roots, and rent a rototiller to loosen the topsoil to around 6-8 inches depth. Next, it’s best to test your soil to know what its acidity and nutrient levels are. You can find do-it-yourself tests at garden centers, but the most accurate way is to contact the nearest county extension service office or a state university. These services can advise on more extensive soil testing to help amend your soil to more specifically match the needs of the planned sod variety.
Once the topsoil composition is analyzed and optimally adjusted for the planned sod variety, the next step is to lay a 2-inch layer of finished compost prior to laying sod. Once the compost is evenly spread, consider adding a layer of sand to assist with lawn drainage, especially if the sod installation area is composed of heavy clay-like soil. This is also a good time to apply a starter fertilizer (choose a fertilizer mixture recommended for your specific soil and sod type).
After all layers have been added, it’s time to level out the installation area (a level or slightly tilted base will assist with future rainwater drainage). You can achieve an even gradation with an iron rake to relieve high spots and in-fill low spots. Use a lawn roller to pack down all layers evenly. An important rule of thumb for reference: you’ll want the top of the pre-sod layer to be an inch lower than all paved areas on your property (such as patios, sidewalks, and driveways). A final prep note: a great way to help all soil layers completely settle is to give the sod base a light watering.
Rolling Out Your Green Carpet
Now that your yard is fully prepped, it’s finally time for sod! Measure the yard to determine exactly how much will be needed and then contact a local sod farm to place your order. The sod farm should be able to help you select the best sod variety for your property based on your soil composition and the amount of sun or shade your new sod will experience. Most sod farms will cut your sod fresh just prior to delivery – and you’ll want to plan to have the resources available to completely lay out the fresh sod the same day it arrives. Note: Sod is fragile and can perish very quickly – so avoid leaving it rolled up for a long period of time prior to installation.
The first roll of sod laid is the most important, so take extreme care to get it laid straight and even. Choose your starting point along a flat straight line, such as a fence line or sidewalk. Roll out the entire length of the sod roll for this row and for the following rows; stagger the sod strips as if you were building a brick wall. Make sure all sod edges are placed snug against one another. Edges of sod rolls are prone to drying and dying, which can leave your yard looking like a patchwork quilt – so tight placement is essential.
During this process, keep an eye out for air pockets or wrinkles. For sod to properly root, it needs to lay flat against the underlying topsoil. Also, be sure not to walk on any of the newly laid sod, it is delicate at this stage. If installing new sod on a warm day, don’t wait to water until you’re finished with the installation. Water finished areas periodically to keep the sod from drying out.
When laying sod around curves, it’s best to keep the sod in as large of pieces as possible. Smaller pieces of sod have a higher risk of dying. Lay one edge of sod flush along the curve, then pinch together and carefully cut the lifted edge on the other side. Pro Tip: Leave a small flap that can be trimmed to fit snug along the other edge of your cut for a cleaner fit.
The Most Important Part of Laying Sod: Water, Water, Water!
As previously noted, keeping sod hydrated is key! Once laid, immediately start watering. This will also help settle the sod firmly on the soil below. For the next week after the sod installation, water the sod thoroughly every morning. Avoid watering at night as excess water will not evaporate and can make your new sod susceptible to fungal diseases. For the same reason, be sure to give heavily shaded areas a little less water and, of course, don’t let water pool on top of your sod.
After the first week, you can cut back watering to every other day. Each following week the watering schedule may be cut back a little more until reaching about an inch of water a week. To keep track of how moist the sod is, pick up a sod probe from a local garden center for more accurate moisture readings. During the first month after installation, you’ll want to avoid walking on the sod or letting pets roam the sod as it can be fragile and easily damaged.
Maintaining Your New Lawn
Once the first month has passed since sod installation, consider giving your new sod its first mow! You’ll want to wait until your new grass is at least 3 inches high and only trim down as low as 2 inches. A good rule of thumb is to cut no more than a third the height of a grass blade at a time to avoid unnecessary damage. With new sod it’s best to use a lightweight push mower – the sod will not be ready to handle a heavy riding mower. Avoid raking grass clippings as new sod can be easily snagged which can damage growing root systems. Keep the blades of the mower nice and sharp to avoid tearing the grass; sharp blades assure a nice, clean cut.
After the one-month mark, it’s good a good idea to feed new sod. Applying fertilizer helps sod grow stronger roots. Give your brand new lawn every opportunity to thrive – and making sure it has the nutrients it needs is just as important as keeping it adequately hydrated!
If you need assistance on your sod journey, don’t hesitate to reach out to the turf professionals at Envision. Experience and expertise is helpful when it comes to new sod installation and the turf pros at Envision will ensure your new sod remains strong and healthy from the day it’s laid until it’s a thriving emerald carpet! Send an email message or give Envision a call at (816) 788-0808 for a free sod and turf consultation!