Establishing a lawn with the help of sod

Updated Jul 24, 2023
Photo: slgckgc/FlickrPhoto: slgckgc/Flickr

The finishing touches on any new construction site include the laying of sod, but there’s more to it than simply throwing down the needed square feet of mature grass.

Sod is the more expensive option when it comes to lawn establishment, but when installed correctly it can become stable much faster than seeding.

While it is acceptable to lay sod in any season, summer is not a highly recommended time, as the sod’s need for water will increase tremendously. Yet deadlines being what they are sometimes means you can’t always install when you’d like to.

Here are some tips on laying sod and how to keep it alive once you have it installed.

Before you buy

One of the obvious steps needed before you can purchase your sod is to calculate the square footage needed. It’s a good idea to buy five to 10 percent more sod than you estimate needing, in case of errors and cutting sod for edges. Sod can come on pallets that hold 450 to 500 square feet or in large rolls, but these typically require specialized equipment.

Another factor to decide is what type of grass you need to buy. Cost is generally first and foremost in the customer’s mind, but the turf’s tolerances for heavy foot traffic and shade may be other aspects you’ll have to consider. Depending on the location will dictate whether you need to be shopping for cool-season or warm-season varieties.

Before installation

Because fresh-cut sod does not have a long shelf life, it is important to go ahead and have the worksite well prepared beforehand. Some of the tasks that you should do include having a soil test to determine the current pH range and what macro-nutrients may be needed. It is also important to give the sod a clean slate to grow on, so kill off weeds and other turf, if there is any, with a non-selective herbicide like glyphosate.

Clear away any debris such as wood, concrete, rock, or other scraps that may be scattered on the lawn if this is a new construction site. To avoid future drainage problems, grade the soil so that it slopes away from the house at least 15 feet in each direction. Rough grading should be completed before digging irrigation trenches. Once the irrigation system is installed, it is more difficult to use large grading equipment without damaging the irrigation components.

If suitable topsoil is not available, amend the soil by incorporating nutrient-rich compost. Amendments should be added to the top six to 10 inches for the turf’s roots. Let the soil settle for a week before final grading. Final grading will leave the soil surface ready for planting with the top ½ inch of soil loosened.

Even before installation, water the soil to lightly moisten it. Sod should not be installed on excessively hot or dry soil as this will retard its root growth.


When the sod is delivered, try to be on-site to ensure that it is the species and cultivar you requested as well as if the sod is moist, as it should be installed within 24 hours of harvest.

It is important to space the pallets around the site so you won’t have to carry the sod far and to begin installing it as soon as it is delivered, as it will deteriorate the longer it stays on the pallet.

When working on an area that slopes, start at the bottom and work toward the top. Lay the first strip of sod along a straight edge and place the following strips parallel and tightly against the first. On the second row stagger the joints of the sod similar to laying bricks. Save trimming and edging for last.

As soon as a substantial area of sod has been laid, lightly water it to prevent drying out.

After installation

After the installation is complete, roll the lawn to remove irregularities and establish contact between soil and sod. Irrigate daily in the morning until the sod becomes well rooted, which is around 10 days after installation.

This may take longer in extremely hot temperatures and during warm, dry periods it may be needed to water multiple times during the day. If the turf begins to wilt and turn bluish-grey it means that it is not receiving enough moisture. Once the turf does become established and the weather becomes more reasonable, decrease the frequency and increase the amount of water per application.

After switching to less frequent irrigation and the sod has become established, you can start mowing the lawn, but for the first few times mow at a higher height than normal to avoid scalping the turf. It is a good idea to keep people off the grass for three to four weeks to allow it to become well-anchored.

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