How To Plant A Lawn By Installing And Laying Sod Grass
If you want an instantaneous lawn, installing sod grass is the way to go. Sod grass is field-grown at a sod farm and then cut with machinery into carpetlike sheets that are usually about 1" thick, 1-1/2 feet wide, and about 2 to 6 feet long. Some farms cut the sod into easily manageable "squares" that are about 18" wide and 24" long, while other farms cut the sod into "rolls" that are up to 6' in length when rolled out, and some offer both. When planted at the right time, and adequately watered, sod grass will "root in" within a few days, to a week.

The Two Basic Types of Lawn Grass
When it comes to lawn grasses, there are two basic types: "Warm season" grasses, such as Bermuda, Centipede, Zoysia and St. Augustine, which thrive and are green during the warmer months of the year, but go dormant during the winter. And "cool season" lawn grasses such as Fescue and Bluegrass, which thrive during the cooler seasons, but slow down their growth during the heat of Summer. Consult with your local independent nurseryman or professional landscaper to determine what type of lawn grass might be best for your area, and your needs.

When To Sod A Lawn

Cool Season Lawns - Fescue and Bluegrass are best sodded from early to mid-fall, or from early to mid-Spring. This will allow your new turf to establish a good root system before winter, or during spring before summer heat arrives.

Warm Season Lawns - Bermuda, Zoysia, Centipede and St. Augustine should be sodded from late spring through early fall, when soil temperatures are warm enough (above 68 degrees F) to promote quick rooting, and given time enough to establish themselves before winter arrives. In order to fulfill a contract, contractors might install dormant sod during the winter, which has been overseeded with ryegrass.

Decisions, Decisions
Planting a new lawn from scratch, and doing it right, can be a big job - especially if it's a big lawn. If the lawn you intend to sod is large it may be necessary to tackle the installation in sections. You might also consider getting several competitive bids from local professional landscape contractors, who have the equipment and expertise to do even large lawn sodding jobs in a relatively short period of time. Also consider an irrigation system. It's a lot easier to install irrigation before the sod goes down.

Always get several references from landscapers or any other contractors who might do work for you. Never pay for the entire job up front. A deposit for materials is standard.

Getting Started
If necessary, you'll need to start by removing old turf and weeds. Weeds can be sprayed with an herbicide, or removed with mechanical equipment. If you go the herbicide route, select an herbicide that degrades quickly (does not last long in the environment), such as glysophate (Roundup or Killzall). Mix according to the manufacturer's directions, and completely cover all grass plants and weeds with the solution. Glysophate is a potent, nonselective herbicide that will kill or severely injure all foliage it touches. When spraying chemicals over large areas, wear clothing that covers your skin completely, as well as eye protection. Afterwards, take a shower and wash clothing separately.

You may find that it takes several applications of glyphosate to get the job done - particularly if you are trying to eleminate common "weed-type" Bermuda grass. If the turf has not completely died after 2 weeks, reapply the herbicide and wait 7 days after the last application before tilling the dead turf into your soil. Take care to follow the manufacturer's safety precautions.

You might also want to consider having your soil tested for pH and to identify any nutrient deficiencies. Soil test kits can be purchased at most local nursery and garden centers or your local Extension Service might provide soil testing services. The results of these tests will let you know if the pH or nutrients levels are off and what nutrients or elements need to be applied.

Fix Grade and Drainage Problems
Before planting a new lawn any drainage problems should be identified and corrected. If you know that there are serious drainage problems, hiring a professional grading contractor to correct the problem is heavily recommended. Professional graders will use a laser transit to ensure proper drainage. Too, you can tell the grader to pile up top soil removed from any surface areas for later use when finish grading

If you have a smaller lawn area, and will be doing the job yourself, fix any existing grade problems before adding ammendments. Although grading often requires help from a landscaping contractor with heavy equipment, minor problems can be fixed by the ambitious do-it-yourselfer. Small versions of earth-moving equipment are often available for rent at your local tool rental store.

The first rule of grading is that the ground should slope away from your house in all directions so that it drops at least 2 or 3 inches for every 10 feet. Sometimes this is not possible to achieve, so just make sure that the grade slopes away from your house. The finished grade should also end up matching the level of existing fixtures, such as permanent walks, driveways and patios. This takes some figuring. If you will be planting with sod and adding 1 inch of amendments, grade so that the level is about 2 inches lower than fixtures.

When grading, first focus on any problem areas; low and high spots. Make adjustments by scraping away high areas and filling in low areas. Keep a pile of good native topsoil around to spread over any areas where sub-soil has been exposed. Spread two inches of the reserved topsoil over the subsoil, and till in to a depth of 2 inches. This will help prevent drainage problems between the two layers of soil.

The maximum slope in a lawn should be 12 inches for every 4 feet. If the drop is greater than 12 inches, you should plan to build a low retaining wall, or simply cover the slope with hardy groundcover plants or low-growing shrubs.

Amending Poor Soil
If your soil is hard-packed, non-porous and of poor quality, tilling in 2 to 4 inches of a screened native top soil to a depth of at least 6 inches is recommended for peak performance. And remember, once the job is done, it's done - and your poor soil will have been conditioned for a lifetime. If you need to add topsoil, buy a screened topsoil that's free of debris, such as roots or stones. Your local nursery and garden center, or stone center can supply you with fresh native top soil, or refer you to some who can.

If you're lucky, the soil in your yard will be porous and of good planting quality. If so, there will be no need to add or till in native screened topsoil, or soil conditioners.

Either way, tilling in a layer of compost, such as composted cow manure or Mushroom Compost, at a rate of 3 to 4 cubic yards per 1,000 square feet is also recommended. For large lawns, the cost of adding these ammendments could be quite hefty. At a minimum, broadcast a pelletized chicken manure product, or Milorganite over the area at a rate of 50 pounds per 2,500 square feet to add beneficial organic matter.

Broadcast pelletized lime over the entire area at a minimum of 40 pounds per 1,000 square feet. NOTE: Centipede lawns do not require lime.

Ensure even application of amendments by dividing the recommended amounts in half; applying one half making a pass in one direction, and the other half making a pass in a perpendicular (opposite) direction. Once you have applied the amendments, till them into the top 6 inches of soil.

Till in top soil and any other amendments.

After tilling in any ammendments, rake the area to be replanted until it's smooth. Remove any stones larger than a 1/2 inch in size as well as any vegetative matter brought to the surface during tilling.

If you are doing the finish grading yourself, a landscaping rake (hard rake) is the best tool for working soil to the proper grade and smoothness. Landscape contractors will often use an attachment, such as a "harley rake" or "pulverizer" to obtain a smooth finish grade.

After the finish grade is completed, and before laying the sod, it's helpful to roll the prepared soil to provide a firmer base on which to work and to foster adequate soil structure. Fill a lawn roller about 1/3 full of water for this job, and roll the soil until your footprints are no deeper than 1/2 inch.

Broadcast Fertilizer
After rolling, broadcast a good "starter fertilizer" that is high in phosphorus (the middle number) over the entire soil bed at rates recommended on the bag. If you applied composted manure or other organic matter, a starter fertilizer will not be necessary.

NOTE: DO NOT apply a weed and feed fertilizer or weed preventer at this time. Sod should be rooted in well and mowed several times before applying any weed killer or preventer. Typically, you shouldn't have an immediate weed problem with newly planted sod grass unless your sod came with weeds growing in it! Sod planted during the summer months can be treated with a weed preventer in fall to prevent winter weeds so long as it is rooted in well.

Laying The Sod
Before you begin laying the sod, very lightly water the area. Be prepared to begin work when your order is delivered. Sod can go bad quickly, especially if it begins to heat up or dry out.

Purchase your sod grass from a local sod company. Your local nursery and garden center may sell sod grass, and, if not, should be able to provide you with a good source.

TIP: Sod grass usually comes 450 to 500 square feet to the pallet, depending on the type. To be sure, ask the supplier how many square feet comes on a pallet. Before your sod grass arrives, measure and mark out 450 or 500 square feet areas (20' x 25') over the sod bed, using "marker paint". If you do not have equipment to off-load the heavy pallets of sod grass, make sure at time of ordering to tell the sod supplier to bring a forklift for off-loading. Have the delivery driver place the pallets just outside the marked areas.

Lay sod over one marked section at a time. Start with a section that borders a straight edge, such as a drive or walkway. Lay one strip, or row, of sod along the straight edge. Then, lay a new row aside the first straight row. The second row should be laid so that the lines between the squares of sod that were used on the first row, are at the middle of the squares being laid on the second row in a staggered pattern.

To cut pieces of sod that may be needed for small spaces, use a hatchet, machete, J-blade (bush ax), or a "weed eater" trimmer with a sod cutting attachment tool.

TIP: While laying the sod you can lightly water sections as they are completed. Water just enough to keep the sod grass from drying out until you have completed the entire job.

Rolling or Tamping The Sodded Lawn
You can rent a roller or tamping tool at your local tool rental store.

Rolling - You can either keep a roller handy while laying the sod, and roll each 500 square foot section after it is completed, or you can wait until all of the sod has been laid to roll it all at once. Either way, make sure that you haven't watered too much, or you might do more damage than good.

Tamping - If you don't have a roller, a tamping tool works just as well, if not better, to facilitate root to soil contact and level any small dips or foot prints. The best way to use a tamping tool is to tamp down each piece of sod after you lay it. This keeps you from having to walk back over the sod. If you have help, one person can lay the sod squares, as the other is tamping.

Watering A Freshly Planted Sod Grass Lawn

Do not deeply water the entire area of your freshly sodded lawn until you have finished laying out sod over the entire lawn area, and have trimmed around the edges. Once the sodded area has been rolled or tamped, you will want to avoid walking on the grass area for at least a few days to a week.

In the absence of an automated irrigation system, you'll need to develop a plan for watering. A rotary or fan-type water sprinkler connected to a hose works fine.

The first watering should be deep. Water enough so that at least 2 inches of the soil beneath the sod is moist. To avoid walking on the sod, try to set water sprinklers along an outside edge, spraying inward.

Until the sod grass roots in firmly, check soil beneath sod for moisture content once or twice a day. If the soil has dried out a bit, water again. Repeat this process until sod has firmly rooted. This may take 3 to 7 days depending on the time of year and weather conditions.

When sod has rooted firmly, continue with a typical watering cycle as is needed to maintain a healthy, green appearance.

Additional Tips

  • Try to install all of the sod the day it is delivered. If you have sod left over, unroll or space it out on the ground in a shady spot if possible. Water lightly, and use it the next day.

  • When installing sod on a steep slope, start by laying sod at the lowest point, and use "sod staples" to hold sod squares firmly in place in the event there comes a downpour of rain. Staples should be equally spaced and set in around the edges at least 6 to 8 inches apart.

  • Do not overwater your newly planted sod grass. Water deeply after planting, and then on an as needed basis to keep soil beneath sod damp until firmly rooted in. Check soil moisture content by lifting up a corner of a sod square. If it won't lift, this means your sod is rooted in!

  • When rolling sod with a roller, roll one 500 square foot section at a time as you lay the sod. To avoid slippage of sod, fill roller to 1/3 capacity rather than completely full.

  • Instead of rolling, rent a tamping tool and tamp each square of sod grass as you go.