For some species, such as St. Augustine grass, sod is the only really practical alternative. For other species such as Bermudagrass and Bahiagrass, it’s one of several options.
One thing is clear, however: using sod is the fastest and easiest way to establish a lush, green carpet of grass in your yard. Even those species for which seed is readily available will take most of a growing season to become established and spread, but sod—when put down correctly—will give you a beautiful lawn in just a few weeks. Best of all, you can lay sod any time during the growing season if you’re prepared to water it enough to help it get well established.
Begin With the Soil
If you want your lawn to be successful, you need to do some preparation before you actually start laying the sod. This means preparing the soil so that you have a good foundation for your lawn.
Start by removing any existing grass and weeds, and then spade the soil to loosen and aerate it. You also need to take the thickness of the sod into consideration, so when you rake the soil, its surface needs to be approximately an inch and a half below any sidewalks, driveways, or other hard surfaces.
Then apply a “starter” fertilizer that’s high in phosphorus, and rake the soil again to distribute it well. Now you’re ready to start laying the sod.
Once the sod is harvested, you need to lay it as quickly as possible so it doesn’t dry out and die. If it’s a big job that’s going to take several days, store the sod in the shade so it stays cool and moist.
Choose the straight edge of a hard surface as the guide for your first row. Place each piece tightly against the last piece so there aren’t any gaps between the pieces of sod, and put the rows tightly together as well.
When you start the second row, cut a piece of sod in half crossways for the first piece in the row. The point here is to stagger the seams like a bricklayer lays bricks. If you’re laying sod on a hill or slope, turn the pieces of sod so they’re perpendicular to the direction of the slope.
As you work, if you need to stand on the sod you’ve already put down, lay a board on top of the sod so your feet don’t dig into the sod you’re already laid. Trim or cut pieces as necessary to go around odd-shaped flower beds, sidewalks, or other obstacles; not everything in your yard will have straight lines, and you want the sod to fit tightly everywhere it can.
When you have all the sod laid down, use the back of a rake to tamp down all the edges so the roots are in firm contact with the soil underneath. The object of this is to get rid of any air pockets that will cause the sod to dry out.
The last task in this process is to water the sod. Plan to water long enough to get the top 6 to 8 inches of moist; this encourages the grass to put down deep roots. Do the same thing each time you water, but space out your watering days so the soil doesn’t get soggy.
Watch it Grow
Try not to walk on the lawn until the sod has rooted well and it starting to grow. The way to tell if it’s getting established is to lift up on the grass. If it “sticks” down, it’s rooting into the soil.
At the end of a month, the sod should be starting to grow well. Apply lawn fertilizer according to the needs of whatever grass species you have chosen, and start a regular schedule of watering and mowing. Enjoy your new lawn!