How to Lay Sod: A Step-by-Step Guide

Harvested sod, ready for delivery

Need to know how to lay sod? No problem. We have an easy-to-follow step-by-step guide. Laying down grass sod to start or repair a lawn is pretty easy, but it’s also labor-intensive and requires knowing more than “green side up.” 

But don’t be daunted. If you have a bare or barren patch of yard, sod is a moderately priced way to turn your turf around. We’ll change your spotty space into a luxurious lawn in no time.

*Any differences between the above video and LawnStarter’s step-by-step guide are for clarity or based on research.

Step 1: Remove Obstacles

If you want to lay down sod, you probably want to start by shopping. Don’t. Push “sod purchase” down on your to-do list. Sod doesn’t last very long, 48 hours max, so do your prep work before you purchase. Otherwise, you could be throwing money down the drain.

First, remove everything from your lawn. You likely have something left of your existing lawn, whether it’s patches of live grass and weeds or a landscape of crispy fried blades. Follow these tips:

  • Remove live grass or weeds: Use a non-selective herbicide to eliminate weeds and straggling grass patches.
  • Use a shovel or a sod cutter: If you’re not a fan of using herbicides, you can manually dig up weeds and grasses.
  • Remove any large chunks of dead lawn: You can either use a hoe to break up large chunks and leave them to aerate and fertilize your soil, or you can use a shovel and wheelbarrow to remove them altogether.
  • Check your yard: Check for fallen branches, sticks, large rocks, toys, and any other obstructions that would prevent your sod from laying flat.

Step 2: Evaluate the Area

Your next step is to evaluate the area you plan to lay your sod. There are several aspects to consider, including:

  1. Sunlight: Will the common sod in your area be able to thrive on the amount of sun it will get?
  2. Inspect your irrigation system: If it is an in-ground system, run it under close scrutiny. See “Keep Your Lawn Healthy With a Sprinkler Audit” for details.
  3. Get one or more soil test kits: It will tell you what your soil lacks so you can buy the right fertilizer and the right amendments.
  4. Get more than one kit: If you have had a lawn failure, consider multiple lawn tests and collect multiple soil samples. Your front lawn may harbor different issues than the back lawn.
  5. Utilize results: Once you get the results of the soil test or tests, follow the advice. Adjust the soil’s pH level and add nutrients as called for by the test results.
  6. Check your topsoil: Use a soil probe or a trowel to dig down into your soil to see how many inches of loamy topsoil you have. If it’s just a thin layer, consider topdressing — adding another inch or two of organic matter by mixing topsoil and compost.
  7. Choose your grass type: Once you’ve evaluated, choose the best type of grass for your climate and outdoor space.

Step 3: Till the soil

A tiller is a necessary pre-sod step
Use a tiller to loosen your soil so the sod’s roots can reach deep.

Although time-consuming and tedious, tilling is the important next step. Here are a few tips:

  • Till old lawn into the soil: Using a rake or hoe, break up any remnants of the old lawn. The dead grass will aerate and fertilize the lawn. If any seeds remain, they’ll be replanted and help grow your new lawn.
  • Loosen dirt: Over years of use, grass becomes compacted, especially in areas where clay soils are common. Tilling breaks up the soil to let the new sod’s roots reach down deep to establish the lawn. Tilling also helps with aeration, a crucial aspect of a healthy lawn.
  • Level soil: Leaving hills and low spots in your dirt will make mowing more difficult later. Soil edges should be an inch or two lower because sod that rests too high next to concrete will dry out and die.

If you’re not up to tilling, power tillers are available for rent.

Step 4: Lay Down the Sod

With the preparation done, you’re ready to lay sod. But first, you have to prepare yourself for a hot, sweaty, dirty day. Take care of yourself with these tips:

  • Wear loose, comfortable clothes and resign yourself to getting dirty.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Don’t forget sunscreen and a hat.

Now that you’re prepared, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of laying new sod.

  • Use fresh sod: If you buy your sod too early, it’ll dry out. It’s best to acquire your new sod the same day you plan to lay it.
  • Lay down your sod lawn in narrow strips: Your first row needs to be laid next to the longest continuous fixed, straight edge (whether that’s your house, the driveway, flower bed, or the sidewalk). 
  • Lay in straight lines: Keep your lines as straight as possible, but stagger the short ends in a brick-like pattern so you don’t have one long seam. Having long seams creates water channels and causes seams to come apart.
  • Don’t leave gaps: As you lay sod on the entire area, butt in pieces tightly. Sod does not naturally fill spaces. It actually shrinks, so any gaps left will widen, leaving edges and roots exposed. This leads to root rot and/or grass death, leaving brown stripes in your new lawn.
  • Use a knife: You can purchase a sod cutter or simply take a sharp knife to cut pieces of sod to fill in the gaps that will be left by your brick pattern. The knife will also cut around sprinkler heads and irregular shapes. 
  • Remove any air pockets: Use a lawn roller or rototiller to remove air pockets. There’s a low-tech alternative: Carefully but methodically walk across the sod with your feet close together. You want to encourage the new sod to make good contact with the underlying topsoil.
  • Stake sloped areas: Sod on slopes can slide and shift, causing longer than normal root establishment. This can lead to sod drying out. Sod staples for this purpose are inexpensive and available at most garden centers.

Step 5: Water Sod

All this hard work will go for nothing if you do not keep a close eye on your new sod’s water needs.

It is essential to water your sod immediately after you put it down. Expect to water lightly but frequently during the establishment period. Check to make sure that the water is through the sod pieces and an inch or two into the soil to encourage a deeply rooted, lush lawn.

Follow these tips for best watering practices:

  • Monitor moisture: You neither want your new grass to ever dry out nor stay saturated. Remember, to establish a green lawn, dry is bad, puddles are bad, and moist is good.
  • Check often: Check moisture by lifting up corners of sod and resume watering when the sod is beginning to dry out. 
  • Check for root establishment: Once roots begin establishing into the soil, the sod should start resisting your gentle tug at the corners. You can then move to the next watering stage.
  • Change your watering schedule: You’ll water less frequently, but more deeply. Water needs to reach a depth of about 6 inches, so the roots are encouraged to grow. 
  • Water early in the day: Watering early helps to avoid evaporation and disease.

Step 6: Fertilize the Lawn

According to the University of Florida, you should not fertilize immediately. 

Lawns soak up nutrients with their roots. If roots are not established, they won’t be able to soak up nutrients. At best, fertilizer and your money will be wasted. At worst, they can burn the roots or the lawn.

Sod with roots
This is what you want to see after a few days of steady watering: roots emerging

However, once roots are established, follow fertilizer instructions carefully to give your newly established lawn a good dose of needed nutrients. Try starter fertilizer for a good overall mix of nutrients.

Important note: Fertilize responsibly. The chemicals in fertilizers have contributed to water pollution. Sweep up the excess from paved areas and deposit it back on the ground. Don’t wash it into the drain.

Due to concerns over water pollution, fertilizer containing phosphorus is not allowed in 25 states, except on new lawns.

Step 7: Mow the Lawn

Wait! Be patient and don’t kill your new lawn by mowing too soon. Follow these tips for the best results and a healthy lawn:

  • Once the new lawn gets to 3-4 inches tall, you can mow the yard, but do so gently. 
  • Avoid ripping out those still-tender roots by turning the mower on the pavement rather than on the grass. 
  • Follow the “one-third rule,” never mowing off more than one-third of the lawn’s height in a single mowing. 
  • Mow tall to encourage a solid and strong root system.
  • Let lawn clippings stay. They help fertilize and reseed your new existing grass.
  • The best time to mow your lawn is in the morning between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.
  • Once your lawn is strong, keep your lawn healthy with more lawn mowing tips.

FAQ About Laying Sod

What are Some Common Mistakes in Laying Sod?

It’s important to follow researched, tested, and proven techniques to ensure the best quality lawn. Below are some of the most common mistakes homeowners make when laying sod:
• Buying sod too soon
• Overlapping sod
• Leaving gaps between the laid sod
• Not staking sod on slopes
• Allowing the soil to be too high next to sidewalks and driveways, exposing the edges there
• Watering too little or too much

How Much Does Sod Cost?

First, calculate your lawn’s size in square feet. Prices are generally quoted in price per square foot or price per pallet. A pallet generally covers 450 square feet, but there are variations — so ask.

• On average, sod costs between $0.30 to $0.83 per square foot.
• Professionally installed sod costs about $0.87 to $1.76 per square foot for labor and materials.

Sod is considerably more expensive than grass seed. However, planting a grass lawn from seed is a much slower process.

Local garden centers are convenient and will usually carry the most-common varieties for your area, but purchasing directly from a sod farm may give you more choices and expertise on grass types.

Why Did My Lawn Die in the First Place?

There are quite a few reasons why your lawn might have died. Below are some of the most common causes:

• Too much shade
• Too much or too little water
• Poor mowing practices, including mowing too low or too high, or using poor equipment, such as a mower with a dull or contaminated blade
• Soil compaction
• Poor turfgrass selection

Sick of Sod? There’s a Solution.

Having a lovely, luscious lawn is one of the best perks of homeownership, but the time and labor it takes to have that gorgeous grass is no joke. Sod installation is dirty, sweaty DIY work. Thankfully, you don’t have to do it alone.

There are tons of local, experienced, highly-rated landscaping professionals in your area that will take that labor load off your shoulders. A no-obligation, free, and easy quote is just a click or call away. We’ll have you laid back, relaxing, and enjoying your outdoor space in no time.

Main photo courtesy DG Turf Farm.

Nicki DeStasi

Nicki DeStasi

Nicki DeStasi is a writer, author, and teacher who grew up in western Massachusetts and currently resides in the Austin area. She enjoys flower and vegetable gardening, reading, cooking, listening to true-crime podcasts, and spending time with her husband, two children, dog, and cat.