How to Care for New Sod (5 Tips)

Gardener rolling out sod around swimming pool

A fresh layer of sod requires as much hydration as a marathon runner. How to care for new sod? Water the lawn for two weeks and delay mowing, aeration, and fertilizer until the sod develops a healthy root system.  

Laying sod provides an instant lawn, but the job doesn’t end there. The new layer of sod requires plenty of water to avoid getting dry and allow the roots to quickly establish. You’ll also need to minimize foot traffic for at least 10 days. Everything else comes later. 

We’ll explore how often you should water new sod and when you can start mowing, aerating, and fertilizing.

Caring For New Sod

Daily watering is an important measure for sod, but not the sole one. Watering can be followed up with mowing, aerating, and fertilizing to maximize the sod’s growth. But how regularly is each measure performed? 

Water Regularly

Turf irrigation by automatic pop-up sprinkler
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

Daily watering for up to 14 days should be followed immediately after installing or rolling new sod. Throughout this period, 0.2 inches of water each day is sufficient to keep the new sod moist and boost root development. Water anywhere from 2 to 3 times per day to keep the sod happy, with multiple cycles most recommended during warm, dry periods. 

It’s best to start your daily watering cycle before 10 a.m., with the second watering session after sunset. These two periods are typically when evaporation is minimal.  

Each watering session should last between 15 and 20 minutes. Consider using empty tin cans to measure how much water the sod needs and how long to run your hose or sprinklers.  

Daily watering shouldn’t go on forever. Under normal circumstances, you can decrease the watering frequency after about 14 days. Here’s how the timeline is divided:

  • After 7 to 10 days of watering, check for root development by grasping the grass blades firmly (using both hands) and lifting them vertically. The soil should be soft underfoot but not oozing wet. Additionally, you would notice signs of root growth. If the sod is dry after poor watering, it will turn bluish-gray in color. 
  • After 10 to 14 days, you’ll meet a lot more resistance when attempting to lift up the sod. This shows that it’s firmly settled in place and that the roots have properly developed. The sod will also feel fresh and moist to the touch. You can now decrease the frequency of watering to about once every 2 days, but increase the amount of water during each cycle. 

Note: In areas prone to regular rainfall, daily watering or irrigation isn’t necessary. Once or twice a week will suffice to maintain a soft, wet soil. Too much irrigation is wasteful and encourages lawn diseases, weeds, and pest problems. We’ll talk more about the best time to install sod in an upcoming section. 

Minimize Foot Traffic

Feet on grass
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It’s highly important to minimize foot traffic on your newly laid sod for at least 10 days. Heavy traffic can compact the soil and damage the developing grass roots. If you must walk on the new sod, avoid doing so when it’s wet or after a recent watering cycle. Wet soil is more prone to compaction than dry soil. 

After 14 days of daily watering, your new sod will be strong enough to withstand light foot traffic. After about a month, you can restart regular foot traffic so long as you don’t cause too much disturbances.  

Wait to Mow the Lawn

Woman mowing the lawn
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Before mowing the lawn, wait until the sod has sufficiently rooted and you’ve reduced the frequency of irrigation. This should normally take anywhere from 2 to 4 weeks. Start mowing the area once the grass has reached 3 to 4 inches tall and the roots have firmly established.  

To avoid scalping the newly sodded lawn, keep the first few mowing heights slightly on the high-end. Be sure the mower blade is sharp to avoid tearing and pulling the grass. Most importantly, never cut more than one-third of the grass’s height in a single mowing session. 

Pro Tip: Go easy on your new sod and minimize traffic by using a walker mower for the first 3 to 5 mowings. 

Postpone Aeration

Gardener Operating Soil Aeration Machine on Grass Lawn
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Aeration is an invasive treatment that involves removing plugs of soil from the ground to relieve soil compaction. Your new sod won’t be ready for aeration until six to 12 months. 

Your sod’s first aeration will also depend on the type of grass you have: 

  • For cool-season grasses: Best time to aerate is early fall
  • For warm-season grasses: Best time to aerate is in late spring through early summer

When your sod is ready for aeration, check out our guide on how to aerate a lawn

Delay Fertilizer

Man using lawn fertilizer
Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

It’s best to wait between 30 and 60 days before applying fertilizer to new sod. This gives the root system enough time to develop and grow strong. Applying fertilizer to an immature root system will be fruitless and a waste of money. In the worst case, early fertilization can burn the still-growing roots.

After 30 to 60 days, the roots will have grown into the ground and start craving nutrients. We recommend applying starter fertilizer which gives the roots and soil a mix of all the beneficial nutrients to encourage a healthy turf. Here are 9 FAQs about applying starter fertilizer to your lawn.  

Mistakes to Avoid After Sod Installation

Just as there are proper tasks that need to be undertaken after sod installation, there are mistakes you should avoid to ensure you establish the best lawn possible. Here are some of the most common mistakes to avoid after sod installation:

  • Inadequate watering or irrigation during the hottest months of the year, especially to sod edges. 
  • Neglecting dormant areas of the sod, such as poor watering
  • Installing sod more than 24 hours after it was harvested
  • Permitting foot traffic and and setting heavy objects on the newly installed sod
  • Poor spacing of sod seams

Best Time to Install Sod

The best time to install sod (here’s a step-by-step guide on how to lay sod) depends on your type of grass, local climate, and local growing conditions. There are two ideal times for installing sod across many US regions: late summer to early fall (August to October) and late spring (April to June). Here are the key reasons why:

  • These months generally enjoy cool temperatures and regular rainfall, ideal for sod development
  • Root development goes on full gear when the soil temperature is warm. 
  • Sod has time to establish itself before warm-season grass enters winter dormancy and cool-season grass enters summer dormancy.

FAQ About Sod

How can you check moisture levels in the soil? 

There’s a way to ensure the soil is moist enough using a screwdriver. If the soil is dry and still requires irrigation, it will be tough to push the screwdriver all the way down to the handle. If the soil has enough moisture, the screwdriver will be pushed down easily and come out moist. It’s sort of like dipping your finger in the cake to ensure it’s baked. 

What are the pros and cons of sod installation?

How could installing sod have negative effects on your outdoor space? As it turns out, you can’t have a list of pros without cons. 

Pros of sod installation:

  • Quick establishment 
  • Free of unwanted weeds during early establishment
  • Provides you with an ‘instant’ lawn
  • Can be laid any time during the growing season

Cons of sod installation: 

  • Can be costly
  • Labor intensive
  • Potential layering of soil types that can cause compaction

What are the best sod types you can choose from? 

Before choosing the best sod type, you’ll need to consider important factors such as your location, local climate, and lawn needs. Essentially, sod types come in two categories:

Best cool-season sod species:

  • Kentucky bluegrass
  • Fine fescue
  • Perennial ryegrass
  • Tall fescue

Best warm-season sod species: 

  • Bermudagrass
  • Buffalograss
  • Centipedegrass
  • Zoysiagrass
  • Bahiagrass

Here’s an in-depth article on the best types of sod for your lawn

How much does sod installation cost? 

The average cost of sod installation ranges from $0.86 to $1.75 per square foot for both labor and materials. Sod installation cost varies depending on the sod type, project size, shape of the area, and other factors. 

Hire a Pro for Pristine Sod

Sod installation isn’t as simple as lawn mowing or overseeding. It’s a labor-intensive project that can take many hours depending on the size of your lawn. There’s also the matter of choosing the best type of sod based on your local climate. For homes in transition zones, this can be a tough choice that requires professional advice. 

Your lawn will require regular care and maintenance after a new sod installation. If you don’t have the time or energy, hire a local lawn care pro to mow your lawn and keep the turf green.

Main Photo Credit: Adobe Stock

Jeffery Keusseyan

Jeffery Keusseyan

Jeffery Keusseyan brings his passion for nature into his love of writing to produce fun, informative content. With thorough research and hands-on experience, he provides readers with varoius lawn mowing tips and landscaping ideas.