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

gardener laying sod in a yard

Need to know how to lay sod? No problem. We have an easy-to-follow step-by-step DIY guide. The steps to laying sod to start or repair a lawn are pretty straightforward, but the job is also labor-intensive and requires knowing more than “green side up.” 

But don’t be daunted by the task in front of you. 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.

Instructions for Laying Sod

stacked sod rolls
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Laying sod is a great way to establish a lush and healthy lawn quickly. Here are the general steps for taking on this DIY project.

Step 1: Choose the Sod & Schedule Delivery

If you choose to install sod versus planting grass seed, the first step in the process is shopping for the best sod type, determining how much you need, and scheduling a delivery. 

Choosing the Best Type of Sod

What type of grass you choose depends on various factors, including your location, sun exposure, maintenance requirements, and intended use of the lawn.

  • Cool-season vs. warm-season grasses: Determine whether you are in a cool-season or warm-season region. Cool-season grasses like Kentucky bluegrass, perennial ryegrass, and fine fescue thrive in cooler temperatures. Warm-season grasses like Bermudagrass, St. Augustine, and Zoysia prefer warmer climates.
  • Sunlight conditions: Determine the amount of sunlight your lawn receives. Some grass types require full sun, while others tolerate or even prefer shade.
  • Maintenance requirements: Assess the level of maintenance you are willing to commit to. Some grasses require more frequent mowing, fertilizing, and other care practices.
  • Intended use: Evaluate how you plan to use your lawn. Some grass varieties are better for high-traffic areas, while others are more suitable for ornamental purposes. 

If you’re struggling to decide, consult with local nurseries, gardening experts, or agricultural extension offices for recommendations tailored to your region.

Determining How Much Sod to Purchase

You’ll need to go outside and get an estimate of the size of your yard in terms of square footage. 

Using an open reel tape measure, determine the square footage by measuring the length and width of the area the sod will cover. Sometimes, you might need to break your yard into pieces or chunks — rectangles, squares, etc. — and add the areas together.

You also may get a rough estimate using Google Maps or Google Earth. 

Once you know approximately how many square feet of sod you’ll need, increase that number by five to 10 percent, this extra will help account for measurement errors, damaged pieces, and filling odd spaces. 

Timing Considerations

Ideally, you want to time the project so you have the prep work done before the rolls of sod are delivered, so you can immediately start laying it. Once cut and rolled, fresh sod doesn’t last very long — 48 hours max. It won’t sit for a week, waiting for you to prepare the ground. 

You could always wait until the prep work is done and then order, but keep in mind your local sod company may be a few days (or weeks) out for delivery. If you have a specific schedule you want to keep (e.g., you’ve got help lined up on certain weekends), it’s best to schedule delivery in advance so you can guarantee you’ll have sod when you want it.

Step 2: Evaluate the Area

Before you start digging into everything and prepping the soil, closely evaluate the space where you plan to lay sod. There are several aspects to consider, including:

  • Inspect your irrigation system: If it is in-ground, run it under close scrutiny. Ensure you don’t have broken or damaged heads, and the system efficiently covers the entire area. See “Keep Your Grass Healthy With a Lawn Sprinkler Audit” for details.
  • Run a soil test (or tests): You can purchase a kit online to check the soil pH and nutrient content or take a sample and send it off to a testing lab for analysis. Consider multiple tests and collect multiple soil samples if you have had a lawn failure. Your front lawn may harbor different issues than the back lawn. Once you get the soil test results, follow the advice. Adjust the soil’s pH level and add nutrients as called for by the test results.
  • 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 your lawn — adding another inch or two of organic matter by mixing topsoil and compost.

Step 3: Clear the Space

A person removing grass from his/her lawn
Photo Credit: John-Fs-Pic / Shutterstock / License

To prepare for your sod installation, you’ll want to remove everything from the space. You likely have something left of your existing lawn, whether patches of live grass and weeds or a landscape of crispy fried blades. Follow these tips:

  • Remove existing grass and weeds: The best way to do this is to manually dig up all of the old grass using a sod cutter or shovel. While it may be tempting to pull out the glyphosate, try to avoid using herbicides. Many chemicals specifically state on their label to wait up to four months post-application before planting grass seed or laying sod. Residual product can stay in the soil and kill the new sod.
  • Pick up debris and obstructions: Check for fallen branches, sticks, large rocks, toys, and any other trash or obstacles that would prevent your sod from laying flat.

Step 4: Till the Soil

Although time-consuming and tedious, tilling is the essential next step. It helps to create a quality foundation to lay the sod.

Over years of use, the soil under 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. It also helps improve air, nutrients, and water movement into the soil, a crucial aspect of a healthy lawn.

Using a rototiller, work the soil to a depth of about 4-6 inches to create a loose, well-aerated base.  

Pro Tip: Water the soil a day or two before tilling. Watering softens the ground so the tiller blades move through the soil easily, breaking up large clods and mixing the soil well.

Step 5: Amend the Soil

If you need to adjust the soil pH by adding lime or acidifying products, or your topsoil needs some extra organic matter to increase its depth, now is the perfect time.

When adjusting the soil pH, carefully follow the soil test recommendations regarding how much lime or sulfur products to add. Incorporate the soil amendments thoroughly.

Step 6: Level the Soil

Leaving hills and low spots in your dirt will make mowing more difficult later. Take the time to create a nice, level grade before you lay sod.

  • Use a garden rake or a leveling tool to rough grade the soil. Distribute soil evenly across the entire area.
  • Use a leveling tool, such as a screed or a long straight board, to smooth and level the soil further. Drag the tool across the surface to fill low spots and knock down high spots.
  • Ensure there is a slight slope away from buildings for proper drainage.
  • The soil next to concrete driveways and walkways should be 1-2 inches lower than the concrete surface. Sod that rests too high next to concrete will dry out and die.

Step 7: Lay the Sod

A person unrolling a roll of sod on the ground
Photo Credit: Pexels

With the preparation done, you’re ready to lay the new sod. But first, you have to prepare yourself for “sod work”— it’s a hot, sweaty, dirty process. 

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 how to install sod:

  • Start along a straight edge: Your first row needs to be laid next to the lawn’s longest continuous fixed, straight edge. The straight edge can be your house, the driveway, the flower bed, or the sidewalk. 
  • Create a brick-like pattern: Working next to the initial strip, begin laying subsequent rows. Stagger the seams, similar to bricklaying, to avoid straight-line patterns. Having long seams creates water channels and causes seams to come apart.
  • Use a knife: You can purchase a sod cutter or simply take a sharp knife to trim edges from a piece of sod. The blade will also cut around sprinkler heads and irregular shapes. 
  • Don’t leave gaps: As you lay sod on the entire area, butt in pieces tightly. Sod does not naturally fill spaces over time; it shrinks, so any gaps will widen, leaving edges and roots exposed. This leads to root rot or grass death, leaving brown stripes on your new lawn.
  • Remove any air pockets: Use a lawn roller to remove air pockets. Or you can 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 sod on 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 8: Keep the Sod Watered

A lawn being watered with pink chairs in the background
Photo Credit: PublicDomainPictures

All this hard work will be 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 and then frequently until its roots grow down into the soil. 

Expect to water anywhere from one to three times daily during the establishment period (this is usually two to three weeks). When watering, check to make sure that the water percolates 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:

  • You don’t want your new grass to dry out or stay saturated. Dry is bad for establishing a healthy green lawn, and puddles are bad, but moist is good.
  • Check the soil moisture often (especially the first week) by gently lifting the corners of the sod. Give the sod water when it and the soil surface begins to dry out. 
  • 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.
  • After the roots start moving into the soil, water less frequently but more deeply. At this point, water so the moisture reaches a depth of about 6 inches. This encourages the roots to grow deeper. 
  • When you switch to less frequent watering, water early in the day to minimize disease and fungal problems.

Step 9: Fertilize in Four to Six Weeks

a person fertilizing lawn with a spreader
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

According to the University of Florida, you should hold off on fertilizing your new sod. 

Plants, including grass, take in nutrients from soil through their roots. Therefore, if the sod’s roots are not established and growing down into the soil, they won’t be able to soak up nutrients. In the best-case scenario, the fertilizer and your money will be wasted. In the worst-case scenario, nutrients applied too early can burn the roots of the lawn.

However, after four to six weeks, when the roots are established and growing down into the ground, give your newly established lawn a good dose of needed nutrients. Try starter fertilizer for a good overall mix of nutrients, and follow fertilizer instructions carefully.

Important note: Always fertilize responsibly. The chemicals in fertilizers contribute significantly to water pollution. After application, sweep up the excess granules from paved areas and deposit them back on the lawn; never wash the excess down the drain.

Due to concerns over water pollution, some areas are limiting lawn chemical use. Fertilizer containing phosphorus is prohibited in 25 states, except on new lawns.

Step 10: Wait to Mow the Lawn

lawn mowing by lawn mower
Photo Credit: Prasannanossam3 / Flickr / CC BY-SA 4.0

Now that you’ve spent the money and worked so hard to install new sod, you want it to look its best. However, it’s essential to be patient and wait to mow. You don’t want to damage or destroy your new sod by mowing too soon. 

It’s best to wait until the roots have firmly anchored the sod into the soil. Then you can start mowing.

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 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 root system. While grass mowing heights vary, set your mower deck at 3 – 3.5” for this first trim.
  • Let lawn clippings stay on the grass. They help add some nitrogen fertilizer to your new grass.
  • The best time to mow your lawn is between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.

Once your lawn is strong, keep your lawn healthy with more lawn mowing tips.

Advantages of Laying Sod

Both laying sod and seeding have their advantages, and the choice between the two methods depends on various factors, including your preferences, budget, and specific requirements. 

Here are some advantages to laying sod compared to seeding:

  • Sod provides an instant lawn. Once laid, it creates an immediate, mature-looking lawn, which can be particularly advantageous if you want to quickly establish a green and usable space.
  • While seed germination is typically limited to spring and fall, sod can be installed throughout the year as long as the ground is not frozen.
  • Sod helps prevent soil erosion more effectively than seeding. The established grass roots hold the soil in place, making it a good choice for areas prone to erosion.
  • Sod requires less time and effort for weed control compared to newly seeded areas. Since the sod is already mature, it provides better competition against weeds.
  • Sod requires less water in the initial weeks compared to newly seeded areas.

FAQs About Laying Sod

When is the Best Time to Lay Sod?

The best time to lay new sod depends on various factors, including the type of grass, climate, and local growing conditions. In warmer climates, where warm-season grasses remain active year-round, sod can be laid almost any time. However, in general, late summer to early fall or late spring are considered the optimal times for sod installation in many regions.

  • Late Summer to Early Fall (August to October)
    • Cooler air temperatures and increased rainfall during this time create favorable conditions for sod establishment.
    • Warm soil encourages root development, and there’s typically less heat stress on the new sod.
    • Fall gives the sod more time to establish before winter dormancy, compared to spring, when cool-season grasses may go dormant during the summer.
  • Late Spring to Early Summer (April to June):
  • Similar to the fall, these months provide moderate temperatures, allowing for better root development.
  • Adequate rainfall and warmer weather support the establishment of the sod.

What are Some Common Mistakes in Laying Sod?

It’s vital to follow researched, tested, and proven tips for laying sod to ensure the best quality lawn. Below are some of the most common mistakes homeowners make when laying sod:

  • Letting sod sit too long before installation
  • Laying sod without tilling
  • Overlapping sod pieces
  • 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 sod’s edges
  • Watering too little or too much

How Much Does Sod Cost?

First, calculate your lawn’s size in square feet. The cost of sod is priced by the square foot or per pallet. A pallet generally covers 450 square feet, but there are variations — so ask.

• On average, sod costs between $0.31 to $0.82 per square foot.

• Professionally installed sod costs about $0.86 to $1.75 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 for a sun-loving grass

• 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 for your climate

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. New sod installation is dirty, sweaty DIY work. Thankfully, you don’t have to do it alone.

Reach out to Lawn Starter, and we’ll put you in touch with local, experienced, highly-rated landscaping professionals who know how to lay sod down and take that “labor load” off your shoulders. A no-obligation, free, and easy quote is just a click or call away. You’ll be laid back, relaxing, and enjoying your outdoor space in no time.

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Amanda Shiffler

Amanda Shiffler

Most comfortable with soil under her fingernails, Amanda has an enthusiasm for gardening, agriculture, and all things plant-related. With a master's degree in agriculture and more than a decade of experience gardening and tending to her lawn, she combines her plant knowledge and knack for writing to share what she knows and loves.