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Planting with Sod

by Dawn West, All About Lawns Columnist

Planting your lawn with sod can have advantages and disadvantages to other methods such as seeding.

Advantages of laying sod

  1. Sod is relatively easy to install and can be planted in a matter of hours.
  2. Other than constant waterings, sod needs very little care to establish.
  3. Sod can give you instant results creating a green lawn within hours.
  4. Sod can be planted in almost any season.
  5. Sod is much easier to plant on slopes and hills than seeds.
  6. If you a renovating a weed-ridden lawn, sod will cover up those old weed seeds (after tilling) so they will not germinate at the surface.

Disadvantages of laying sod

  1. Sod is much more expensive than simply seeding your lawn.
  2. Choices of seed mixtures are greatly reduced when choosing sod.
  3. Since sod is grown in different soil, it can sometimes have difficulty bonding to your existing soil.
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Once you have created your lawn plan and graded and prepared your soil, you are now ready to pick-out the sod for your new lawn. However, unlike seeding, sod actually adds additional soil to your lawn so make sure that you know the thickness of your sod (usually 1-3 inches) and lower your planting bed accordingly. It is recommended before you begin that you carefully read the section on "Getting to Know your lawn "so you can better determine what kind of grass you want to grow. From your reading, you will see that the best times to plant cool-season grasses are in the early fall, and warm-season grasses in the late spring. There are also many other considerations such as durability, shade tolerance, drought tolerance, etc. that can be associated with each grass in the "Getting to Know your lawn" section. So make sure you pick the right grass for you. Finally, there is the issue of grass texture. Some people will want a finely-groomed lawn and therefore, will want a fine-textured grass -- while others will not care. Just keep in mind that the grasses with fine textures tend to be: bluegrass, bermuda, ryegrass, bentgrass, and fine fescues.

Most sod comes pre-cut in pieces from 5-9 feet in length and typically weigh around 30 pounds each. When applied, sod is layed out in a brick-like fashion with staggering of the pieces to prevent drainage and slipping. The key to a good sod planting begins with proper planning. Since sod tends to dry-out quickly after being cut, it is best to have a timely schedule planned from when the day the sod is cut to the day you plant it. The ideal situation is to have the sod cut and re-planted within a 24 hour period. If you need more time, simply plan to storing the sod in a shaded location and watering when dry. The following are some good things to remember when shopping for sod:

  1. Find a reputable sod grower nearby who can work with you on the kind of sod needed and time it will be cut and delivered. A good sod grower will have experience with this and should be able to meet your needs. Click here to find a sod grower near you!
  2. When inspecting the sod, make sure that it is the proper thickness (usually 1-3 inches) and is not discolored or cut improperly. If it appears yellowish brown or not a uniform green, do not accept it. Also make sure that the sod delivered has not been sitting around for a long period of time. If it feels warm to the touch (especially in the middle of the pile) then it may be telling you that it has been sitting around to long and decomposition has already started. Checking for dry and cracked edges and soil surfaces is another indication that you're getting old sod. So be careful when buying sod, and make sure you get what you want.
  3. When placing your order for sod, make sure that you order enough extra to compensate for irregular trimmings and loose measurements. Try to order 10-20% more sod just to be safe. If you feel that your measurements are precise and your lawn is symmetrical in shape, then you may want to stick with the 10%.

Planting your sod

Now that you have (or are expecting) your sod, its time to plant. The following steps should be followed for best results:
  1. Make sure you have all the tools you need to begin. The following tools are commonly used when planting sod:
    • A sharp knife and/or a sharp edged masonry trowel to cut sod with.
    • A lawn roller to prepare your soil and for sod compaction.
    • A wheel-barrow to help transport sod.
    • Pieces of plywood and/or boards to kneel and walk on.
    • A rake to finish sections of soil when disturbed.
    • Watering hose and water to moisten the soil surface and sod when planting.
    • Potting soil to fill any gaps that exist between the pieces of sod.
  2. Make sure that the soil surface you are placing sod over is lower then the surrounding surfaces by the thickness of the sod soil. For example, if your sod has soil around 3 inches thick, then you will need to grade your surface soil you are planting on 3 inches lower than the surrounding surfaces.
  3. Apply a fertilizer to the soil surface that is high in phosphorus such as a mixture of 1-2-1. Apply only to the surface and do not work into the soil like you did with the soil amendments. Click here for more on fertilizing.
  4. Lawn Roller
    Lawn Roller
  5. Use a lawn roller half-filled with water and roll the soil surface flat and remove any debris that could interfere with the planting surface.
  6. Lightly water each area of soil so the ground is not dry, but not dripping wet either.
  7. Starting along the longest straight edge, lay the sod down in strips like you're laying bricks. Make sure the edges are placed tightly together (to prevent drying) and that each consecutive row is staggered to prevent water run-off and slipping (shown). It's also a good idea to kneel and walk on plywood while working with sod so you do not disturb the pieces already layed.
  8. Laying Sod
    Laying Sod
  9. When laying sod, alwaystry to lay full strips along the perimeters to prevent excessive drying.
  10. When working along irregular borders,simply let the pieces of sod overlap the boundary and cut them back with a knife or trowel.
  11. When the pieces of sod overlap in size, simply lay one piece over the other and cut through both pieces at once. A 2X4 as a straight edge can also help create a cleaner cut on longer pieces. Once cut, simply remove the excess pieces and butt-up the ends firmly together.
  12. When laying sod on hills, always begin at the base and work your way up the slope. If the slope is severe, you can even drive stakes and rods through the sod into the ground to help prevent slippage. Once the sod is better established, simply remove the stakes or rods from the ground.
  13. If any gaps appear in the joints (there usually are some), it is best to fill them up as quickly as possible with potting soil to prevent moisture from escaping. It's also a good idea to thoroughly water each piece on sod once layed.
  14. Once all your sod is down and trimmed,you will need to roll over it with a half-filled (with water) lawn roller to smooth out the rough spots and eliminate any gaps between the sod and soil.
  15. Plan on watering your newly sodded lawn daily for the next 6 weeks until firmly established. It's important that when watered, the lawn gets saturated to the depth of 6-8 inches. After a few weeks, the grass roots in the sod should start growing into the soil. Click here to learn more about watering.
  16. Do not plan on mowing your new lawn until the sod is tightly rooted into the soil. the best way to check for this bonding is to try pulling-up on the end of a piece of sod. If it come-up with ease, then your lawn may need more time. If it does not come-up in a few places, then your lawn is starting to establish itself. Click here for more on mowing.
  17. You should be able to fertilize your new lawn 5-7 weeks after planting

About the Author
Dawn West B.A. holds a B.A. in English from Harvard University and teaches writing at Oregon State University.

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