How to Lay Sod: A Comprehensive Guide

Jamie Tedder

Whether you’re establishing a new lawn or your existing grass is so damaged that it’s become an eyesore and infiltrated by weeds, it’s time for a fresh start.

You have at least two options: reseeding or laying sod.

While planting grass from seed is cheaper, it also takes longer, thus requiring more effort to grow into a lush, green lawn. Installing sod, on the other hand, provides an almost-immediate gratification. With sod, you don’t have to wait six weeks for seed to germinate. Instead, you get a finished-looking lawn right after the installation. But, keep in mind the word “looking”—sod consists of mature grass, but it will take a while until the roots have re-established and adapted to the new soil, which can take from 2-6 weeks.

What is Sod?

Sod consists of a layer of healthy, mature grass with soil underneath. At Bethel Farms, we harvest and sell sod as pallets of grass and soil, where the roots are cut to promote the development of new roots once the sod is installed in its new location. Because sod is pre-grown, it should facilitate rapid establishment and minimize the time it takes for the new grass to transform into a healthy, fully-functional lawn.

When is the Best Time to Lay Sod?

You can lay new sod anytime during the active growing season as long as the ground isn't frozen. However, it's best to avoid extremely hot weather. The scorching temperatures can dry out the soil and roots, which adds further stress to the newly laid sod. In these cases, you'll have to take extra precautions, such as watering deeply and more often, to promote a successful sod establishment.

In southern states, which favor warm-season grasses like Bermuda, Zoysia, St. Augustine, and Centipede, we recommend waiting until mid to late spring or early summer to lay sod. During this time, the combination of warm daytime temperatures and cooler nights, coupled with occasional rain, provides optimal conditions for the quick and effective rooting of the sod.


Step-by-Step Guide to Sod Installation

We've previously covered the step-by-step instructions for starting a lawn with grass plugs. Now, we're moving on to a comprehensive guide on how to lay sod.

Step 1: Select the Right Type of Grass

Different grass varieties thrive in different climates. For example, warm-season grasses are well-adapted to Florida's warm, sub-tropical climate. They are exceptionally heat and drought-tolerant, creating a water-efficient, low-maintenance lawn.

Evaluate your outdoor space, taking into account your local climate and sunlight and shade conditions, to choose the right type of grass that will thrive on your lawn.

Step 2: Measure Your Lawn

At Bethel Farms, our sod pallets usually measure 400 square feet each. Measure your landscape to determine how much sod you need for the area you plan to cover.

Once you know what turf and how much sod you need, hold off on purchasing it immediately. Sod is a living product with a limited lifespan. Be sure to prepare your space first and buy sod from a sod farm who can harvest and deliver the sod on the same day you plan on laying it in your yard. 

It’s best to lay the sod within 24 hours after harvesting to maximize the chances of successful cultivation.

Step 3: Prepare the Soil

Although time-consuming and labor-intensive, preparing your soil for sod installation is essential to create an optimal environment for successful root establishment and the long-term health of your lawn.

Begin by applying a non-selective herbicide 10-14 days before the installation to remove weeds and unwanted vegetation. Wait 3-4 days to re-apply if the grass isn’t showing signs of dying. Then, you can use a sod cutter to remove the dead layer of grass and debris.

Next, use a rake to clear your yard of leaves, branches, stones, and other debris. Break up any compacted soil and fill gaps to level the surface. Loosen the soil to a depth of at least 2 inches to improve aeration and facilitate better root penetration. Take this opportunity to conduct a soil test to evaluate your soil’s pH and nutrient makeup. These valuable insights will guide you in making necessary amendments, such as adding fertilizer or other additives to create a rich environment for your new grass. 

Step 4: Install Sod

Install your sod immediately after delivery. Begin by watering your lawn to dampen the soil, and then start laying the sod along straight lines, like the edge of a walkway or driveway. Most sod suppliers suggest simultaneously watering your soil as you lay the sod like bricks, smoothing the soil as you go along to remove bumps and air pockets, ensuring better sod-to-soil contact.

Ensure the joints are snug without overlapping to prevent any gaps where weeds might emerge. Use a sharp knife to trim and fit sod around curves, trees, and other irregular objects. On hills, lay sod perpendicularly to the slope to keep it from sliding when watering.

Step 5: Water Your Soil

Immediately after laying the sod, water your soil thoroughly, making sure that it is consistently moist but not waterlogged. In the following 10-14 days, water your lawn 2-3 times daily, adjusting as needed based on the weather. Aim for at least 1 inch of water beneath the surface—use a soil probe to check moisture levels.

This watering routine is essential for your new lawn's successful establishment and healthy growth. It will help the sod adjust to its new environment and prevent the roots from drying.


Post-Installation Care and Maintenance

As the sod takes root, gradually transition to less frequent and deeper watering to allow the grass to develop deep and extensive root systems. Water 1-2 times a week and adjust to supplement rainfall shortages, ensuring your new lawn is sufficiently moist to survive extended hot and dry periods.

For a healthy lawn, apply fertilizer during the growing season. How often you should fertilize your lawn depends on the type of fertilizer you use. For example, a slow-release starter fertilizer is designed to provide a gradual and sustained release of nutrients to the soil over an extended period, thus minimizing the frequency of reapplication. It is in contrast to traditional fertilizers that, though they provide immediate nutrition to plants, the effects don’t last as long. They are more prone to nutrient leaching, so you should reapply them more often. 

Wait until the sod has rooted into the soil and your grass is 3-4 inches tall before mowing your new lawn for the first time. When you mow, use a sharp blade to avoid ripping out the grass. Follow the one-third rule—never cut more than one-third of the grass height in a single mowing to encourage healthy growth and a strong root system. You can let the grass clipping stay to recycle nutrients back into the soil and fertilize your new grass.

Ready to install sod? Shop for premium-quality grass sod at Bethel Farms today!