Should You Level Your Lawn Before Laying Sod?

Jamie Tedder

Whether you're looking to rejuvenate a sparse lawn or transform a barren landscape, laying sod provides an almost-instant solution for a lush, green lawn. Sod consists of pre-grown grass held together by roots, soil, and other organic matter, ready to be transplanted into your yard. It provides immediate coverage, significantly reducing the time it takes to establish a healthy, dense lawn compared to seeding.

However, before searching for grass for sale, it's essential to prepare your lawn to receive the new sod. One critical step in this process is leveling your lawn. Proper leveling ensures the sod makes good contact with the soil, setting the foundation for healthy root growth and an overall successful sod installation.

The Importance of Leveling Your Lawn When Laying Sod

Leveling your lawn before laying sod creates a smooth, even soil surface where the new roots can penetrate deeply and evenly. This promotes denser turf grass that is more resistant to weeds, pest infestations, diseases, and other environmental stresses like drought. A well-leveled lawn ensures the sod establishes itself quickly and grows uniformly, resulting in a lush and healthy lawn.

Beyond sod installation, addressing an uneven lawn is essential for maintaining the overall aesthetics and functionality of your yard. An uneven lawn with visible lumps, bumps, and depressions can look unsightly. Additionally, it can create tripping hazards, posing a safety risk and leading to uneven cutting, which can damage your lawn and mower.

The unevenness in your entire lawn can also lead to poor drainage, preventing water from effectively draining away. This can result in water pooling in low areas, potentially attracting pests and creating a conducive environment for fungal growth. The inconsistent irrigation can also lead to dry patches and over-watered areas, leading to sparse and uneven growth.


What Causes an Uneven Lawn?

Your lawn naturally undergoes significant changes over time due to soil settling, which can lead to lumps, bumps, and depressions. However, several factors can exacerbate this unevenness.

Thatch Buildup

One common cause is thatch buildup, or the accumulation of organic matter, like dead grass and roots. This creates lumps in your lawn, resulting in an uneven surface. Excessive thatch can also prevent water, air, and nutrients from reaching the soil effectively, further contributing to irregular growth.

Soil Compaction

Heavy traffic from footfall or equipment use can compress the soil, particularly on frequently used pathways, leading to uneven areas. Soil compaction also restricts root growth and water penetration, worsening the problem.

Wildlife Activity

Animals like rodents dig tunnels and burrows underground, creating mounds and depressions on the surface. These irregularities not only contribute to unevenness in your lawn but can also create hazards and lead to infestations in your lawn.

Tree Roots, Underground Pipes, and Other Issues

Additionally, other factors, such as tree roots, underground pipes, utility lines, and cables, can lead to irregularities in your lawn. Poor initial grading during construction or landscaping can also lead to unevenness. Grading a yard to alter its slope and drainage and address these more complex subsurface issues is a more serious task that is better left to professionals.

However, leveling a yard is a relatively easy business that you can take on with the right tools. By addressing these issues, you can create a smooth, level surface that promotes healthy growth and increases the functionality of your lawn.


How to Level a Yard

Leveling your lawn is necessary before laying sod, particularly if you're experiencing drainage issues or difficulty mowing due to uneven areas. These issues may indicate a severely uneven lawn, which can prevent proper water drainage and hinder healthy growth.

While you can lay sod at any time of the year, it's best to do so during the peak growing season. For warm-season varieties like Bermuda, St. Augustine, and Zoysia, this period is in late spring. Ideally, you should finish leveling your lawn in early spring as these grasses emerge from winter dormancy. Keep in mind that this process should take place after you have already removed any dead or existing grass to ensure a successful sod installation.

Relieve Soil Compaction

Leveling your lawn starts with addressing underlying issues, such as soil compaction. One effective method to loosen compacted soil is aerating, which involves creating small holes on the surface to allow air, water, and nutrients to reach the grass roots more effectively. It's advisable to aerate your lawn periodically, particularly during the active season or before fertilizing, to help the nutrients better penetrate the soil. Aeration also gives the roots more room to grow, leading to a healthier and more resilient lawn.

Dethatch as Necessary

While a thin layer of thatch can benefit your lawn by providing insulation and helping retain moisture, too much thatch can be problematic. Excessive thatch creates a barrier, preventing your grass from getting enough air, water, and nutrients. Manage this by dethatching your lawn when the amount of thatch exceeds half an inch. Use a thatch rake to pull up and remove the excess, ensuring your grass can breathe and access the necessary resources to thrive.

Apply Top Dressing Mix

Leveling out sunken areas in your lawn improves drainage, preventing water from pooling and reducing the risk of waterlogging, which can cause root rot and other fungal diseases. Fill low spots, particularly those 2-3 inches deep, with a top dressing mix. This mix can consist of two parts sand, two parts loam, and one part compost. The sand helps prevent compaction, while the loam and compost provide nutrients for healthy grass growth. Spread the mix evenly and level it out with a rake for a smooth, even lawn surface.

Smoothen Soil Surface

Once the soil is loosened and sunken areas are filled, use the backside of a garden rake to smooth the soil surface. Spread the rest of the soil mixture in a thin layer across your lawn. Repeat these steps as necessary—break up lumps, apply topsoil, and rake the lawn. Run the sprinklers to help the soil settle and the topdressing to fill air pockets. Then, rake again for further leveling and smoothing. Overall, these steps should prepare the ground to receive new sod, ensuring a flat surface for better sod-to-soil contact.

As previously mentioned, addressing an uneven yard is simply one of the steps that go into preparing your lawn for sod installation. Learn more by taking a look at our comprehensive guide on how to lay sod.

Did you find this article helpful? Read our blog for more lawn care tips.