How to Lay Sod – A Complete Guide

By HomeAdvisor

Updated August 23, 2021

Front yard made of sod

Sod offers a fast and easy way for you to create a new lawn or rehabilitate a scraggly one. While growing grass from seed takes months of time and ongoing care, a newly sodded lawn typically takes a little longer than an hour to install (depending on the square footage of your yard) and about three weeks to become established enough to use. One of the biggest benefits is the nearly instant greenery that transforms the landscape of your home, which can give the home’s value a boost of 15% to 20%, while making your house a more attractive option for buyers with kids or pets.

In addition to the fast installation, sod also uses less water and it can be installed at almost any time of the year as long as the ground isn’t frozen. Laying sod also controls erosion from day one because the grass is already fully mature. Although many homeowners may mistakenly believe that laying sod is a complicated project, it can be completed as a DIY job, which saves a significant amount of money. The key to success is careful preparation of the soil in the area; after much of the prep work is done, letting your sod establish itself is a relatively hands-off process that reaps beautiful rewards.

On This Page:

  1. Soil Preparation
  2. Soil Testing Kits
  3. Scheduling Delivery
  4. How to Lay Sod
  5. Sod Types
  6. Hiring a Pro For Some or Part of the Job
  7. FAQs

Soil Preparation

Good soil is key to your sod-laying success. Taking the time to assess your soil and create an optimal growing environment has numerous benefits, including:

  • Denser sod
  • More uniform sod
  • A more forgiving lawn that can withstand wear and tear from pets and kids
  • Less reliance on water and chemicals
  • Less necessary maintenance

This type of turf likes well-aerated soil that’s rich in nutrients and has a pH that measures between 6.0 and 6.5. It also prefers prefers sandy loam, loamy sand and loam soil, and it doesn’t grow as well on clay soils. If your soil does have a higher percentage of clay, you can add sand when aerating to create a mixture that’s loose enough for the sod to establish its root structure.

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Soil Testing Kits

Buy a soil testing kit from your local nursery, garden center or online to test your soil’s pH. If it’s alkaline, meaning soils that read 7.5 or higher, add gypsum or sulfur to acidify the soil. If the soil is very acidic, with a pH lower than 6.0, adding lime can raise the pH to optimal levels. Before adding anything to the soil, consult a garden center to get detailed instructions on the best product for your soil and the ideal application methods. Local stores may be more familiar with the common types of soil in your area and the necessary remedies to make it more sod-friendly.

Area Prep Steps

Approximately two months before you plan to lay the sod, begin preparing the site. Clear the area of any rocks, stumps, debris or building materials such as cement or bricks. If possible, grade the area so that it slopes away from buildings to prevent flooding near the foundations. Top the area with 2 to 4 inches of topsoil before working 4 to 6 inches of composted organic matter into the soil and leveling it off with a rake.

Apply a high-phosphorus starter fertilizer and work it into the top 4 inches of soil. Finish by walking over the prepared ground on your heels, first in one direction and then again working right angles in the opposite direction. Alternatively, use a lawn roller that’s filled one-third of the way full with water to settle the area’s surface and to make it easy to see any low areas that need to be filled in to create a completely level patch of land. Water the planting area thoroughly to add moisture and help the soil settle.

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Scheduling Delivery

Grab a measuring tape to measure the area you plan to sod. Before you start measuring the area, sketch your future lawn dimensions on a piece of paper and include any unusual features. Measure the length and width and note the measurements on your sketch so you can refer to it when you order the sod. Add approximately 5% to the actual measurement of your yard to provide enough leeway for cutting around any curved areas.

Where you buy the sod depends mostly on where you live. If you live near a sod farm, that’s an ideal spot. Alternatively, you can order through your local garden center. If you have the option, inspect the sod before you buy it to make sure it’s free of disease and weeds, and let the company you order through know about the sun exposure levels of your yard. For best results, you want your sod to be very fresh. Ideally, you should have your delivery within 24 hours of the sod being cut, and you should lay it on the same day if possible. Because of the time-sensitive nature of this project, you need to have the area fully prepped and ready to go when you receive delivery.

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A Step by Step Guide to Laying Sod

  1. Moisten the soil in the prepared area right before you begin laying the sod. Start by finding the straightest edge and unrolling the sod to create the first row. Press the ends and edges of the pieces together as you lay the rows so that you eliminate gaps and overlaps without stretching. Cut and trim corners as necessary.

Tip: If the weather is hot on the day of your project, stack the unlaid sod in a shady area and cover it with moist burlap to prevent it from drying out while you work or until it’s cool enough in the day to begin the installation process.

  1. Continue laying the whole pieces one at a time, positioning them end to end against the edge of the previous row and staggering the joints similarly to how a brick wall is arranged. Avoid walking on the turf while you work, and smooth any wrinkles as you go. As you lay each piece, pat it gently into place to get rid of any air pockets.
  2. Avoid arranging small pieces of sod at the edges of the new lawn, where there’s a greater chance that they’ll dry out. Lay them in the middle of the area before scattering sandy loam into the joints to fill in any gaps.
  3. Begin watering your new lawn within 30 minutes of laying it. Water it well by saturating at least an inch of soil below the sod.
  4. Water every day for the first week to keep it moist while it becomes established. Starting in the second week, water every other day to encourage deep rooting. By the third week, water twice a week. Beginning in the fourth week, make sure the sod receives one inch of water every week by rainfall or supplemental irrigation.
  5. Once the sod grows 3 inches high and at least 10 days have passed, you can begin mowing the grass. Use a walk-behind mower with a bag to catch the clippings.
  6. Fertilize the grass with a starter fertilizer after it’s been growing for four weeks.

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Common Mistakes

Failing to choose sod that grows well in their area is one of the many mistakes that homeowners make when they DIY. For example, if you have a sun-loving sod that you plant in a shady yard, you’re setting your lawn up for failure from the beginning. Other common mistakes include the following:

  • Not preparing the soil properly. Without the right pH balance, nutrient levels and cultivation processes, you risk failure. Once the grass starts growing, there’s not much you can do to improve the soil.
  • Overlapping the pieces. Many homeowners overlap sod pieces without realizing that this creates an uneven lawn.
  • Failing to pat the sod down. All areas of your sod should have direct contact with the soil so that the sod grows deep enough roots.
  • Failing to maintain the sod properly. Water immediately, and then regularly thereafter to give it the moisture it needs to grow strong and healthy.

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Sod Types

Sod typically contains a mix to two to three turf grasses that growers choose based on their texture, vigor and color. Some of the most common grasses used include the following. The cost figures are based on 450 square feet of sod and the recommended extra 20%.

  • Zoysia grows deep, vigorous roots, which makes it a hardy addition to the mix. It requires minimal watering and mowing compared to other grasses, and it provides a thick, lush feel. Costs range from $169 for economy grade to $370 for high grade.
  • Bermuda grass is rugged, with a dense, low-growth pattern. Costs range from $170 for economy-grade to $375 for high grade.
  • St. Augustine grass is prized for its heat tolerance and plush feel. Costs range from $146 to $320.
  • Fescue grass has a coarse texture, durable nature and fine blades. It performs well for erosion control and typically costs between $132 and $300.
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Should You Hire a Pro?

Landscapers often charge by the square foot for this job, with prices that range from $2,200 to $4,000 on average, depending on the size of the area and cost of the sod. Professionals have experience in laying sod and preparing the area. This might be the best option if you have a steep slope or numerous curves that make laying more challenging. Professionals also know how to grade the ground in the planting area for optimal drainage and lay the sod to hide the seams between pieces. In general, a complete installation job done by a pro can include preparing the area by removing old lawn or garden beds, expanding or redesigning the new lawn shape, prepping the soil with an appropriate mixture for your area, grading the ground for drainage and finally installing the sod.

Full DIY Option

To do this as a full DIY, you need to take the time to prepare the area, research the right types of sod to choose and the most reputable company or grower to buy it from. For example, some grasses, such as St. Augustine, thrive in hot climates while others, such as fescue, thrive in cooler climates. It also takes a significant amount of time to properly prepare the soil. It could take even longer if you need to adjust the soil’s pH.

In all, most homeowners spend between $421 and $670 to do this as a DIY project. Unless you have the necessary equipment, you also need to rent or buy the tools needed to prepare the area and lay the sod correctly. Examples include:

  • Rototiller: $80 per day rental
  • Sod cutter: $80 per day rental
  • A shovel for $10 to $20
  • Soil test kit for $14 to $15
  • Hand tamper for $35

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Hiring a Pro for Some Parts of the Job

Get the best of options, try a mix of doing part of it as a DIY, and hiring a pro for the rest. For example, you could get a pro to prep the planting area so it’s ready to go when you have time to install the sod strips yourself. Alternatively, you could prep the area and let a pro install. Both partial DIY options save considerable money and time on part of the job, while providing the peace of mind of having a professional oversee a portion of the work. Partial DIY options typically cost an average of $500 for the professional work.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Question: I have a 500 square-foot area. How long will it take to install sod?
Answer: For this amount of space, you can expect to work for between 60 and 90 minutes to lay out and arrange all the sod strips on your own.

Question: I can’t install all of the sod on the day it’s delivered. What should I do?
Answer: Unroll the sod and give it a good drink of water. Place it in the shade to prevent it from drying out. Keep it moist until you’re able to attend to the installation up to a day or two later.

Question: Is it hard to install sod?
Answer: The preparation process is more challenging than the actual installation. Simply unroll it, arrange the pieces with the ends and edges nestled together and water thoroughly. From there, the sod takes over its own growing process with a bit of routine maintenance every day and then every week on your part.

Question: When is the best time to lay sod?
Answer: Sod can be installed nearly year-round, with spring and fall being optimal because the seasons’ temperatures and general weather patterns protect the sod from scorching summer heat. Summer installation, while possible, requires more frequent watering to help the sod become established. During winter, the ground may be too hard for the sod to establish a deep enough root structure.

Question: What are signs of quality, fresh sod?
Answer: When you receive your sod, start by looking at the soil on the bottom, which should be moist. The blades of grass should feel cool to the touch and have a dark green color. Look for uniform texture and height. Check for strength by holding a piece up by the narrow end and raise it up. It shouldn’t fall apart or tear.

Question: Where can I find sod?
Answer: Sod farms are the best places to check first, so start by looking in the yellow pages for any local growers. Alternatively, local garden centers or nurseries often carry sod or have connections with nearby growers.

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