How to Lay Sod Yourself

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Nov 09, 2019

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Instant gratification is what most humans seek. We may say “the adventure is in the journey,” but if your boss walked into your office on your first day at a new job and offered you a management position, you’d be looney to turn him away.

We all know this type of instant success is almost impossible to achieve, and the same goes for curing your weed-riddled or browning yard. Or is it?

The unique thing about your yard is you can spend months treating for weeds, fertilizing, aerating, and performing other back-breaking work to re-green that carpet or skip all that by replacing the old grass with new sod.

Sod can be quite expensive, with prices hovering in the $400 range to cover about 1,000 square feet, and that price can double if you pay someone to install it. Why not save some cash and install the sod yourself?

Here are all the ins and outs of laying sod yourself and enjoying some semi-instant gratification.

Planning Your Sod-Laying Project

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We cannot stress how important it is to make a plan before attempting to lay sod yourself. Without a firm plan, you could get halfway through the project and realize you missed a crucial step midway through or spend $1,000 on new turf just to have it die in the following months. So, plan, plan and plan some more.

How Much Sod Do You Need?

The first step of laying sod yourself is knowing how much you need. This is as easy as measuring your yard or the area that needs sod and doing some basic math.

When you call around for prices and availability, always add about 5% to the total square footage you measured out. This will give a little wiggle room for measuring errors and some leftovers to fill in all the nooks and crannies.

Testing Your Soil

Like humans, grass prefers certain pH levels and requires nutrition for optimal growth. This is especially true for sod, as it must go through the added stress of laying roots in your yard while absorbing the nutrients it needs just to live. Getting these levels right ahead of time can reduce the stress the sod goes through and prevent browning.

You can pick up a mail-in soil-testing kit for $10 to $20 at a local hardware or landscaping store, and get results in a week or two. These tests will let you know your soil’s pH levels, nutrient levels and tons more. Some tests will even give you amendment recommendations based on the results and your project.

With this info in hand, pick up all the amendments you need before starting your sod-laying project.

Selecting the Right Sod

Choosing the sod that works best for your property may require some consultations with sod farms and other suppliers. The suppliers will want to know the drainage quality of your yard, sun and shade levels, other vegetation and more.

The most important of these variables is the exposure to sun and shade. If you lay a full-sun sod in an area that is under the shade most of the day, that grass will die out quickly. It may seem odd to mix grass species, but the slight variation in grass type is favorable to a massive brown section.

Timing Your Project and Placing Your Order

The final planning step is the timing of your project. In general, two people will take about one weekend to strip and prepare a 1,000-square-foot yard and a second weekend to lay the sod. Of course, the more hands you have, the quicker you can do the job.

Call your helpers and confirm their availability for two straight weekends. Once they confirm, you will want to add about two weeks to your time to allow for your current grass to die off (more on this later), and this gives you a firm ordering window.

You’ll want to set your order to arrive the evening before laying the sod or early in the morning the day of your sod laying. This means the weather is the coolest, which prevents the soil attached to the sod from drying out.

The supplier will let you know the ideal delivery time, as some prefer to cut at night and deliver in the morning, while others cut in the afternoon for evening delivery.

Kill Your Current Yard

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Yes, the sad part of laying sod is you must first kill off your current grass. Pick up enough non-selective herbicide, like Roundup, to treat the part of the yard you plan to lay sod.

Spray the entire section of the lawn you plan to replace with the herbicide. Use extreme care not to hit parts you do not intend to replace. Using a pattern indicator mixed with the herbicide can help you keep track of where you sprayed so you don’t miss or overtreat spots.

While the exact amount of time it takes for your existing lawn to brown and die will vary, it generally takes a week or two. You can adjust your sod-ordering day based on how long it takes to die off.

Remove the Old Grass

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Removing your old grass is the best way to lay new sod, as this gives it a level surface to root into. It also allows you to address any drainage or grading issues before laying the new sod.

Using a sod cutter, which you can rent from a local hardware store, chop the existing sod into long strips. This will allow you and your helpers to roll up your old grass and throw it in the trailer for disposal.

Before firing up that sod cutter, make sure to mark off any sprinkler heads and other obstacles hidden by the grass.

Prepare You Grass-Free Yard

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With the grass off your yard, you now have a clean canvas to paint upon.

Your new turf will appreciate freshly aerated soil, which you can deliver using a tiller or a liquid aerator.

Use a long level to ensure your yard tapers slightly toward the primary drainage trench or other drainage system. If you need to fill any low spots, you can transplant soil from high spots in the yard or add more topsoil.

With grading and aeration issues sorted out, you’ll want to add the fertilizer and other amendments recommended from the soil test you completed. Work the amendments into the soil with a rake.

Time to Lay New Sod

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Your new sod may arrive in small squares or long rolls, as each supplier cuts and ships it differently. No matter what way the sod made it to your house, the process of laying it remains generally the same.

Start at the longest, straightest edge of your yard, and lay the sod from one end to the other. Make sure not to overlap any edges of sod and use a sod knife to trim around sprinkler heads, landscaping, sidewalks and other fixed items. This gives you a solid straight line to build off when laying your other rows of sod.

Lay out your subsequent rows of sod in the same manner, staggering the short edges so they do not line up and create ankle-eating divots in your freshly re-greened yard.

There will be some leftover pieces and chunks of sod. Use these to fill in any odd-shaped spaces or large gaps.

Don’t worry if things look a little lumpy at first. The new sod will settle over time and under regular foot traffic. If you can’t stand the lumpiness, you can rent a sod roller to help speed up the settling process.

Water Your New Sod

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Like nutrients, your new sod needs plenty of water to get its roots growing and firmly planted in your soil. You must water each section of your newly sodded yard for at least one hour per day. If you live in hotter climates, you may need to bump your watering up to two one-hour sessions per day.

This is also a great time to test and adjust your irrigation system to ensure your entire yard gets the water it needs.

Let it Take Root and Grow

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Now it’s just a waiting game as you have the exciting job of watching grass grow… literally. When the grass reaches about 3 inches tall, which should take about two weeks, walk out and give it an upward tug in a few places.

The sod should not pull up under moderate force. If the sod does pull up, give it a few days and try again. If it does not pull up, it is ready for its first mowing.

Mow your lawn, preferably with a push mower to prevent putting too much stress on the new sod, to the height you usually mow at. If there are small clippings left behind, this is OK, but rake up any large clumps.

After your first mow, spread some fertilizer, and you’re done. You’ve successful saved hundreds of dollars laying sod yourself.