How to Lay Sod

By Amanda Lutz Updated May 13, 2024

Whether you’re developing a beautiful backyard from scratch or giving your outdoor space some much-needed maintenance following a weed infestation, laying sod can help bring your lawn back to life. Sodding provides a picturesque yard immediately, so you won’t have to wait for new grass seeds to germinate and grow. However, laying sod is a skill requiring some research and planning.

Our comprehensive guide details the benefits of laying sod and outlines when you should plan to put sod down, how to install sod, how to prepare your soil, and how to take care of the area after you have installed the sod. While it might seem intimidating, any homeowner or gardening enthusiast can lay sod, even without any prior experience.

Benefits of Laying Sod

If you need to grow new grass in your yard, your first thought might be to sprinkle a few packs of seeds on the ground and let nature take its course. While there is some pride involved in growing new grass from seeds, there are also significant benefits to opting for sod over seeds.

Sod is beautiful and eye-catching and can give your yard an instant transformation. You don’t have to wait months for the grass to reach full growth when you use sod. Instead, sod will give you a new lawn with a thick layer of established grass, complete with roots and some soil attached.

Installing sod can be significantly less work in the long run than growing grass from seeds. It requires less irrigation, meaning you don’t have to babysit the budding ground for weeks. It also has fewer weeds since you would purchase sod as large strips of fully-grown grass, soil, and roots. While sod does require some attention in the early days, especially until you ensure that its roots have bonded with the existing soil, the benefits are many, and the payoff—including a stunning green lawn—is substantial.

When to Lay Sod

Another benefit of laying sod is that you have some flexibility with timing. As long as the ground is fully thawed and isn’t at risk of freezing soon, you can lay sod. However, some times are more optimal than others. Late summer and early fall are generally the best times to lay sod because daytime temperatures are warm and nighttime temperatures are cooler. 

The warmer the temperature outside, the easier it is for the sod roots to bond with the existing soil in the yard. Laying sod in late summer also gives it plenty of time to get established before the advent of cold weather.

Avoid laying sod too early in spring since the ground is still at risk of freezing. You should also avoid laying sod before a drought because soil that is too wet could put stress on the sod. Don’t put sod out when the ground is frozen or in winter, either, because it is unlikely to bond well with the existing soil.

Preparing the Soil

Successfully laying sod requires some planning and preparation. Ideally, you’ll want to start prepping the area where you want to lay sod a few weeks before the actual installation. Evaluate the weather forecast and consider any expected rain or precipitation that could affect your project.

Remove Old Grass

Before you begin, you’ll need to remove old grass and a thin top layer of existing soil from the area where you plan to lay sod. After clearing the grass and soil, you should end up with a level stretch of soil about an inch below the surrounding surfaces. 

A sod cutter can be helpful with this step, as doing it manually with a shovel could result in more work during the leveling process. A sod cutter will loosen the grass and cut it into long strips for easy removal. You can use the old grass for a compost pile or see if a neighbor who gardens wants it for their compost.

Level the Ground

Once you’ve cleared the installation area of sod and the top layer of soil, you’ll need to spend some time leveling the ground. Use a garden rake to break up large chunks as you go to allow for better penetration. As you level, ensure the soil is loose so that new roots can easily bond with the existing soil.

Measure the Planting Area

There’s nothing worse than beginning sod installation and realizing you don’t have enough sod. To avoid this problem, measure the planting area accurately after prepping and leveling the ground. 

It is best to measure landscaping in square feet. You can calculate your yard in steps—by walking the length of the area you need to buy sod for—or with a measuring wheel, a tool you can purchase at any hardware store. Once you have the necessary square footage, you can order the appropriate amount of sod. You should also decide what grass type you want to install. From Bermuda grass to turfgrass, there are many different sod options.

Fertilize Existing Soil

Properly fertilized soil will better resist weeds and insects and provide a better environment for the sod to bond with. Before installing the sod, water the entire area and spray an herbicide over the whole yard. Exercise caution when using herbicide, and avoid contact with your skin. You should also keep it away from children and pets.

After applying herbicide, fertilize or mulch the soil with a compost of your choice. Let it sit for at least a week and up to several weeks to suppress any growth in the soil. Till and rake the ground after the compost has had a chance to sit for a while, loosening the dirt and uncovering any rocks or foreign objects that you’ll need to remove. 

Finally, lay fresh topsoil if needed. By doing this, you’ll create a healthy environment that is conducive to new sod. If you’re unsure about the overall health of the ground, you can conduct a soil test at this point. A soil test will determine whether your yard is a good environment for new sod.

How to Lay Sod

While preparing your yard for new sod can be time-intensive, laying sod is the payoff at the end of the journey. Once your new sod arrives, you might be ready to start sod installation immediately. However, make sure that the existing lawn isn’t too wet or too cold before you begin, and do one final walk-through of the installation space to make sure it’s ready to receive the sod.

Lay the Sod

Lightly dampen the ground with a sprinkler, but take care not to oversaturate the ground. If there are any puddles, the ground is probably too wet. Start laying sod by unrolling the first section against the longest edge of the surrounding landscaping. For the first row and all succeeding rows, the entire length of the sod should make contact with the soil beneath it. Move on to the next sod roll, taking care not to leave any gaps as you work.

You should also avoid walking on the fresh sod. Stand on the bare soil and unroll the sod as you walk backward. If you have an assistant in this process, have them act as a “spotter,” alerting you to any dips or low spots in the ground to watch out for.

As you work, smooth out any wrinkled or bunched edges. You can use a shovel to pat the sod into the ground gently. Removing air pockets helps get the new sod in better contact with the soil, which encourages bonding.

Clean the Edges

After you’ve finished laying all the rolls of sod, all the edges might not lie perfectly straight. You might even have some gaps in the area, which you can fill using scraps of sod that didn’t fit elsewhere. Use a box cutter or other sharp knife to tidy up the edges of the sod, cleaning any sections of overhang and creating a smooth surface.

You should press your sod pieces together as tightly as possible. Not only will this prevent weeds from fighting through the surface of the sod and slipping between the cracks, but also it will help with moisture retention.

Press the Sod

Just as you work to ensure the pieces of sod fit together like puzzle pieces, you’ll need to make sure the sod is bonded to the ground as tightly as possible. Many homeowners opt to use a lawn roller after the sod is fully installed. A lawn roller is a large tool you can buy at any garden center that presses down any air pockets you might have missed.

To use a lawn roller, roll it one way across your sod, then roll over it in a perpendicular fashion. Go over the entire area of fresh sod by rolling a grid pattern. Lawn rollers can be expensive to rent, and if it’s not in your budget, a do-it-yourself (DIY) option is to use a large sheet of plywood to press over the top of the sod.

Post-Installation Care

After you have installed your new sod, you’ll need to take special care to ensure it remains healthy and bonds to your existing soil. Water your new sod frequently in the early days after installation. We recommend watering new sod at least twice daily for the first week, ideally in the morning. You should also use a starter fertilizer to keep the sod healthy.

After the first week, reduce irrigation to every other day. Continue to water the sod regularly to encourage the new sod to take root. Don’t walk on the sod for at least a week after installation, as it will be fragile and prone to slipping or shifting.

It’s time to mow when the grass reaches approximately 3 inches in height. Use a push mower if you can since the sod will still be fragile at this point. For the first mow, only trim the grass to two inches. As it grows and becomes stronger, you can grow it higher.

Our Recommendation

It might seem daunting to install sod, considering the preparation and planning that goes into the process, not to mention the manual labor involved with the actual installation. However, it’s deceptively easy to lay sod, and the results are worth the effort. Installing sod is a fantastic project for new homeowners, providing instant results and giving you a healthy lawn in just a few weeks. Laying sod gives you a much quicker payoff than planting grass seeds, and it requires much less watering and intensive care.

While laying sod doesn’t require any previous experience or special certifications, you should still take the process seriously. By properly preparing your soil, you’ll end up with a healthy yard that looks great and keeps weeds at bay.

How to Lay Sod FAQ

What should you put down before laying sod?

Before you lay sod, you should properly prepare the ground. This includes removing the old grass and a thin top layer of soil. After you have removed the old grass and soil, you can irrigate and fertilize the space. This will provide a healthy environment for the new sod to take root.

Can you lay sod right over dirt?

You can lay sod right over dirt as long as you have properly prepared the dirt. Watering and fertilizing the ground by laying compost will help create a healthy environment that will encourage the sod to take root and bond that much faster. You can conduct a soil test to ensure the soil is healthy.

Is there a trick to laying sod?

There’s not one single “trick” to laying sod. Almost anyone can lay sod, provided you follow some basic steps to prepare your soil. Laying sod requires some research and planning since you’ll need to measure the space and make sure your dirt is healthy enough to accept new sod. By following the recommended steps (and enlisting help when you need it), you’ll be able to successfully lay new sod.

Can you lay sod without tilling?

While you can lay sod without tilling, you’ll have a better chance of success if you place your new sod on top of tilled, irrigated soil. Tilled soil allows for more thorough irrigation and is more likely to bond with new sod over untilled soil.

How long after laying sod can you walk on it?

Proper lawn care dictates that you should avoid walking on sod for at least a week after installation. If you walk on freshly-installed sod, you’ll run the risk of the sod slipping or shifting, which in turn can cause it to look uneven. To be safe, wait to walk on the sod for several weeks after installation. Use a push mower for the initial mow, rather than a riding mower.