Six Steps To Proper Turfgrass Installation

Proper turfgrass installation is key to protecting your investment and getting the best performance from your newly planted sod. Whether using a professional installer or planting the sod yourself, it is important to know the best practices for installation.

Step 1 — Test the Soil

There is no better time to enhance a lawn’s ultimate beauty and success than by improving the soil before any planting takes place. The best way to give your lawn the perfect growing environment is to test the soil before the turfgrass installation to determine its level of nutrients. You can contact your local extension office to obtain a soil test kit. To take a soil test, gather soil samples from several places around the area you’ll be sodding and place the soil from each location in a separate labeled bag. It typically takes about two weeks to receive the results.

Step 2 — Measure

Once your soil is tested and any necessary adjustments are made, the next step before turfgrass installation is to measure the area to be sodded. There are several ways to measure your lawn. Sod Solutions has developed a map-based Area Calculator that allows you to click around the perimeter of your property to determine square footage. This tool allows you to use multiple overlays to calculate complex shapes with good accuracy. Of course, the old-school method of using a tape measure or the “step” method also can be used, breaking your lawn down into basic shapes and adding them together.

We recommend ordering 5 to 10 percent more sod than you estimate you need to ensure full coverage. Most pallets will be 450 to 500 square feet, which typically is the smallest quantity that can be ordered. A truckload of sod will range from 16 to 20 pallets, depending on where you live.

Step 3 — Kill and Remove Old Grass

Killing and removal of old grass is the next step before the actual turfgrass installation and toward great performing turfgrass. We recommend applying Roundup® or another glyphosate-based product. Glyphosates are broad-spectrum systemic herbicide products designed to kill weeds and competing grasses. They are contact weed killers that require plants to soak up the active ingredient through its leaves, so you’ll want to avoid applying when the grass is wet, when rain is expected or when grass is freshly cut to maximize effectiveness. After applying, wait three to four days and make a second application. Once you have a fully brown lawn, use a sod cutter or rototiller to remove the top layer of grass and debris to create a smooth and graded surface for laying new turf. Make sure all grass and debris is removed from the landscape, but remember to mark any irrigation heads to avoid breaking them.

Step 4 — Site Preparation and Grading

Proper site preparation makes it easier for new grass roots to penetrate deeply and evenly. Deep roots will make the lawn denser and drought resistant and will allow more efficient use of water and nutrients. A dense lawn crowds out weeds and better resists insects and disease. Turfgrass Producers International recommends the following site preparation steps:

  • Clear the site of all building materials (wood, cement, bricks, etc.), as well as any buried stumps,
  • rocks, stones or other debris that is larger than 4–5 cm (2–3 inches) in diameter.
  • Rough grade the entire area to eliminate any drainage problems on the property. This would include sloping the grade away from building foundations, eliminating or reducing severe slopes and filling low-lying areas. A tractor-mounted blade and/or box are most often used for rough grading, but if the area is smaller, it can be done with hand tools.
  • Initial tilling, to a depth of at least 5 cm (2 inches), should be completed prior to adding any topsoil or soil amendments. This will control most annual weeds, alleviate subsoil compaction and permit a bonding of the topsoil to the subsoil and improve root penetration and water movement.
  • Add topsoil to achieve a total topsoil depth of 10–15cm (4–6 inches) after firming. The topsoil should be a loamy sand, sandy loam, clay loam, loam, silt loam, sandy clay loam or other soil suitable for the area. Incorporate humus (fully decomposed organic matter) into the topsoil, if possible.
  • Finish grade the entire site, maintaining the rough grading contours and slopes using a tractor- mounted box blade for large areas or heavy-duty rake on smaller sites.
  • Roll the area with a lawn roller, one third full of water, to firm and settle the surface and reveal any low spots that should be filled to match the surrounding grade surface. If time permits, allow the area to settle further with rainfall or by applying irrigation water.

Step 5 — Lay and Roll Your New Sod

Be sure to have sod off the pallet and in your lawn with 48 hours or less of delivery. Same day installation is preferable to avoid grass drying out as it sits on pallets. When laying sod, it is best to use a brick pattern with offsetting seams. Use a landscape edger or machete to cut around corners and at the edges. A handy tip is that most sod harvesters don’t cut straight down, but at a slight angle. You can use this to your advantage to get tighter seams by matching the angle on the pieces to fit together as snugly as possible. Once installed, the grass should be rolled for smoothness. Visible seams will disappear in a few short weeks.

Step 6 — Water, Fertilize and Mow

Sod should be watered thoroughly when installed. Soak upon installation and water, as needed, to keep grass from drying out. Overwatering for an extended period, however, will severely damage the turf, causing disease and rotting roots. It usually takes 7 to 10 days during the active growing season for the sod to establish, but it may take longer during cooler weather. For the first two to three weeks after installation, try to keep traffic to a minimum to give the roots an opportunity to firmly knit with the soil and ensure that it will remain smooth and level. Proper rooting can be checked by lifting a corner and noting if “white” roots have connected to the ground.

Mowing of the new sod should be done 7 to 10 days after installation. Your sod should arrive with a fresh application of fertilizer which will last for a few weeks. For ongoing maintenance of your new lawn, Sod Solutions has launched a new line of products called Lawnifi for greater performance of your lawn year-round.