Laying Sod -- How to Guide
Laying sod is a fun experience when done correctly. When done incorrectly, it's a huge waste of time and money. I ran a landscaping business for a few years in San Diego, and was mostly involved in lawn care. There are a couple key steps detailed below that will make your project a success and ensure a thriving lawn for decades to come.
Step 1 -- Clearing the Ground
When laying sod, the first step is to completely clear the area of old material and debris. This means everything, from existing grass, to large rocks, to plant roots, to old pipes, leaving nothing but bare dirt.
If your existing lawn is comprised of infesting grass like Crab Grass, you can't just skim off the top layer and call it good. Some grasses have roots that go down up to 5 feet so they'll come right back in your new sod. In this case, what you need to do is begin watering the current lawn for a couple of days to get it back to health. After that, you'll want to begin spraying Roundup on it which will kill it down to the roots. You can repeat this process again to make sure the infesting grass is completely dead.
Getting rid of your old material will require either a flat shovel or a rototiller. Rotorillers can generally be rented for about $60 per 24 hour period, depending on the vendor. They're gas powered and are easy to operate. You can generally rent them anywhere that machinery is rented. A rototiller will allow you to loosen up 3-6 inches of topsoil where your new sod is going to be laid. But be advised that rototilling can be a pain because it churns up all the soil, planting fresh weed seeds into the soil. That's why you're going to want to add a pre-emergent weed killer to your soil, which can be bought at any Home Depot or Lowes. It won't hurt your new sod, but will keep any weed seeds from developing in your newly tilled soil.
Clearing the Ground Demonstrated
Step 2 -- Amending, Fertilizing, Leveling
Now that your soil is clear and ready to go, you'll want to level it and add your fertilizers, which are also called amendments. Amending your soil may or may not involve adding sands and gypsum to create the right soil environment for a lawn.
Recommended amendments change from region to region. If you're in an area of high clay content, you'll either want to add lots of new top soil on top of the clay, or else mix in gypsum and sand to the existing soil in order to keep the clay from solidifying again. We'll go over that a bit more in the video. But generally, the people at your local Home Depot or Lowes garden center will be able to recommend the proper amendments for your region and soil type. Watch the video for the full explanation of how to amend and level your soil.
Amending and Leveling Your Soil
Step 3 -- Installing Sprinklers
After your ground in level and ready with all the amendments, you'll want to install your sprinkler system. I've written a full article, complete with pictures and videos on how to easily install a basic yard sprinkler system. Even if you've never touched a sprinkler in your life, you should be able to fully create your own yard sprinkler system. Here's the link to the article for installing yard sprinkler systems. If you're comfortable installing your own sprinkler system and don't want to visit my other article, just remember to install your sprinklers so that the heads are 1/2 inch above the dirt. Sod is generally 3/4 to 1 inch thick, so if all of your sprinkler heads are sticking 1/2 inch above the ground, they should line up perfectly with the sod once the ground compacts a bit. In order to get them all to the height you want, unscrew your riser from the pipe and cut off as many sections as it takes to get the right height. Do that to all of your sprinklers. After this, you'll be ready to order your sod.
Step 4 -- Laying Sod
At this point, you should be completely ready to lay your sod. You should have your soil completely prepared and leveled, and your sprinkler system installed. Now comes time to purchase and/or lay your sod. Your sod will arrive in strips which are generally 2 feet wide and about 8 feet long. It's recommended that you lay it immediately upon arrival to keep the roots from drying out. Before you begin laying sod, make sure you keep your ground nice and moist. You don't want pockets of air between your sod and the ground and you don't want the roots of your sod to dry out. Don't drench the ground. Just keep it moist. When laying your sod, start in the furthest corner of your yard and go all the way across the back wall. If you have too much sod in a strip or if you have an odd shape that you'll need to cut around, grab a sharp knife or box cutter and trim the sod. Sod is easy to trim, and you'll need to make various cuts. You'll need to cut circles around your sprinkler heads so they can stick through the sod, and you'll need to cut the sod off when it reaches the end of your yard.
After you've covered your whole back wall with sod, start laying sod right up against the first pieces, but don't line the seams of your sod up in straight lines. Refer to the pictures at the beginning of this section to see what I'm describing. The edges of the strips of sod shouldn't match up. This will help it fill in better and not have any discrepancies. When you reach one of your sprinklers you'll need your sharp knife again to cut a hole out of the sod where your sprinkler is. Keep going this way, making sure to keep the ground moist as you go along. It's important to lay your sod relatively quickly, especially on a hot dry day. It's also important to water the sod you've just placed as you go along. Every half an hour, spray the newly laid sod with a few second squirt of water.
Step 5 -- Rolling the Ground
The final step of your sod laying experience is to use a sod roller. This step isn't completely necessary, but most people recommend it because it gets rid of any potential air pockets and makes sure there's good contact between the roots of your sod and the soil beneath. The picture to the right is of a standard sod roller. Most of them are made of plastic and you fill them up with water so that they're relatively heavy. They can usually be rented, probably from the same place you rented the rototiller from. Just make one pass on the sod. You don't want to overly walk on it or roll it. Just passing the roller over it once should suffice.
Now you have a nicely completed sod lawn! Make sure you water it at least once per day, depending on the weather conditions. The vendor who you buy the sod from will know specifically how often it needs to be watered. I hope your sod transforms your lawn and gives you a beautiful lawn.