What Is Sod? How to Lay Sod for an Instant, Beautiful Lawn

what-is-sod-turf-on-pallet

Aside from being a cuss, what is sod? Sod is something you’ve probably passed time and time again while walking down the street. That neighbor’s well-tended lawn that you’ve been eyeing with jealously could even be an example of sod – pre-prepared grass, roots, and soil that you can lay down on a bare yard to skip the often tedious and long process of sowing seed and waiting for grass to come through.

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What Is Sod?

You might not have heard of sod before because people typically refer to it as “turf”. It’s fairly commonly used for sports stadiums and golf courses, but it’s becoming more popular nowadays to use sod as a way of installing lawns quickly. It’s also a good solution for repairing a small damaged area of land, but the usefulness of this lawn-in-a-can doesn’t end there.

Sod can help prevent flooding, improve air and water quality, and increase cooling. It also helps to stabilize the soil in your yard and reduces ground erosion. But what really makes it stand out from other ways of getting yourself a new lawn is the speed with which you can lay it down, as well as the benefits over traditional lawn seeding.

Recommended: Sod vs Seed vs Hydroseeding – What’s the Best Lawn for You? 

So many things can go wrong with traditional seeding. Your seeds can be blown away by wind, they can be pecked at by birds, or dug out by pets. The seed can drown due to a deluge of heavy rain. And even if you somehow make it through this obstacle course of natural hazards, it takes weeks before you see any results, and even longer before the grass is strong enough to be used.

Sod, on the other hand, avoids these problems and is fully functional within a much shorter period. So, no more waiting around to invite your guests around. No more missing out on those perfect-weather BBQ opportunities.

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How Is Sod Produced?

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Sod is typically grown locally, within the area of the local market that the company selling it serves. This makes sure that the product maintains a high-quality and doesn’t cost you a fortune for delivery.

More importantly, it also ensures that your sod matches the grass varieties that grow in one specific geographical area. So, that age-old saying of: “The grass isn’t always greener” could be completely true! It might also not be as thick or as long.

It takes around 10 to 18 months of careful fertilization, regular moving, and rigorous, generous watering for sod to be ready for harvesting, and it’s usually already cut to a standard size and rolled up with special equipment onto pallets. You’ve probably already guessed that this makes it a hefty job to install sod. Some farms specializing in growing sod even use a hydroponic method, allowing them to sell their product all around the world, reducing production and delivery times.

Best Sod Varieties

It’s super important to pick the right type of grass so that it’s compatible with the location and climate you live in. Otherwise, you’ll slap that turf down on your lawn and watch it deteriorate rapidly. Imagine trying to excavate a palm tree from a Spanish island and transplant it into the tundra in Antarctica – it just won’t work.

If you don’t want to waste your money and want to keep your lawn in the best condition in the long run – and why wouldn’t you – then make sure you properly research your lawn type.

Before I introduce you to your future grass, let’s run through a few things to consider – the local climate and weather conditions, how much sun the area typically gets, your lawn’s soil type, any pets you have, and your expected foot traffic.

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Here are some of the best sod varieties to target, according to Sod Solutions:

  • Buffalo Grass is best for who have pets and kids running around as it heals very quickly, saving you the headache of dealing with bare patches. You won’t spend much on chemicals to fight diseases and insects either thanks to its outstanding resistance qualities.
  • Zoysia Grass is a great choice for challenging weather conditions, like cold or hot temperatures or drought. It’s not afraid of salt or high foot traffic, so people who live by the coast or have a swimming pool would find this option pretty durable.
  • Bermuda Grass is ideal for those who don’t like to spend ages on watering plants. It doesn’t get thirsty often and self-repairs rapidly. That’s why it’s so commonly used for sports fields. Also, “Winter is coming” is not a phrase that should scare you with Bermuda; it will keep its color and come back to life in no time in spring.
  • Kikuyu Grass is on the list for two reasons – reliability and cost. You will see it a lot around in parks, on horse racing tracks, and golf courses, which is probably the best proof of how much you can count on this variety. It takes a serious pounding! “Why is not at the top the list?” you might wonder. Unfortunately, it’s not an option for shady areas; the sunnier the better for Kikuyu.
  • Fescue Grass is the opposite of Kikuyu. This is one is better suited for cold-climate yards where you can get frost. This type is more decorative and is not meant to be walked on too much.

How to Prepare Your Yard for Sod

Just because the sod has already been cultivated on a specialized farm doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do to help your grass develop in the best way possible.

Before you lay down the turf, you want to work out how to prepare the site and improve the soil, which is a key factor in how the roots with establish. The secret to dense, drought-resistant grass that’s protected from insects and weeds lies in deep and evenly penetrated roots, so that’s where we’re going to start.

If you are working on a recently built area, clear all the construction waste – bricks, wood, cement, or whatever material was used for building. Don’t forget to dig a little deeper while clearing the debris from the lawn and remove all buried rocks, stumps, and generally anything bigger than a golf ball.

The next step is important because it will both help you sort out any drainage problems, as well as uncovering hidden debris you need to remove before installing sod. As you might have already guessed, I’m talking about grading.

If your yard is relatively small, you should be fine with using hand tools only. If your property is fairly large, or if laziness beats enthusiasm like in my case, you will find a tractor-mounted box blade very handy. It is quite a pricey tool, so you could consider renting one or hiring a contractor to use it.

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You also want to get rid of steep slopes, pits, and create a slight inclination from the buildings. Don’t put the rake too far away, we will get back to it one more time later.

Till the ground to a depth of 2 inches minimum. This is crucial as it helps create a bond between the subsoil and the topsoil, making the ground less compact, which helps root penetration and water absorption. Tilling the soil prior to any amendments controls the weed growth throughout the year.

Recommended: 14 Ways of Tilling Soil Without a Tiller

Then, add a layer of topsoil – you’re looking at around 4-6 inches. Again, make sure the type fits your area; ideally, you should use anything with the following words in the name: sand, clay, and loam. Try not to get overwhelmed by the breadth of choice – loamy sand, sandy loam, and sandy clay loam are all examples of the varieties you’ll find. As a bonus, you can introduce fully decomposed organic matter into the topsoil.

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Next, it’s time to test the chemistry between the ground and the potential instant lawn – this part is the soil test. Basically, this will show you how well the soil can “feed” the sod and whether or not they are compatible. You can do a basic soil test yourself, or get a lab to do it if you want comprehensive results. 

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Here’s the list of results you will get – pH, Cation Exchange Capacity, and the nutrient levels. The lab normally advises you on how to amend the soil, correct alkalinity levels, and adjust fertility, but here’s a little tip from personal experience. The ideal pH level ranges from 6 to 7.

If the results show you higher figures, add a soil acidifier to bring the level down to normal. Lime works the opposite way and brings it back up. If the problem is soil health, incorporate organic matter (or compost), though true connoisseurs recommend humus (not to be confused with hummus; I almost ran to the fridge too). Whatever you add, keep it within 3-4 inches from the surface.

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Remember how I said not to ditch the rake yet? This is where you’ll need it again. Final grading will give the yard the shape you want while your instant lawn is on its way to you. Once again, use a heavy-duty rake for small areas, and a tractor-mounted box blade for larger ones.

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Now you can finally settle and firm the surface with a lawn roller . I recommend filling it with one-third of water to roll the area. This will give you time for a final re-touch, like adjusting the slopes or filling low spots you missed in the previous steps.

If there’s no rush, let the ground settle for a little longer with more watering; this way you can also test the irrigation system before you reach the point of no return.

Once the site is clear, leveled, and hydrated, it’s a good idea to measure it. The easiest way is simple – use a measurement tape, paper, and a pencil. Apart from the obvious width and the length of the yard, include all irregular shapes and buildings to your sketch.

If you have decided to keep the slopes and lower areas, mark them too. This will help you and the supplier figure out how much sod you need, the costs, and the variety of grass to go for. Choose the date of delivery and make sure the sod is installed on the same day, whether you’re using the contactor’s services or asking your mates to help you out.

In case by now you’re shrinking in doubt whether or not you can do it yourself, all you need to know is “green side up”. You’ll be fine. Just remember, sod pallets are heavy – take regular breaks and don’t throw your back out. You’re now ready for the installation of your precious turf.

How to Lay Sod

As I said, it’s crucial the sod is layed on the day of the delivery but bear in mind it shouldn’t be more than three days after harvesting. If you’re using a good and responsible supplier, this shouldn’t be a problem; it is worth spending money on the right people.

A little tip to check whether you’re being ripped off is to check the soil – it should be moist. You also want the grass blades to be dark green and cold to the touch. Check the appearance and the strength of the turf, touch it, turn it upside down, make sure it looks even and healthy.

Lay the first sod roll along something straight – a sidewalk or a driveway, then add the rest of the pallets so that the edges look like a brick-wall pattern. You want to start watering the sod no later than half an hour after you’ve laid the first piece. 

An easy way to check on the progress and the efficiency of your efforts is to lift a corner of one pallet and pierce through it with something long and sharp. If it feels hard to get through or the soil looks dry, add more water. On slopes or hills, start from the lowest point working all the way up, keeping the seams closely together. If the surface is too steep, lay the sod across the direction of the slope.

How to Care for Sod

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Once you have adequately prepared the soil, got yourself some nice high-quality turf, and installed it in good time, there shouldn’t be much left for you to do. All the grass needs is sunshine, fresh air, and occasional watering, and the roots will settle down deeply and steadily, making the lawn look luscious and healthy.

If you want to keep the lawn neat by mowing it, remember not to chop more than one-third of the grass blade length at a time. This way, the clippings can turn into nutritious degraded material for the grass. Allow as much sunlight as possible by pruning trees and fertilize according to the soil and the grass type.

Use fertilizers appropriate for the grass type and in a season that fits each kind best. For warm-season grasses, that would be summer and for a cool-season grass, fertilize in spring or late autumn. Also, it’s a good idea to perforate the ground with small holes to improve the circulation of air, nutrients, and water at the root level.

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Be careful with how you fight pests, you can easily pull out weeds or spray them locally before you go for the heavy artillery like pesticides. This is your nuclear option and only for areas that really need it. If the sod is high quality and is being looked after properly, the grass will be healthy and grown enough to resist insects and diseases, and the density of the grass will simply crowd out weeds.

Watering New Sod

Pretty much everywhere you live, the turf needs at least an inch of water per week. The best time of the day for watering is early morning while the temperature is mild and there’s a low chance of windy weather, or late afternoon. If you have an irrigation system, make sure you have set it for the right season, the grass doesn’t need the same amount of water all year round.

How did you grow your new lawn? Seed? Sod? Plugs? Hydroseeding? Our lawns are super-established but for some bare patches, we dug up some of our existing lawn and replanted it, plug-style, in the bare patches. This worked really well.

Last update on 2020-09-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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2 thoughts on “What Is Sod? How to Lay Sod for an Instant, Beautiful Lawn”

  1. Avatar
    Zachary Tomlinson

    Thanks for this extensive guide regarding sod! I find it amazing to learn that these can turn a normal lawn into a greener one in no time and it’s also easy to install! My friend’s clients are about to visit his home next month and he’s looking for ideas to make his home look great once they arrive. I’ll share this with him and suggest that he look for someone who can deliver sod on his doorstep. *Editor’s note: Zachary mentioned the Novasack Turf Farm, which is worth a look if you’re in the South Seaville, NJ area.*

    1. Elle

      Hi Zachary, thanks! Sod is pretty amazing, you really do go from a bare patch to a lawn in 3 weeks or so. Thanks for the turf farm recommendation, readers in the NJ area will appreciate that.

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