How To Lay Sod to Start New Lawns

And a List of the Pros and Cons

Image: many laying sod grass.
Although there is some work involved in laying sod, many think of it as "instant grass.". DIGIcal/Getty Images


Laying sod is such a fast way to start a new lawn that it is almost no exaggeration to say it gives you an "instant lawn." I say "almost" because there may be significant preparatory work involved, depending on your circumstances. But once you have prepared the ground properly, the job is an easy one and goes quickly.

Preparing the Ground to Lay Sod

Starting a lawn by laying sod is a very similar project to that of growing grass from seed.

It is just the final part of it that is different, when you are actually laying the sod. But how you prepare the soil, when you should undertake the project, and what supplies you will need are approximately the same. For that reason, I will give just an outline here for what steps you need to take to prepare the soil before laying the sod; for a more detailed explanation of these steps, I refer you to my tutorial on growing grass from seed. Please consult that tutorial for a supplies list and for information on the best times to start a new lawn (whether by seeding or sodding).

  1. You need to begin with bare ground. If you have an existing lawn, remove it. Methods for doing this include digging it out, killing it with an herbicide, and smothering it to death.
  2. Get the soil tested to determine its pH (from 6.0 to 7.5 is good) and amend it if necessary.
  3. Rototill the ground to loosen it up.
  4. Apply a starter fertilizer and a soil conditioner, and work them into the ground using the rototiller.
  1. Rake the soil to remove anything chunky, then roll it with a roller to achieve a level, fairly firm surface.

How to Lay Sod

  1. Start laying your sod. Begin on the outer edges, unrolling a roll of sod on the far left-hand side, then another on the far right-hand side (or vice versa). After laying these two rolls of sod, work your way in towards the center with subsequent strips.
  1. A single roll of sod may not be long enough to cover the whole length of the lawn. This means you will have to lay separate rolls, end to end, pressing the ends firmly together so that they abut tightly, but without overlapping.
  2. For the strips of sod in the adjacent row, make sure you stagger the ends of sod rolls, so that the seams do not line up. Think of it as a running bond pattern, only you are using pieces of sod rather than bricks.
  3. If a strip of sod appears too low, "shim" it with topsoil to bring it up to the proper level.
  4. When you are done laying sod, it is time to use the roller again. Push it over the sod to press it down firmly against the soil. This removes air pockets, promoting good contact with the soil, allowing your sod's roots to go to work immediately.
  5. For a couple of weeks after laying sod, remember to water faithfully every day. 

Tip: Living on the Edge

Why did I instruct you to lay the sod on the edges first? The reason is that the sod on the edges has the greatest tendency to dry out. By starting on the edges, you ensure that the edges will at least have sod strips of the full width, making them less likely to dry out. When you get to the center, sod widths may have to be trimmed (use a sharp knife).

But better there than on the edges, for the reason just stated. In a nutshell: you may have to trim somewhere, so make sure it is not on the edges.

Comparison: Laying Sod vs. Sowing Seed to Start a New Lawn

Forget boxers versus briefs, paper versus plastic, or the debate of "tastes great" versus "less filling" from a vintage beer commercial. The debate at hand here revolves around how to start a new lawn. Beginners may wonder, "What are the pros and cons of laying sod versus growing grass from seed?" Here is a brief comparison of benefits and drawbacks:

The Pros of Laying Sod...

  1. The process goes quickly (think "instant grass").
  2. Sod is a finished product, while seed is just a promise. Unless you have bought the sod from a disreputable source or truly mess up on the installation, most likely you will end up with a very nice lawn. Of course, keeping your grass in tip-top shape after that is another matter.

    ...And Its Cons

    • It will cost you more to start a new lawn by sodding.
    • You have fewer choices in terms of types of grass that you can use.

    The Pros of Growing Grass From Seed...

    1. Grass seed, by comparison, is inexpensive.
    2. You can select from a wider variety of turfgrass types.

    ...And Its Cons

    1. Establishing grass grown from seed is a longer process, and the results are less certain.
    2. The birds can eat up your grass seed.
    3. Unexpected heavy rains could wash away all of your work (So do not be caught off-guard: know the weather forecast before undertaking this job).

    To keep the birds from eating your grass seed, you can apply a light layer of straw on top of the seed. Some people prefer biodegradable nets, but they are expensive. Either way, the point is that one of the benefits of starting a new lawn from sod, as compared to from seed, is that it requires less work on your part.