Laying Sod 101
By Rob Sproule
Sod or Seed?
You may not be able to buy love, but as far as a new lawn goes, you can buy time. When you either want a new lawn or are replacing an old one, you can seed or sod.
It’s a stark choice. Seeding is cheap, easy, and takes a long time to get a thick lawn. Sod is expensive, laborious (or, if you get it installed, more expensive), and you inherit a lawn that professionals have spent 12-18 months growing and nurturing.
Fresher is Better
Sod has a very short shelf life, especially during hot, humid weather. Give it a sniff test; if it smells acrid like rotten lawn clippings, run away. Next, slide your hand under some of the rolls. If it’s noticeably hot inside, you’re probably going to take loses.
As you load, keep your nose and fingers open to smell and feel for heat. If any pieces feel like they’ll rip apart or dry enough to be crusty, avoid them.
Pick your sod up as close to when you’ll be rolling it as possible (same day if possible). If you’re going to be using more than 50 standard rolls (i.e. more than 500 square feet), consider chatting with your local Garden Centre about getting a pallet direct dropped to your home.
Prepping the Ground
Old lawns, over decades of thatch layering and composting, can actually grow a few inches from their original grade. On top of removing that, you’ll need to scrape the grade down to about 2.5cm below your hardscape edges (patios, driveway, etc) to compensate for the thickness of the sod. If that means shaving 3 or more centimetres off the top, rent a sod stripper from your nearest rental shack to make your life easier.
Make sure to smooth out the dips and mounds before you roll (they’ll haunt you if you don’t, believe me). Crouch low to survey the yard. For mounds, shave with a flat-edged shovel or simply rake vigorously to smooth. Dips are easily filled by raking in top soil.
Once your ground is prepped, sprinkle some slow-release lawn fertilizer (or even bone meal) across the soil to give the roots a head start. If you have 2 people (which will make the job go 3 times faster, even if it costs beer and pizza), get one person laying/cutting and the other hauling rolls.
Start in the back corner (you don’t want to have to walk on the fresh sod). You’ll be kneeling a lot, so grab some knee-pads (to avoid the aches) and a cushion to kneel on (to avoid divots in the soil). Your well-groomed ground will pockmark easily, so give a quick rake every couple of pieces just to make sure.
Lay your first full line a long straight edge. The goal is to establish a straight line to reference from; use a string-line if you’re a perfectionist. From there, stagger the rolls, brick-like, from one corner. If you’re working down a straight line, you’ll need to cut every second piece in half. Keep any decent sized cut; you’ll probably need it later.
Use a sharp blade to cut around hard-scaping such as, sprinklers, trees, and other obstacles. You can buy a special sod knife or use a utility knife. If the latter, be careful not to leave bits of razor lying around.
The standard roll of sod is 2′ by 5′ (10 feet square). When you’re taking your measurements, be sure to allocate an extra 10-20% that you’ll need for cuts (a higher percentage if you have an irregularly shaped space with lots to cut around).
Once rolled out and beautiful, water very well. For the first few days you’ll want the ground saturating to about 6″ down (ie. too spongy to walk on). Keep well watered for the first 2 weeks, especially if it’s hot weather and paying careful attention to the edges.
Keep foot traffic to a minimum while it’s rooting. Once the sod is fairly rooted in (ie. you have to tug to pull it up), you can start lightly mowing it.