A Complete Pro Guide to a Sod Lawn Installation

Posted by George Bravos on

Complete Pro Guide to Lawn Installation

Below, we will review a complete guide to a sod lawn installation. We will cover information about soil types, preparing the lawn area, installing the sod and new lawn maintenance tips. Sod and Seed, Inc. strives to continuously learn about its products and use the best strategies based on science and experience. Written with over 20 years of experience, and formal education in the field, we hope this guide serves as a helpful resource for your sod lawn installation. 

sod lawn installation

Sod Installation Video

If you prefer to watch a time-lapse of one of our sod installations, watch our video below. It may be helpful to read and watch the video so you know what you are looking for! Thanks for watching!

Soil Types and Composition

Through sod farming and formal education, Sod and Seed, Inc. is able to share the information we have about soil types. Our products will come in three main types  of soil: peat, sandy loam and clay soil. Our peat soil base is high in organic matter, so feel free to ask us about our organic sod options! 

turf types

Preparing the Area for Lawn Installation

1. Remove Old Lawn or Debris

If the ground is level and prepped, cut out the previous lawn using a sod cutter. Include the the use of herbicide if your lawn has grown clover, weeds, Bermuda grass, or crabgrass. This process can take anywhere from a few days to 2-3 weeks. If the ground was leveled or not leveled, use a roto-tiller to cut out the lawn and /or roots and debris. Handpick perimeter with mattock pick-axe to protect any borders or concrete during this step. Remove all material waste and break down the soil beneath by tilling in both vertical and horizontal directions. Tilling in more than one direction helps to maximize the amount of waste cleaned out with raking and shoveling. 

lawn prep

Rototilling the Lawn

Knowing the type of soil base your grass will come on is essential, but you must also always look at the conditioning of the area first. After removing whatever is on the area, the next step will be to rototill the lawn. Rototiller down 4 - 6 inches to give your lawn the best chance at penetrating the soil while it’s soft and not compacted during its rooting and establishment period. Rototill out as much waste as you can, then rake the area to remove the waste.

rototilling sod lawn

Please note, further irrigation work or electrical work is sometimes necessary when installing a sprinkler system. We always recommend you check with your city offices before building or making major renovations. Your new lawn will likely require digging if properly prepped. So, we always recommend calling 811 before beginning to trench. 811 is a public service that will come to the property and mark the gas, water, electric, or cable lines on your property. This will help prevent hitting, damaging or bursting any lines beneath the surface of your property. We also recommend to always identify where your water main shut off valve is before digging. Knowing where that is can be a huge help if a lawn installation or home renovation emergency occurs. For specific watering support, please contact an Irrigation Technician or Irrigation Specialist. 

2. Trench for Sprinklers

Trenching for sprinklers can be done after major grading. Trenching should be a minimum of 12" below the finished grade. However, 18" - 24" is preferred if possible. If you will be trenching a main line of pressure, it is recommended to trench a minimum of 18". Any other lines are recommended to be 2' or 24" below grade. You can manually trench with with trenching shovels and pick-axes or with a powered trenching machine. Layout and install the irrigation system you will be using and be sure to test all sprinkler lines after they are installed. Turn on the water valves and this will help flush out any glue or debris in the irrigation system. Adjust as needed. Fill in the trenched area with your fresh top soil, walking above the filled trench lines a couple times after packing the soil in to ensure proper filling. Ensuring the trenched areas for irrigation are properly packed in will help with the rake and roll process.  

Irrigation System Pro-Tip #1 for Lawn Installation

Removing whatever is on the lawn and roto-tilling must be done into the maximum depth possible, being careful not to hit sprinkler system heads or any irrigation lines. One pro-tip to know how far down it is safe to rototill is turning on your sprinkler system and letting the sprinkler heads pop up. Once the sprinklers are popped up, measure the height of the risers. Whatever the height of the risers is, add 2 inches to that height, and this will give you the total height of your sprinkler system safely above the irrigation lines. In this case, the total height of the sprinkler system is 6 inches. So, roto-tilling 6 inches deep is what is safe. 

First, measure the height of the sprinkler riser.

sprinkler riser
Second, add 2 inches to the height of the sprinkler riser. 
lawn sprinkler head
The total height of the riser plus 2 inches will tell you the sage depth to till without hitting a sprinkler pipe. You can only add 1 1/2 inch to be safer. 
lawn sprinkler

Irrigation System Pro-Tip # 2 for Lawn Installation

Turning on your sprinkler system beforehand will help make sure it's operational and not clogged. We recommend turning it on once the area is mostly prepped to ensure the sprinkler system provides full water coverage of the area, as it is easier to tell on bare, dry soil.  

3. Adding Fresh Topsoil to the Lawn

Next, add in your fresh topsoil compost mix and rototill that in. We recommend a minimum of 1 yard of topsoil or topsoil and compost mix for every 200 - 250 sq ft. However, if your soil is heavy in clay or simply needs more nutrients, we recommend to double up, using 1 yard of topsoil for every 100 - 150 sq ft. This will amend the soil and neutralize ph. Based on this recommendation, the soil should have an even spread of roughly 1" of the whole lawn area. If large plants or trees were removed or remain in the lawn, please call us at 1-800-381-8163 for adjusted recommendations. This step will break down your soil even more and bring up more waste. Remove the excess waste and rototill once more until the soil is soft and fluffy. 

Soil Amendment Pro-Tip #1 for Lawn Installation

Avoid using use manure, as it may contain germinated weed seed. So, using this will essentially be mixing in weeds into your lawn and may result in weed issues or a complete weed infestation of your lawn. Weeds and weed seeds are highly resistant and can survive the digestive system of animals!

Soil Amendment Pro-Tip #2 for Lawn Installation

Most topsoil comes with compost blended into them, so no need for a fancy soil. Ask us about the composition of our topsoil! If you are buying topsoil elsewhere, you can ask them as well. 

4. Rototill Soil on Sod Lawn

Next, you will need to rototill the new topsoil into the old soil. The process of rototilling again will help break down any leftover waste or roots that will resurface for you to clean out. Rototill until all soil is broken down. Generally, this will require tilling at least 6" - 8" deep. Level the area with a rake and continue to filter out and remove any waste, debris, rocks, roots, and other unnecessary material that is observable. The ideal soil conditions should resemble a sandy loam mix and have a soft texture. 

sod lawn installation

5. Rake, Level, Roll the Sod Lawn

Start establishing your finish grade and cleaning out final waste. By this step, 99% of the waste should have been organically removed by repeatedly raking, shoveling, and disposing of it properly. You will then want to do the "rake, level, roll" process at least 3 - 5 times. During this step, you are essentially cleaning, grading, and rolling the area. The flatter you get the area, the more water you will save and the safer your area will be. Also, the flatter you get the area, the healthier your lawn will be. Any divots or mounds will cause you issues in the long run, such as an uneven surface that can cause scalping when mowing or tripping hazards. Use a roller filled with water to compact the soil, continuing to rake up any waste. Turn the rake over onto its flat side, and grade once more. After this, roll the lawn again for more compacting. Using a landscaping rake (wide rake) will help ensure easiest and best grading. 

sod installation near me

6. Applying Starter Fertilizer for Lawn Installation

After raking and rolling the area until it’s as flat and clean as you can get it, apply your starter fertilizer. Starter fertilizer is always recommended as it will help your lawn with quick and deep rooting. Be sure to use a "starter" fertilizer for new lawns that is low in nitrogen and high in phosphates when installing your lawn to ensure healthy rooting. If sod will not be immediately installed, try to have it placed in shade. Do not cover the sod and be sure to keep the sod moist while waiting to install. For example, if you have a multi-setting hose nozzle, mist down the sod as needed to ensure it retains moisture. 


7. Laying Down Sod for Lawn Installation

Start laying out your sod using the straightest and longest line in thew lawn. Lay out your sod in a staggered, brick pattern, meaning do not have the ends meet in the same location. This will help lock in your sod and ensure that it does not move and that you get a tight fit. If there are spaces left in between sod rolls, the edges will dry out. Ensure the seams are tight and tightly tucked into any edging. If the sod lawn installation will take more than 2 hours, begin watering the sod that is already laid out.

We recommend installing sod the same day it is delivered, as sod is a living product that is delicate and is continuously producing nitrogen and oxygen. Sod rolls that are left out for more than 24 hours will begin to have dry roots and blades that make the sod yellow or brown up. However, based on in-house testing at Sod and Seed, Inc., most sod has the ability to recover if cared for in time (within 48 hours). As you layout the sod, be sure to water and blow with a leaf blower to help with separation of grass blades and overall sod health.  


8. Water and Roll Your Sod Lawn

Rolling the lawn throughout the installation process and immediately after installing is crucial. Do a final check or walk through of the lawn checking for tightly packed seams and overall quality of the installation using the guidelines above. Do a final roll of the lawn with a water-filled roller afterwards. You can rent a roller at any Home Depot, Lowes or Wally's.

We recommend to wet the grass first after it's been laid out, giving it at least 10 minutes of water and then rolling it. The reason for this recommendations is that letting the sod get wet and moist will help glue the sod to the soil it’s on. Rolling your sod after installation is required and always recommended. Continue to water multiple times daily between 5 am - 2 pm for the first 2-3 weeks until established. The goal during the first 2-3 weeks is to maintain the sod lawn moist to help the roots have the water they need to grow into your lawn. After the sod has rooted itself, you can begin to cut back watering to every other day or every 3 days depending on the sod type and overall conditions. 

Fertilization Maintenance for New Sod Lawn

After 6 to 8 weeks, you may re-fertilize your lawn. Usually, we recommend using the starter fertilizer again, since the sod should have enough nitrogen from the soil base. Still, you’re more than welcome to use whatever the season prescribes, but a starter fertilizer is frequently used and does fine!

Watering Directions for New Sod Lawn

General guidelines for watering your new sod lawn are 3 to 5 times a day for 10 to 15 minutes, or 5 times a day for 5 minutes for the first week or two. NOTE: The watering guidelines will depend on irrigation systems, for example, hand watering times should be doubled from sprinkler system times. Consult an irrigation specialist or irrigation technician for specific watering tips. You can start weaning off on the watering after the second week. After your lawn has established, you should proceed to water every other day or every three days based on the type of sod and temperatures in your area. Anytime it gets over 90°, please increase your watering regimen to every other day or every day. You must be extra careful of your lawn care routine during hot weather. Avoid overwatering your lawn as well. The best way to do this is by watering at around 4:30 AM. This will make sure that your lawn has the whole day to absorb the water and is able to breathe by the time nighttime hits. Basically, by the time it becomes dark, you will not have a wet or moist lawn that is going to be susceptible to producing fungus or disease. Our most drought tolerant ground cover is Kurapia. Check out our "Kurapia Sod Testing by Sod and Seed, Inc." CLICK HERE to watch our video!


Mowing Directions for New Sod Lawn

The first mowing can be done by the second or third week on the highest setting of your lawn mower. Ensure the lawn is dry before mowing. After each mow, lower your setting down by one set until you get to your desired height. Mowing more often than not will often create a healthier lawn in the long run. The more you mow your lawn, the more it stimulates growth. New sod does not need any de-thatching for at least one year. Other types of sod alternatives like Kurapia do not require mowing ever, so be sure to research your sod if low maintenance is an option you want.

Sod Lawn Installation Video 

Here is a refresher of what the sod lawn installation process should look like. Please note, in the video below the final step should be followed by rolling and watering the lawn at the end as show in the video above. 

We hope you found our Complete Pro Guide to a Sod Lawn Installation useful! Please share with anyone - friends, family, your landscaper, anyone who may benefit from this or may be interested in establishing a lawn. There are many important steps to follow such as identifying the best grass, soil base, preparing the soil, adding fresh topsoil, being careful of irrigation systems and rolling your lawn A LOT along the way. Which lawn installation step was new for you? As always, leave comments and questions below or give us a call at 1-800-381-8163! We hope to hear from you soon!

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  • We want our son and dogs to be able to play outside, so my wife and I want to install sod lawn in our front and back yards next month. We’re glad you described how often you’d need to water your newly installed sod lawn, so we’ll be sure to follow your tips as soon as we find a sod specialist to help with our installation. Thanks for the advice on keeping an eye on our temperature since it affects our lawn’s watering needs. http://www.midwestturf.com/sodding

    Eli Richardson on
  • My lawn renovation is coming in great and you were my biggest help. Thank you.

    Inigo Haney on
  • These step-by-step guide installations are amazing! Very well thought out and presented. Amazing job at the content you are outputting. I know it benefits a lot of people!

    Jena Estes on
  • Wow. I had no idea the actual steps it took to install a new sod lawn. Thanks for the info.

    Kris Marriott on
  • Could someone please contact me in regards to a 960 sq Foot Sod (prefer Fescue) delivery and installation at 314-917-3772 for a Madera CA. address?

    Douglas Dawson on

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