The preparation of your soil is as important as the quality of the sod you put down.  If your ground is not prepped right to begin with, you can anticipate several problems down the road.  I am going to lay out a few easy steps for you to follow to make sure that your ground is ready to go for sod.

You can never spend too much time on the prep work.  Many people just simply lay their grass on the existing dirt, and expect that it will root down and be level because it is sod.  That is definitely not the case as most of us have compacted clay, and nutrient deficient soils.  What we typically will see are soils that are high in pH, and have an accumulation of salt build up through the years.  How do you know if you have these problems?  The easiest way is to send a soil sample to your local extension office.  They can tell you exactly what nutrients your soils need, and if you should add gypsum or lime to balance out your pH.

Now I do understand that the soil test is not always economical or may be time consuming, but I will say you will save $$ down the road.  If you were to check in with any golf course superintendent they’d tell you that they want their soil tested a minimum of two times per year to determine exactly how to treat the soil.  While this is quite excessive for your home lawn, it does show you just how important this is in the prepping process.

Here is a set of steps to follow (and please keep in mind that I am giving you amendment numbers based upon a soil test that I received at my house–so the exact numbers will vary depending upon your location and soil type):

  1. The first step is to remove rocks or other debris, control weeds and establish a rough grade. In order to control weeds they must be present for the Round Up to work. You cannot spray Round Up on bare soil and expect to see results. If you have nutsedge, crabgrass or common bermudagrass present you will have to spray and water several times in order to take care of the problem before planting grass. This process will consist of watering for a week and letting the plants come up, spray them out and repeat several times until they are eradicated.
  2. Incorporate 1 to 2 inches of sand into your soil. I do not recommend using wood mulch as you will often bring in weed seed and it will cause a layering issue with your underlying soils. The sand will reduce compaction, improve water and nutrient retention and penetration, and provide you with a water efficient lawn.  Sand is the optimal growing medium for grass as it allows your roots to grow deep, and it makes it easy to water deep and infrequently even during the hot summer months.
  3. There is a tremendous benefit to your lawn to add fertilizer and amendments into your soil. You can incorporate phosphorus at a rate of 2-3 lbs. of actual phosphorous per 1000 square feet, sulfur at a rate of 5-10 lbs. per 1000 square feet, and gypsum at a rate of 25-50 lbs. per 1000 square feet.  If you read my past blog on fertilizer calculations it will go over exactly how to get to these numbers.
  4. The next step is to rototill your soil to a depth of at least 4-6 inches. While many of you will have the machine bounce off your hard pan soil this is the best way to help with water percolation, nutrient additions and to achieve optimal root growth.
  5. Once you have tilled the ground and all the rocks have been removed it is time to add your sprinkler system. This will be much easier now that the soil is loose and you able to dig down into the ground. You can dig the trenches with a small irrigation shovel or ideally you would rent a Ditch Witch and this will help you with your trenches. Most landscaping companies will use a ditch witch to put your system in. I highly recommend an automatic sprinkler system to save time, water, and to help you establish a perfect lawn. You will want to set your sprinklers at ½ inch above grade so the sod lays right over them. For the areas around your sidewalks it is ideal to keep the soil 1 inch below because the soil is ½ inch and the grass is a ½ inch when it comes in.
  6. The final step is the finish grade and you will want to rake and lightly roll the soil to achieve a firm surface. Once the grade is finished water the soil for a couple days to prevent any settling and then you are ready for sod.

If you follow these simple steps you to will have a perfectly graded smooth surface.  Keep in mind that sod is like carpet so you will see anything that is underneath the grass.

Now for you do it yourselfers that want to install your own lawn there here are some simple steps to make sure it goes seamlessly, and your lawn will be put down just like the pros…..  The first step is to measure your lawn area and make sure you account for waste, cutting, crazy shaped lawn edges, and slopes.  The typical lawn will need 8-10 percent more sod than the exact measurement of the yard.   

  1. First lay sod all around the perimeter of the yard to make sure all areas are covered properly.  To make tight turns and curves make a slight cut in the middle of the sod roll and adjust it to fit the angle.
  2. Once the perimeter is completed lay a straight line right down the middle of the lawn. You want to lay the longest straight away and this is often best executed right down the middle of the lawn. This will keep your seams perfect as you go and will eliminate waste. 
  3. Each additional length of the yard will be laid in a brick formation by staggering the seams.  You will need to cut the first roll in half to make sure the seams are staggered.  Push the edges and end of the sod tightly against each other without over stretching the grass.  You do not want to leave any gaps between rolls and if you have a jiggered or dry edge of the roll cut it with a sod knife to get a straight edge.
  4.  You can cut the sod with a vinyl flooring knife or box cutter to get a sharp cut.
  5. After you fill in all the areas and make you cut you are ready to apply a light rate of water and roll the turf to remove any air pockets in the turf.  Rolling is not to level the ground but to get good contact with the soil.
  6. Your grass should be watered 3-4 times daily after it is installed for 5-7 minutes per cycle during the day.  You are trying to keep the grass from drying out on the surface until it roots down into the ground.  Once the grass has rooted follow my water guide and adjust it to fit your sprinklers and yard.  Remember the rule of thumb for an established yard is 10 minutes of water for everyday you don’t water.  If you use low flow nozzles you need to double the amount of water.

Weekly Tip

Now you will have the perfect lawn and you can take pride that you did it yourself.  If your lawn is struggling at all right now add a little ammonium sulfate to give the bermudagrass a boost but don’t get carried away.  You don’t want to exceed 5 pounds of product per 1000 SF.  This will only be effective if the bermudagrass has space to grow so make sure you have thatched or verticut your lawn before you try to push growth.

If you have paspalum use ironite at 5 pounds per 1000 SF to keep that beautiful green color.

Please read my past blogs for more tips.  If you still have questions, please let me know and I will do my best to help you out.