9 Steps: How to Prepare Soil for Sod
A green lawn does so much for a home. Not only does it make a look more attractive, it can even help increase the value upon resale.
But, for me, having a green lawn is about something else: pride. I take great pride in my yard and how it looks. I feel like my job says something about me personally, about how well I can take care of something and about how hard I work.
No matter how hard I work, though, my yard doesn’t always thrive. I have to lay sod every few years or so. And I’ve learned a lot through several cycles of putting down sod. So, if you’re wondering how to prepare soil for sod, I’ve got the scoop for you — as well as other tips you can use to ensure your sod sprouts into a beautiful and thriving lawn.
For an Emerald Lawn, Follow These 9 Steps
Here are the 9 steps for successfully prepping your yard for sod. Make sure you start in plenty of time, as there are steps that require you to do something and then wait. You won’t be able to fully prepare your soil in one day and then lay sod the next. Consider creating a project calendar or schedule that outlines when you’ll do the following 9 things.
1. Test Your Soil
Your sod can only be successful if it’s laid on good soil. The ideal soil for laying sod is going to measure between 6 and 7.5 pH. Add lime to acidic soils that measure 6 pH or less, and add gypsum or sulfur to alkaline soils that measure 7.5 pH or higher.
Make sure you get professional recommendations for how much additive your soil needs. A hardware store with a dedicated lawn and garden section should have someone who can answer your questions, or you may have a local university or similar authority that helps homeowners in the area with soil tests.
But first you must test your soil. You can find soil test kits at your local hardware store. Use them, and find out what additives you need for your soil to take sod successfully.
2. Clear the Space Where You’ll Lay Sod
You want the area where you’ll be laying sod to be pristine. Keep in mind that anything foreign can prevent your sod from taking root. In essence, you want nothing but the best soil for your sod to sink into and make a permanent home.
So, what are you searching for as you clear your site? Remove any building materials like bricks, wood and cement. For example, I installed a new mailbox a year ago, and some of the cement chips were still lingering in the grass nearby — which was killing the grass. Get rid of this stuff.
You also want to get rid of sticks, stones, rocks and any other natural material that could in any way thwart your sod. Spend time walking your site and snagging any of these things that could hamper your sod as it tries to become a part of your thriving lawn.
3. Grade the Area
Grading is just making sure that your soil is flat, or that it slopes away from buildings and others area where you don’t want water to drain. For smaller yards and sites, you can typically use hand tools to grade your space. For larger yards and sites, you may want to borrow or rent a tractor with a blade or box.
The main thing to worry about in this step are drainage problems. You don’t want water creating pools near your home where it can sneak inside and flood the foundation. So create gentle slopes away from your foundation.
Also, you’re likely to encounter debris that you might have missed in Step 2. Don’t forget to continue removing rocks, sticks, bricks, cement and other materials as you grade the area.
4. Spray for Weeds
This is especially important for southern lawns. Use Round Up or a similar herbicide to zap any weeds that might sprout up through your new sod. You can repeat this step after Step 7, which is adding fertilizer.
Then, if any weeds pop up after you’ve fertilized, you can zap them again. This two-step process generally ensures that you’ve completely eradicated a generation of weeds.
5. Till Existing Soil
Now it’s time to till your soil, creating a nice and soft bed that’s about 2 inches deep. It’s essential that you till your soil before moving on to Steps 6 and 7. Tilling now ensures that your topsoil and fertilizer can do their jobs when the time comes.
6. Add Top Soil
By adding topsoil, you’re looking to create a total depth of about 4 to 6 inches. Depending on where you live, several different types of topsoil will do the trick. Consider looking at loam, sandy loam, sandy clay loam, silt loam, loamy sand and alternatives. I know that many of these topsoil options sound the same, but different types are better suited to different locations and different lawns. Again, ask an expert in your area.
7. Add Fertilizer
You want to add a nice starter fertilizer to the top 2 or 3 inches of your soil. Lightly add a product that is high in phosphate. All fertilizers features three digits that indicate how much nitrogen, phosphate and potassium is included. Common starter fertilizers may come in 19-19-19 or 10-10-10. You’ll want to spread this fertilizer as indicated on the bag.
And a reminder: Consider going back to Step 4 once your fertilizer is down. At this point, you’ll be able to zap remaining weeds and completely kill off the full generation that might harm your sod.
8. Level, Tamp and Settle the Surface
Now it’s time to gently level, tamp and settle your surface. This is the final preparation before actually laying your sod. Use a lawn roller, if available, which you can borrow or rent if you don’t have your own.
You also want to make sure to fill in any low spots during the leveling and tamping process. Check your grade again to make sure water won’t puddle at your foundation. For best results, it’s good to let a strong rainstorm settle your leveled and tamped soil. If you don’t have any rain, use sprinkler or hose down by hand.
9. Order Your Sod
Now that your soil is ready, it’s time to order your sod. Exciting! Make sure to get an expert recommendation on what type of sod is going to work best in your area and for your specific yard. Ask an expert what they recommend based on how much sunlight or shade your yard gets during the day. These factors can make a huge impact on the success of your sod.
And, once your sod arrives, install it immediately. This is so important. Keep in mind that sod is a living organism that needs to take root. Even just leaving it overnight could damage your sod and hinder its success once laid.
When laying sod, make sure the joints are tight, but stagger the seams like you would a brick wall. This will help your sod patches come together while taking root in your yard.
And, finally, water, water and then water some more. Again, sod is alive and you want to keep it that way. Water as much as you can, especially if you’re not getting much in the way of rain.
When is the Best Time to Lay Sod?
When is the best time to lay sod? You want to find the coolest and wettest parts of the growing season. The growing season typically starts in March and April, depending on where you live. And the growing season typically winds down around October or November, again, depending on where you live.
I recommend laying sod first thing in the spring when the grass is starting to grow again. That’s not to say you don’t have time to cultivate sod and see it put down roots in late summer and early fall. But starting a sod project in spring just appeals to my personality and how I like to do things.
If you lay sod in summer, be ready to see your water bill shoot through the roof. You can still get the job done, but you need to be watering your sod morning, noon and night. The temperatures are higher, and there’s little less rainfall this time of year. So you have to do the heavy lifting by hand watering and running the sprinklers as often as possible.
I recommend early spring first, early fall second and the middle of summer last. Do what you have to do to get your sod down, but focus on finding a time that’s going to lead to success.
Final Thoughts on How to Prepare Soil for Sod
There’s no magic bullet for creating the best lawn on the block. Following the steps listed above is hard work. So too is watering and trimming and doing all of the others things you need to do as your sod takes root.
But let me tell you: The hard work is worth it. There’s nothing quite like having a beautiful lawn in front of your home, one that enhances your home’s curb appeal and increases its value. So, give this process a shot this fall or next spring, and get outstanding results for your yard.
Anything to add to the process listed above? Let us know if the comments section below, or send us a message using our contact form.
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