There are few things that transform a garden faster than laying new sod, thanks to the instant green carpet that goes down in minutes. In this article, we’re going to look at new sod care from a few different standpoints. Not just how to care for new sod, but when to do it too.
New sod is definitely faster than laying grass seed, but it can come with problems if it’s not properly fed and watered, and overzealous mowing can completely destroy even the best-laid lawns.
What is Sod?
Sod, also known as turf, is harvested grass including a layer of thick roots, farmed and maintained in a weed-free site until it’s ready for sale. The soil layer is usually around 1-2” thick, and should be laid straight onto prepared topsoil.
Most sod uses tougher grass seed which takes a while to grow, but establishes with greater resistance to foot traffic. Most sod thatches are made up of ryegrass, Bermuda grass and tall fescue.
All are excellent at creating resilient root systems and recovering well from close cuts. Typically sod should be laid within a week of being harvested as the roots lose moisture, and the grass suffers from prolonged loss of sunlight.
Is Sod Better than Seed?
There are many arguments for sod and equal arguments for seed. Personally, I enjoy the process of gardening, and waiting for grass seed to germinate can produce a more even lawn.
But for most gardeners, buying new sod is a far faster way to create a weed-free, even lawn, which can be walked over far faster than laying lawns from seed. The pros of sod are definitely speed, as it takes around 2-3 weeks to be set and ready to light foot traffic, and maintenance.
While sod requires exactly the same maintenance as lawns laid from seed after its first year, there will be significantly fewer weeds in sod than in seeded lawns as sod provides an effective weed barrier from anything that lies beneath its roots.
Seed allows light through for up to 6 months, making it incredibly easy for weeds to germinate. The cons of sod are definitely cost, as you can lay an entire lawn from seed for less than $50, but $50 will only get you around 502ft of fresh sod.
The main downside of laying lawns from seed is that lawn seed mixes tend to be geared towards germination so are heavy on ryegrass, which isn’t as tough as Bermuda or fescue, which are harder wearing grass varieties, commonly found in sod.
New Sod Care Guide
In our new sod care guide, we’ve got the basics for installing new sod, as well as a full guide on how and when to water new sod, when to mow new sod, and how to fertilize new sod.
As well as that we’ll run through the most reliable sod fertilizers you can buy in 2023.
There are plenty of guides online, including from sod producers and sellers, that say sod can be laid at any time of year, but grass is a semi-deciduous perennial plant, meaning it does have a dormant season.
Below, we’ll look at how, and when to lay sod for the best results.
How to Install Sod
To install sod, you first need to prepare your ground. Check out our reviews for cultivators to help you find the right tools for leveling large sections of earth.
How to prepare ground for new sod:
- Mark out your lawn with pegs and twine.
- Measure both sides and multiply them to find the full square footage you need to buy.
- Order your sod (it usually takes 1-2 weeks to arrive for fresh-cut sod).
- Remove any unwanted plants or weeds individually to remove as many roots as possible.
- Cultivate the entire lawn down to a minimum of 3”.
- Rake the entire area smooth.
- Either walk over the cultivated soil to flatten it or use a lawn roller to get the soil even or partially compacted (this avoids lumps and divots after the sod has been established).
- Lay sod.
- To lay sod, mark the first line with string, and stick to it religiously!
- As you join one roll to the next, curl the edges downwards and pat them in. If they are left with gaps they can shrink back in the heat, allowing cracks where weeds can get through, and where moisture can escape.
- For the second row, cut the first piece to half size and lay it like brickwork so the edges never align with each other.
- Curl joins of the second row down, butted right up to the first row.
- Repeat this until you’ve filled your area.
- If you are laying a curved lawn, overlap the boundaries, then slice through to get a neat line at the end.
Note: It’s always a good idea to keep spare sod somewhere discreet in the garden to use for repairs when needed.
When to Install Sod
The best time to install new sod is spring, when it’s not too hot, and not too cold. In mid-spring, grass has started growing and will recover quickly from harvesting.
The process of harvesting sod from fields can slice off some roots, so it’s a race against time to get it laid onto new topsoil as soon as possible. Mid-spring is the best time to lay sod for quick success, and less watering, but it is possible to lay sod right through summer and into early fall.
Avoid laying sod in winter unless it is absolutely necessary as it will inevitably lead to failed patches which will need seeding over later.
Important Steps to New Sod Care
There are three incredibly important factors to new sod care, and for perfect striped lawns you need to pay attention to each:
When to Water New Sod
New sod needs time to settle in, and there is nothing more important to help that happen than water. Remember that grass doesn’t want to be short.
This plant needs time to establish, and if you never feed it, and never mow it, it will survive. But if you never water it, there’s no chance at all of a healthy lawn.
From the day before you receive your sod, to at least a month after it’s laid, you should water new sod every day. In summer, grass should be watered twice per day until it’s fully established.
If you’ve laid sod in spring, then watering once a day for the first three weeks will be enough to get it well established, then reduce to one thorough watering once a week.
New Sod Watering Schedule
Watering new sod depends on the weather, the temperatures, where you are, and when you laid it, but as a general rule, never leave new sod to dry out, and when you water… water well.
- For sod laid in spring, water once a day for two weeks
- For sod laid in summer, water twice a day for three weeks
- For sod laid in fall, water once a day for three weeks
The best time of day to water sod is in the mornings. Watering new sod in the mornings is the optimum time as it avoids evaporation from full sun, and standing water overnight. Grassroots can drink more actively throughout the day too.
Avoid watering new sod at midday, or in the afternoon, as it can cause evaporation and will just mean you’re wasting water. Watering in the evenings can cause dampness beneath the grass as sod roots drink more through the day than in the evenings or at night.
It’s important not to overwater new sod, and while the advice is generally to water well, stop before water begins to pool as this will create divots in your lawn, and prevent grass from growing at all if the water continues to stand in one location.
Fertilizing New Sod
New sod fertilizers are typically pretty strong, especially compared to vegetable or border plant fertilizers. For freshly laid sod it’s important to feed it 3-4 times in its first year, but if you’ve got good soil in your garden you can usually drop down to a single feed per year the following year.
Just on a personal note, we laid a few strips of sod on our vegetable patch last summer, and it hasn’t had a single feed other than good quality topsoil underneath and it’s the lushest grass in our garden.
Obviously, we were very lucky with the soil in that area, but it goes to show that fertilizers aren’t as necessary as you might think.
How to Fertilize New Sod
Sod fertilizers are generally sold as concentrated feeds, and require good quality fertilizer spreaders to apply even and controlled amounts to lawns. Too much fertilizer can burn lawns, and too little won’t do new sod any good at all.
The ideal NPK (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium) ratio for sod is around 25-0-10, but you can conduct a soil test before laying sod to understand the nutrients already present.
For example, topsoil which is already rich in nitrogen can be over-fertilised by a high nitrogen feed, so look for a feed that is more like 10-0-10 in that case.
Also read: When is the right time to use 10 10 10 fertilizer?
Later in the article, we’ve got some great sod fertilizers for different scenarios.
When to Mow New Sod
Mowing new sod shouldn’t be done until it's ready. You can mow new sod after 1 week if it’s getting particularly long, but really, you should wait at least two weeks, if not three, before cutting new sod for the first time.
We’ll talk about how to mow new sod later, but as long as your first mow is gentle, followed by a more thorough mow the following week, you can leave new sod for up to a month without mowing while it gets firmly rooted into its topsoil.
How to Mow New Sod
It’s incredibly important to understand the growth rates of grass roots when you’re installing and caring for new sod. Grass takes at least two weeks for its roots to make any significant contact with the soil.
Mowing or walking over new sod before that two-week time limit risks damaging early root growth and compacting the even soil below. Our advice for any gardener is to mow sod no sooner than two weeks after laying it.
The first time you mow new sod, it should be cut no more than 1/3 of its height. It might sound fiddly, but measure a typical blade of grass to get a rough idea of the height, and then set the blade height of your lawnmower accordingly.
As you make your first cut, make sure to make just a single pass over each line of sod, mowing in the direction it was laid. If you have a mulching mower, take advantage of it as this is the first opportunity to fertilize your grass, using its own mulch.
Simply leave short grass clippings over the lawn to rot into the roots, providing an excellent source of nitrogen which is recycled back into the sod.
Ongoing Sod Maintenance
Mowing Established Sod
There is very little difference in mowing between mowing fresh sod, and mowing established lawns. The length guides are the same; cut no more than 1/3 of the grass length; cut no more than once per week.
The only places that should be mowing more than once a week are golf courses. For most domestic gardens, one mow per week, or even one mow per fortnight is the optimum frequency to mow lawns for greener grass with less need for fertilizers.
Watering Established Sod
For southern states, lawns need watering regularly, and irrigation systems are definitely worth looking into if you want to maintain a lush green garden throughout summer, but for cooler states grass care is much simpler, with the rainy weather doing most of the work for us.
Basically, once new sod has been established for over a year, you can usually let the rain do the watering work. If there are any signs of drought, either turn on your lawn sprinkleror douse lawns with a spray hose in the mornings during hot weather.
Buying Guide: Check out our review of the best lawn sprinklers for 2022.
Fertilizing Established Sod
Established lawns that are still going strong a year after first laying sod often don’t need fertilizer. Mulching lawn mowers are the best natural feed for your lawns, leaving mulched grass clippings over grass once a month to rot back and provide a good source of nitrogen back to the roots.
For greener lawns, phosphorus can help, which means there are plenty of organic, phosphorus-rich fertilizers you can look to replace the chemical fertilizers that have become commonplace in lawn care over the years.
Best Fertilizers for New Sod
New Sod Care Frequently Asked Questions
What is the best month to lay sod?
For most of the US, the best month to lay sod is April. In late April the days are beginning to lengthen, and the temperatures are warming nicely, without being so hot that new sod dehydrates. This, plus the spring rainfall helps sod to root quickly.
How long does sod take to root?
New sod takes around 14 days to root. There are some grasses which are mixed into sod to speed up rooting, like Ryegrass, but for durable turf like Bermuda grass, rooting will take longer (usually 14-21 days).
Can I lay sod over grass?
Never lay sod over existing grass. Laying sod over existing grass is like laying sod over concrete. The grass below will eventually die back, but until that happens there is a clear separation between sod and the soil below. It’s essential that sod is laid directly onto prepared, clear soil.
How do you know if your sod is taking to the soil?
To check if your sod is taking to the soil below, there are two important checks, but neither should be done less than 14 days after laying it.
First, is your grass actively growing and green? If yes, then that’s a pretty good sign that your new sod is starting to take, and the roots are working to take up water.
The other, perhaps more definitive sign, is to try lifting a corner of sod. If there is resistance, that means the roots are beginning to take to the soil below.
Can I lay sod without tilling?
If you have loose, well-aerated soil in your garden then it's completely fine to lay sod without tilling or cultivating first, but it’s still worth raking over the ground before laying sod to help break up the surface layer, which makes it easier for roots to adhere.
Wrapping Up Our New Sod Care Guide
We try our best to be kind to nature in our garden, planting pollinators, and leaving large areas of lawn untouched for most of the year so that wildflowers can thrive and provide food for pollinators, which, in turn, attract birds and small mammals into the garden.
With that said, a pristine lawn is what separates our gardens from nature, and helps to define them as managed spaces. The joy, and calm, from maintaining a perfect lawn is hard to explain, but the perfection you can achieve in your garden from new sod care is something that I doubt will ever disappear.