How to lay Sod & Soil Preparation

Sod laying is like painting. The hard part is in the preparation and the finished product is only as good as the preparation. Start with good soil. There is no better time to enhance home lawn's ultimate beauty and success than by improving the soil before any planting takes place. Be sure to read this whole Sod Laying Instructions and Soil Preparation Guide prior to sodding.

Soil Preparation for a Beautiful Lawn

Benefits of Proper and Complete Soil Preparation

  • Improved Uniformity
  • Increased Density
  • Faster recovery from wear
  • Reduced Use of water, fertilizer, & chemicals
  • Reduced Maintenance

Quick Fact: Why Is Good Soil Important?
For optimum growth, turfgrass needs just four things (in the proper balance) to grow...sunlight, air, water and nutrients. Reduce any of these, or provide too much of any one, and the grass may die or simply suffer. In the right proportions, the grass will flourish, providing not only beauty to the landscape, but also a clean and safe place to play and many benefits to the environment.

Grass obtains three of these four essential factors (air, water and nutrients) from the soil, but many soils are less than ideal for growing grass. Some soils contain too much clay and may be very compacted... great for roads, bad for grass, because air and water aren't available to the roots and the roots can't grow. Other soils may have too much sand... beautiful on a beach, but difficult to grow grass because water and nutrients won't stay in the root zone long enough for the plant to use. Another frequently observed problem with many soils is that its pH (the degree of acidity or alkalinity) is too high or two low for optimum grass growth.

Quick Fact:What Is The Best Soil For Turfgrass?
Loams, sandy loams and loamy sands, with a pH of 6.0 to 6.5 are the very best soils for producing a beautiful, high-use, low-maintenance lawn. Unfortunately, this idea soil mixture is seldom found on any property after construction.

Quick Fact: How Deep Should the Soil Be For Turfgrass?
The absolute minimum quality soil depth for a care-free lawn is 4 inches; however, for deeper root penetration and the benefits that brings, the accepted standard is 6 inches.

Quick Fact: Can Soils Be Improved?
Practically without exception, not only can most soils be improved, they usually need to be improved to get the maximum results with only a minimum of other on-going effort. The knowledge of what's necessary, the amount and availability of materials and the immediate costs of time and money are the factors that typically deter people from taking the steps necessary to improving the soil. While some people do not fully understand the importance of good soils for grass, many also believe they can save time and money by ignoring the need to improve their lawn's soil. The fact is that failing to improve the soil before planting is only inviting a much greater and continual investment of both time and money, which will never return its value as fully as preparing the soil properly before planting any grass. It is important to remember that most warm season turf grasses can grow an a host of soils and adding a foreign soil can actually hinder root production. If you amend or modify your soil you must till it completely with the original soil to make a homogeneous mixture. If you do not do this results can be disastrous. It would be better to add no soil than to add soil and not thoroughly blend it.

Site Preparation Steps
"The beauty is in the blades, but the 'action' is in the roots," is a good adage to remember when growing grass. Thus, the value of proper site preparation and soil improvement, before any planting takes place, is that it will be easier for the grass roots to penetrate deeply and evenly. Deep roots will make the lawn more drought resistant, a more efficient water and nutrient user and more dense as new grass plant shoots emerge. A dense lawn will crowd out weeds and better resist insects and diseases. That is Turfgrass 101 and also the foundation of environmentally sound principals like Best Management Practices.

Follow these steps for a beautiful, healthy and trouble-free lawn:

  1. Clear the site of all building materials (wood, cement, bricks, etc.), as well as any buried stumps, rocks, stones or other debris that is larger than 2-3 inches in diameter.
  2. Rough grade the entire area area to eliminate any drainage problems on the property. This would include sloping the grade away from building foundations, eliminating or reducing severe slopes and filling low-lying areas. A tractor-mounted blade and/or box are most often used for rough grading, but if the area is smaller, it can be done with hand tools. The rough grading will probably uncover more debris that should be removed and not buried.
  3. With the weed pressure common in the Carolinas we recommend spraying the area to be sodded prior to initial tilling with Round Up or similar non selective herbicide. After tilling we recommend fertilizing the soil and watering it to encourage new weed growth. Then in 10-14 days spray a second time with a non selective herbicide. This process will eliminate an entire generation of weeds that would have otherwise germinated at the time of installing the sod.
  4. Initial tilling, to a depth of at least 5 cm cm (2 inches), should be completed prior to adding any topsoil or soil amendments. This will control most annual weeds, alleviate subsoil compaction and permit a bonding of the topsoil to the subsoil and improve root penetration and water movement.
  5. Add topsoil to achieve a total topsoil depth of 10-15 cm(4-6 inches), after firming. The topsoil should be a loamy sand, sandy loam, clay loam, loam, silt loam, sandy clay loam or other soil suitable for the area. To the extent possible, practical, affordable and available, incorporate humus (fully decomposed organic matter) into the topsoil.
  6. Test the soil pH with a chemical soil test to determine if any pH correction materials are required. Acidic soils (pH of 6 and below) can be improved with the addition of lime. The type (or source) and total amount of applied lime will be determined by the level of acidity and should be based on the recommendations of a reliable garden center or turf professional. Alkaline soils (pH of 7.5 and higher) can be improved with the addition of sulfur or gypsum. As with acidic soil correction materials, the type and total amount of materials will be determined by the level of alkalinity and should be based on professional recommendations.
  7. Apply "starter fertilizer" that is high in phosphate (P, or the middle number on a bag of fertilizer), at a rate recommended for the particular product. To prevent root injury to newly installed turfgrass sod, this fertilizer should be worked into the top 7 to 10 cm (3-4 inches). Finish grade the entire site, maintaining the rough grading contours and slopes, with a tractor-mounted box blade on large areas or heavy-duty rake on smaller sites.
  8. Roll the area with a lawn roller one third full of water to firm and settle the surface and reveal any low spots that should be filled to match the surrounding grade surface. If time permits, allow the area to settle further with rainfall or by applying irrigation water. This site is now ready for turfgrass sod. With this degree of careful and thoughtful soil preparation, the resultant lawn will be absolutely beautiful and require less maintenance, smaller quantities of applied water, fertilizer and pesticides, as it maintains a high degree of density and uniformity and recovers much more rapidly from wear. For years to come, your investment in soil preparations will yield a high return.

Cultivated turf allows you to enjoy a lawn of instant beauty and maturity without the usual time-consuming hassles of seeding or sprigging. When purchasing turfgrass sod, consult a professional from Modern Turf, to be assured that you are getting the finest quality turf available and the best variety for your unique needs and site location. The following are the basic steps to a beautiful lawn.

Measuring and ordering sodSTEP 1 - Measuring and Ordering

With a tape, measure the area of your planned lawn. Include these measurements on a sketch of the lawn area, with the length, width, and any unusual features. A Modern Turf employee will be happy to assist you in determining the amount of sod you will need from your sketch.

Schedule your order for delivery of sod after preparatory work is completed and you are ready to install. Prompt installation on the day of delivery is crucial to a strong beginning for your lawn.

STEP 2 - Soil Preparation
With the weed pressure common in the Carolinas we recommend spraying the area to be sodded prior to initial tilling with Round Up or similar non selective herbicide. After tilling we recommend fertilizing the soil and watering it to encourage new weed growth then spraying a second time with non selective herbicide. This process will eliminate an entire generation of weeds that would have otherwise germinated at the time of installing the sod. For best results, roto-till or spade the area to a depth of 10 to 15 cm. (4 to 6 in.). Eliminate drainage problems by having soil slope away from foundations, etc.

Soil test your lawn area with the assistance of your local County Extension Service. Then rake in fertilizer, lime, peat, compost, etc. as recommended to a depth of 7 to 10 cm. (3 to 4 in.). Rake and smooth the soil removing rocks, roots, and large clods. Roll the area lightly with a lawn roller 1/3 full of water. This will firm the soil surface and reveal low areas that need more soil. Keep the grade 2 to 3 cm. (1 in.) below sidewalks or driveway.

Water the prepared area to settle soil and provide a moist base for sod. Moistening to a depth of 15 cm. (6 in.) is recommended for most soils. However, consult with your Modern Turf professional regarding your specific soil needs.

STEP 3 - Turf Installation
Install your lawn immediately upon delivery. Begin watering lawn within 30 minutes of installation. Turfgrass sod is a living plant that requires ground contact and moisture to survive!

turf installationIn hot weather, protect un-laid sod by placing stacks in shade, covering with moist burlap sacking, and/or lightly sprinkling, making sure to moisten the sides of the pallet not just the top.

Begin installing sod along the longest straight line, such as a driveway or sidewalk. Butt and push edges and ends against each other tightly, without stretching. Avoid gaps or overlaps. Stagger the joints in each row in a brick-like fashion, using a large sharp knife, machete or stick edger to trim corners, etc. Avoid leaving small strips at outer edges as they will not retain moisture. On slopes, place the sod across the slope. This will keep heavy rainfall run off from cutting trenches between the seams of the sod.

To avoid causing indentations or air pockets avoid repeated walking or kneeling on the sod while it is being installed or just after watering.

watering new sodAfter installing the sod, roll the entire area to improve sod /soil contact and remove air pockets but this step may not be necessary if preparation is good.

STEP 4 - Watering
Give your new lawn at least 2 to 3 cm. (1 in.) of water within 1/2 hour of installation. Water daily, or more often, keeping turf moist until it is firmly rooted (about 2 weeks). Then less frequent and deeper watering should begin.

Weather conditions will dictate the amount and frequency of watering. Be certain that your new lawn has enough moisture to survive hot, dry, or windy periods. Irrigate and water areas near buildings, drives and sidewalks more often or more heavily. These are areas where reflected heat tends to dry the turf more quickly.

During the first three weeks, avoid heavy or concentrated use of your new lawn. This gives the roots an opportunity to firmly knit with the soil, and insures that the turf will remain smooth.


Your new sod lawn increases your property value significantly. With proper care, it will remain a great asset, providing beauty, a clean playing surface, and an improved environment. Mow often, generally removing no more than 1/3 of the grass height at a mowing. Keep your mower blade sharp. Follow the Lawn Maintenance section for mowing recommendations for your type of lawn.

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