Soil Preparation Means Beautiful Sod for a Lifetime

Hank Kerfoot - Thursday, October 27, 2011

Proper soil preparation is the single most important step in making sure your new sod takes root and produces beautiful grass. Sodding is like painting; the hard part is in the prep and the finished product is only as good as the preparation.  By taking the time to make sure your soil is properly tilled, fertilized and prepared, you are creating a firm foundation for a lawn that will last a lifetime. You’ll have a lawn that is dense and full, recovers quickly from wear, uses less water and fertilizer and needs less maintenance. When you add up the time and money you save in the long run, proper soil preparation is well worth the time and effort before you lay your new sod.

Professional sod farms follow this adage
: The beauty is in the blades, but the action is in the roots. Soil preparation lets the roots grow deep and even so the sod can accept nutrients and moisture properly for excellent growth and beauty.

Step one is soil preparation is clearing the soil properly
. Get rid of all debris, rocks, building materials – anything greater than 2-3 inches in diameter.  Once the soil is clear, rough grade everything to make sure you don’t have any drainage problems in the future. Make sure your soil slopes away from the foundation of any buildings, but keep the slopes mild. All low-lying areas should be properly filled. If you uncover more debris during the rough grade, be sure to remove it, rather than burying it.

Next, spray the area with a non-selective herbicide,
such as Round-Up. Then wait a few days and till the area to a depth of at least two inches to control most annual weeds and loosen the subsoil.  After this initial tilling, fertilize and water the soil to encourage any new weed growth – then spray again with the herbicide after 10 -14 days. This way you will prevent the new weed growth that can come with the addition of the new sod.

Now that you’ve done the initial tilling
, it’s time to add topsoil (if needed) until you have a total topsoil depth of 4-6 inches after firming up the soil. The type of topsoil you use will depend on the area in which you live.  Check with the sod professionals at Modern Turf for the best combination of loam, sand and clay for your area. Unless there are drainage issues, incorporate generous amounts of humus into the topsoil for the healthiest soil possible.

You need to test the pH of your topsoil
with a soil chemical test to determine if you need to adjust the pH levels. If your soil is acidic (a pH level of 6 or lower) lime will reduce the acid levels. Alkaline soils (pH of 7.5 or higher) need sulfur or gypsum. Check with a professional for the appropriate amount of material to add to your soil to attain the appropriate pH levels.  Most county extensions offer soil testing and will provide a report telling you what fertilizers to add to make yours a successful planting.

Next, you need to apply a “starter fertilizer” to the soil.  The phosphate level of the fertilizer needs to be high – according to the recommended rate of the product. The starter fertilizer should be worked into the top 3-4 inches of the soil. This will prevent any root injury to the new sod. Once the starter fertilizer is worked into the topsoil, finish grade the entire area, taking care to maintain the sloping away from the foundation of the buildings.

Finally, roll the entire area with a lawn roller to firm the surface of the soil. The lawn roller should be about 1/3 filled with water. This process will also reveal any low areas in the soil that need to be filled before the sod is laid. Thoroughly water the area for the best possible settling of the soil before adding your sod.

Taking these soil preparation steps
will be the best beginning to your new lawn. With proper soil preparation, your new lawn will establish healthy roots and provide beautiful, durable stand of grass for years to come.


Hank Kerfoot and B. J. Haunert own and operate Modern Turf, the SE US premier sod farm and are golf turf experts. For more information about how to prepare your soil for sod, contact Modern Turf today.