Laying Turf

Lush, green lawns are the envy of every homeowner, and most would agree that sod offers instant gratification compared to seed-sown lawns that can take months to fill in.

Sod, which comes in rolls or pieces of pre-grown grass, is a simple and effortless way to achieve a green lawn within hours.

However, before getting excited and rushing to purchase sod, there are several things to take into consideration to ensure its growth and long-term health.

Proper soil preparation is fundamental in the successful growth and establishment of sod.

In this article, we explore how to prepare soil for sod, as well as answer some common questions in regards to its installation.

How To Prepare Soil for Sod

How Level Does Dirt Need to be for Sod?

Before installing sod, it is essential to make sure that the soil is level to prevent uneven areas from popping up after installation, which can damage the sod’s root structure.

Soil preparation is critical to ensure the success of the sod’s root structure, affecting the sod’s ability to absorb nutrients and hold in moisture, which is vital for growth and development.

The soil should be graded so that it slopes away from the foundation of the home to avoid waterlogging and dampness issues. The ideal grade for soil is 1-2% slope, which equates to approximately one to two inches of slope over ten feet.

Preparing the Ground

As earlier mentioned, it is essential to clear the site of all debris and building materials to ensure the grass can grow without interference. Remove any obstacles and till the soil to remove rocks and large pieces of debris.

Rough grading the area will help to prevent drainage problems. It will even out the ground, reduce severe slopes, and fill in low-lying areas. Use a tractor-mounted blade or hand tools depending on the area’s size. Rough grading may reveal more debris that needs to be removed.

Initial tilling to a depth of at least two inches should be completed before adding any soil amendments. This ensures that bonding between the topsoil and the subsoil is secure. Tilling control most annual weeds, permit air exchange, improve root penetration, and water movement. If no new topsoil is going to be added, till to a depth of 4-6 inches.

Add a good quality topsoil to achieve a total depth of 4-6 inches after firming. Incorporate a nutrient-rich compost/soil blend to help encourage growth. BigYellowBag Black Garden Soil is a recommended blend for this purpose.

It is crucial to test soil pH before adding amendments, such as sulfur or gypsum, to adjust alkaline levels or lime to balance acidic soils. Turfgrass grows better in slightly acid soils, with a pH range of 6.5. If amendments are added, it is essential to work them into the top 3-4 inches of the soil.

Once the soil is enriched and levelled to the required depth, it’s time to finish grade the site. Maintain rough grading contours and slopes to achieve the desired print. The final grade should be about ¾ of an inch below driveways and sidewalks.

Applying “starter” fertilizer, with a ratio of 18-23-12 (N-P-K), is essential as it promotes root growth. Rake the fertilizer into the top 1-2 inches of the soil.

Roll the soil with a lawn roller to settle the surface if necessary. Fill any low spots if any are present. After this, water the soil, ensuring it is adequately drenched. Apply at least 1” of water so that the soil beneath the turf is wet. Ideally, about 3”-4” of soil beneath the surface should be moist.

Watering Schedule for New Sod

After installing new sod, it is important to establish a proper watering schedule to ensure that the lawn takes root and grows healthily. Begin watering newly laid sod within 30 minutes of laying it.

This will help the soil absorb water and assist the grass in adjusting to its new environment. Apply at least 1” of water so that the soil beneath the turf is wet. Water the lawn twice per day, in the morning and afternoon, and ensure thorough, deep watering so the soil is saturated but not puddling.

Watering areas with new sod during hot weather is essential to ensure that it doesn’t dry out. Irrigate areas that were laid first to ensure they survive while the other areas get prepared.

After a few weeks, when the sod has started rooting into the soil, water less frequently. When the sod is well established, irrigating deeply and infrequently encourages root growth, making it more drought-tolerant.

Can You Lay Sod on Top of Hard Soil?

While it is possible to lay sod on hard soil, it is not ideal. Sod needs good soil contact to establish root systems.

Laying sod on hard soil will reduce the chances of successful growth and establishment. Hard soil or compacted soil will make it difficult for the grass to root and may lead to yellow turf.

It is recommended to prepare the soil adequately before installing rolled grass.

Should I Use Top Soil for Sod?

One question that commonly pops up in relation to laying sod is whether topsoil is required. The answer, however, is not as straightforward as expected, as the requirement for topsoil depends largely on the quality of the soil beneath it. Generally, if the existing soil is nutrient-poor, heavy with clay, or highly compacted, using topsoil is recommended for optimal growth results.

Topsoil, also known as the A-horizon, is the uppermost layer of soil, containing a high concentration of organic matter and nutrients, which are essential for plant growth.

When applied to low-quality soil, topsoil acts as a layer of nutrient-rich medium, on which sod can be laid. Furthermore, the extra depth of the soil enables the establishment of robust root systems, which go a long way in ensuring that the sod’s growth is healthy and sustained.

Conversely, if the existing soil is in good condition, with a medium to a high level of organic matter, and is not overly compacted, the need for topsoil is reduced or, in some cases, eliminated completely.

Before deciding whether to use topsoil or not, it is crucial to conduct a soil test to determine the soil’s nutrient levels and pH level. This will provide sufficient guidance on the need for topsoil and how much to apply.

Can I put Sod Over Clay Soil?

Installing sod over dense, clay soil can lead to several issues, including drainage problems and limited oxygen flow to the roots.

Clay soils hold moisture and nutrients, making them susceptible to fungi, root rot, and other diseases.

Clay soils also tend to dry out and crack during hot, dry periods and are more likely to become waterlogged during periods of heavy rain.

Aerating the soil before sod installation and adding peat moss or compost to improve drainage can help reduce these problems.

Gardeners can also amend the soil with gypsum, which helps break up clay soils, improve drainage, and add calcium and sulfur to the soil to boost the nutrient level.

Can You Lay Sod on Compacted Soil?

Sod requires air, water, and nutrients to thrive. If the soil is compacted, the roots of the sod will struggle to penetrate the soil, depriving the grass of critical oxygen they need to thrive.

Compacted soil also limits water and nutrient penetration, preventing the grass from absorbing moisture and nutrients that help keep it healthy.

Before laying sod, gardeners should loosen up compacted soil using a tiller or with aeration. Adding compost, peat moss, or sand to the soil can also improve its fertility and looseness, allowing the roots to penetrate more easily.

How Do You Improve Clay Soil Before Laying Turf?

Clay soils possess a finer texture than sandy soils; they are dense, drain poorly, and have low fertility, which makes it difficult for roots to penetrate the soil.

Amending the soil with organic matter can help improve its drainage, fertility, and texture, allowing grass roots to penetrate more easily.

To improve clay soil, homeowners should loosen it up mechanically, such as using a tiller, and then amend it with organic matter like compost or peat moss.

Gardeners can also add gypsum to the soil to help break it up and improve drainage.

Can You Lay Sod on Sandy Soil?

Sandy soil can be an excellent base for laying sod, provided that adequate precautions are taken. In general, sandy soil lacks the nutrient density, water-holding capacity, and structure to sustain healthy plant growth.

When sod is laid on this kind of soil, it can lead to poor root establishment, stunted growth, and an overall lack of vigor. As a result, it is essential to make some necessary amendments to achieve a healthy sod growth.

To lay sod on sandy soil, adding organic matter is critical. Organic matter such as compost, aged manure, and leaf mold should be mixed into the soil at about a 50/50 ratio.

This will increase the soil’s water and nutrient holding capacity while improving the soil structure.

The organic matter should be mixed with the topsoil for the best results before laying the sod. In addition, regular watering is essential for the roots to penetrate deeply into the soil, which will also help prevent the soil from becoming too dry.

What is the Best Soil for Under Sod?

Sod performs best in loamy, well-draining soil with an ideal pH between 6.0 and 7.0. The ideal soil type is a balance of sand, silt, and clay.

Sandy soil is usually too dry, whereas dense clay soils do not drain well, and both are too nutrient-poor.

While adding additional topsoil to the landscape bed can be beneficial, gardeners should avoid adding more than four inches in depth, or the roots may not penetrate the hardpan below.

A mixture of compost and sand can be added to the soil to improve its fertility and texture, providing a rich, moist and nutrient-dense soil bed for the sod.

How Long Does it Take for Sod to Root?

When creating a new lawn using sod, one of the most frequently asked questions is how long it takes for the sod to root.

The answer to this question depends on several different factors, including the weather conditions, the quality and nutrient density of the soil, and the overall health of the sod. It typically takes 2-4 weeks for the roots of the sod to penetrate the soil to a depth of 2-3 inches.

Moreover, the rate of rooting can be promoted by ensuring frequent watering in the first few weeks of laying the sod.

Watering is essential for promoting faster growth of the sod while the roots are establishing and has to be done at least twice a day for the first two weeks after laying.

In general, however, the first root check should be done after about three weeks, which includes a gentle lift of the sod’s corners to determine whether there is proper rooting. And it is essential to ensure that the sod is well-rooted before mowing, walking, or driving temporarily.

Why is my Sod not Taking Root?

One of the most frustrating issues encountered after laying sod is when the sod doesn’t establish. In some cases, the lack of rooting could be due to an improperly prepared soil surface or lack of watering, which is typically the most prevalent issue.

However, other factors such as improper nutrient levels, insect infestations, or weather-related issues can hinder rooting. Therefore, identifying the potential causes of sod not taking root is necessary for tackling the issue.

One common reason for sod not taking root is improper soil preparation. Before sod installation, it’s crucial to ensure the soil surface is firm and even.

The soil should also be tilled, sorted, and loosened to encourage rooting. Additionally, the soil needs to be moist for the sod to root adequately, thus requiring enough watering in the early days of laying the sod.

Will Sod Come Back After Turning Brown?

Sod, like other plants, can turn brown when deprived of adequate moisture or nutrients. Installing sod during times of drought or heat stress can cause the grass to turn brown, indicating that the grass is in survival mode and conserving resources.

The good news is that if the grass has not died, it’s likely that it will return to its vibrant green color when moisture and nutrients become available again.

However, if the grass dies due to lack of moisture or poor soil preparation, it may be time to consider removing and reinstalling, or going with alternative options like seed.

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