12-Step Overview: How to Professionally Install Sod

STEPS 1-7:


The most time-consuming stage of any successful sod installation is properly PREPARING the soil beneath where the sod will be laid. A common misconception is that new soil is needed to install sod, which is actually only true about 10% of the time. Instead, just properly prepare the soil!

Steps 1-7: Preparation

STEPS 8-11:


Failure to follow each collegiately-recommended step for INSTALLING sod can be devastating to the long-term results of one's hard work. It's not quite as simple as laying the pieces of sod down to cover the dirt: there's actually an elaborate technique to it!

Steps 8-11: Installation

STEP 12:


It is critically important to keep the freshly installed sod IRRIGATED for its first 6-8 weeks, according to our irrigation schedules, which can be found on our Aftercare & Maintenance Guides. Don't have an irrigation system? No problem! Check out our Rental Irrigation Program.

Step 12: Irrigation, Aftercare, and Maintenance

What equipment, tools & supplies are needed to install sod?

DIY: Rental Equipment


Click the following links to visit the Home Depot website to view RENTAL EQUIPMENT options:

DIY: Tools


Click the following links to visit the Home Depot website to view purchasing options for these TOOLS:

DIY: Supplies


Click the following links to visit the Home Depot website to view purchasing options for these SUPPLIES:

Pallets of sod can be purchased & delivered from your local sod supplier. Both sod-dressing and sod can be purchased & delivered from your local landscape supplier.

The following photos depict "Side A" as a professional's installation, and "Side B" as an amateur's.


Step 1: Evaluating


  • ESTABLISH your dimensions and area. Do you have questions about how to take measurements?

  • SELECT your preferred variety of grass from your list of options.

  • MARK where you’ll be installing sod with white makrer paint using a spray wand so that the areas you're preparing will be clearly indicated.

  • CHECK for underground utilities by calling “Georgia 811” (or your local equivalent), or by visiting their website. The three types of high-risk damages during a sod installation procedure is a phone/internet line, electric dog fences, and irrigation systems. Of those three, Georgia 811 will only mark the phone/internet line.

  • FLAG any sprinkler heads (if you have an irrigation system) and/or electric dog fences. You can pickup marker flags from your local hardware store.

Steps 2 & 3: Weed-Eating & Blowing


  • TRIM any vegetation to the ground. This drastically reduces the amount of sifting that will be needed during Step #5: Sifting.

  • BLOW away the trimmed vegetation to give you a clean slate again, and so that the rototiller does not till the freshly-trimmed vegetation back into the ground, which would defeat the purpose of weed-eating.

Step 4: Rototilling


  • ROTOTILL through the area at least five times to ensure that the top 4-8 inches are light, fluffy, loose, and oxygen-rich. These upper inches of soil are where the sod's roots will grow.

  • MANUAL tilling of the soil is required in areas against fences, along driveways, or in corners that are inaccessible to an automatic, mechanized rototiller. For manual tilling, use a hand-tiller tool.

  • TRENCH out a few inches of additional soil along sidewalks, pathways, curbs, and driveways. This provides a much smoother transition from the concrete to the lawn. To help visualize why this is important, remember that fresh pieces of sod have 2-3 inches of soil already on their undersides, so if the soil is not trenched along concrete surfaces, then the sod will end up being too high above those surfaces, as if you'd have to "step up" to the lawn.

  • WATCH out for underground utility markings, sprinkler heads, landscape lighting wire, and estimated locations of irrigation piping!

Step 5: Detailed Sifting


  • UTILIZE the following tools to sift any rocks, roots, and debris from the soil so the new sod has fewer obstructions for its roots to grow.

  1. Plastic Rakes — to gather weeds, roots, and rocks

  2. Pitchforks — to sift out the roots and weeds from the soil metal rakes: to grade, level, and smooth

  3. Mattock Cutter & Loppers — to excise roots below the surface of the ground

  4. Pickaxe — to pry out large rocks axe: to cut out large roots shovels: to move dirt

Step 6: Spreading


  • SPREAD different types of granules onto your soil using a spreader. A hand-spreader is good for smaller areas, but for anything larger than a couple thousand square feet, and you'll want to use a spreader with wheels. You’ll need to use different “rates” and amounts according to the specific product that you use.

  1. Pesticide — Just like you and me prefer fresh foods instead of leftovers, pests also enjoy eating a fresh meal, such as sod. By spreading pesticide, you're putting down a 'barrier' that keeps the hungry bugs away for a few months!

  2. Starter Fertilizer — We prefer Scott’s Starter Fertilizer for new grass & lawns because you can purchase the biggest bag of fertilizer from that company. This will provide the necessary nutrients to promote faster growth of fresh sod.

  3. Limestone —The results of your soil analysis will tell you the pH level of your soil. Based on those results and on the type of grass you're installing, you will need to add a quantity of pounds of lime per square feet of lawn. Some soils don't need any limestone at all, but others need a lot! If the results of your soil analysis suggest adding more than 30 pounds per 1,000 square feet, then don't put anymore than that at any single application: do 30lbs./1,000sq. ft. now, and then add more at least three months later.

Step 7: Final Grading


  • GRADE the freshly sifted, fluffy soil with metal rakes for a rough grade, and then give it a final grade with plastic rakes. This step usually takes far longer than people think! Your goal is perfection. Be very attentive to where water run-off comes from when it rains, and where it will be going: the grade of the soil will determine where the run-off will go.

  • WALK or ROLL over the soil as you're doing this, but don't stomp on it or roll over it too many times. You want to help the soil level slightly settle, but not too much, so that the sod still has loose soil for easy rooting.

  • RAISE or LOWER the soil level, as needed, in certain areas as you're grading the area. Most projects don't require additional soil, but some projects might need some if you need to raise the soil level, but don't have enough existing soil in the area to move to the low spots.

  • ADJUST the soil level along sidewalks, driveways, and patios 2-3 inches below the lip of the surface. When the sod is laid, it will come up to the surface to provide a clean, level transition from surface to sod.


Step 8: Unrolling


  • UNROLL out the fresh sod onto the freshly prepared ground, starting along a straight-edge, such as a driveway, sidewalk, or fence.

  • OFF-SET each piece like you would do if you were stacking brick on a house. When you get to the end of the roll, you'll usually want to add one more roll of sod, even if only part of that roll is in the area where you want your new lawn. You'll cut away the excess part of each row/roll in Step #10.

  • PRESS each roll against the other so that the gaps between each piece is minimal. Be very conscious of keeping the rows straight!
  • IRRIGATE the freshly laid sod as each pallet of sod is completed. Although the sod has usually only been sitting on that pallet fo a day, it's very thirsty! Also, you'll get a head start on Step #9.

Step 9: Drenching & Water-Wheeling


  • SOAK the freshly-laid lawn for a solid hour to make the soil more malleable. Soaking the lawn before rolling over it with the water wheel is critically important.

  • ROLL a heavy water wheel over the lawn 2-3 times to flatten the lawn and to ensure that the soil on the bottom of the sod is making full contact with the soil beneath: soil-to-soil contact. Your water wheel should be filled with either water or sand for weight.

  • ENSURE that there are low or high spots. If there are high spots, then roll the water-wheel over it back-and-forth to press the soil down, using more water on the area if needed. If there are exceptionally high spots, then that means you didn't spend enough time putting a final grade on the soil, but to correct this, simply lift or roll a few pieces of sod around the high spot and remove or manually spread the high soil.   

  • ADD more soil beneath any pieces of sod if there are still low spots after you've finished rolling over the lawn several times. A single, basic, (2) cubic foot bag (per pallet of sod installed) of cheap topsoil from your local Home Depot will do the trick, but they actually sell bags of "lawn soil" for about five times the cost if you're interested.

Step 10: Edging & Trimming


  • TRIM away the excess parts of sod around the perimeter of where you'd like your new lawn to be using a lawn edger, which has proven to be the fastest and cleanest technique. To make it easier, you may wish to draw in lines with marker/striper paint (similar to spray paint) so you can just follow the lines.

  • FOCUS on the tight detailed areas with a handheld machete. If you're confident enough to do the detail work with your lawn edger, then it's definitely possible! Stay focused on achieving perfect curvatures and straight edges. Curves are good, but don't add too many bends in your curves, or it'll look squiggly.

  • REMOVE the trimmed scraps and load it into a wheelbarrow. You may be able to us some of these scrap pieces to fill-in some areas, but you'll most likely end up just scrapping these pieces.

Step 11: Polishing


  • DETERMINE if and where you'll need to add sod dressing or sand. There are two reasons you'd want to add sod dressing or sand:

    1) If you're not replacing the entire lawn, and are only "patching" new sod into an existing lawn, then you'll want to add sod dressing or sand where the fresh sod will be touching the existing lawn. Well, firstly, if you haven't done so already, the soil beneath the new sod should be slightly trenched as it approaches the existing lawn so that it will grow at the same elevation as the existing lawn (otherwise, it will grow "above" the existing lawn. You'd want to add sod dressing on the border between fresh sod and existing lawn to fill in any small air pockets and cracks so that the sod and the lawn can more easily and healthily merge together.

    2) If any parts of the perimeter of your freshly laid sod are unable to be trenched so that the sides of the sod's roots are unexposed, then you'll want to add sod dressing or sand to those parts of the outer perimeter. If the sides of the pieces of sod's roots are exposed, then the health of the outer 3 inches of the sod is severely compromised. By adding sod dressing or sand to the outer perimeter of exposed sod roots, you're enhancing the outer perimeter's capacity to retain water, and thus, stay healthy.


To read further, which type of grass do you have?

Don't have an automatic irrigation system? Have you read about our Rental Irrigation Program?