Laying sod is such a fast way to start a new turf grass lawn that it is almost no exaggeration to say it gives you an “instant lawn.” Though it can be physically demanding work, the process of actually unrolling sod onto the prepared site does not take very long, But for the lawn to be successful, there is usually quite a lot of lengthy and detailed prep work involved, so it’s best to think about the entire process in two separate major steps: preparing the site, and laying the sod.
When to Lay Sod
In general, it’s best to lay sod in the cooler weather of early fall—but at least two months before freezing weather sets in. This gives the new grass plenty of time to extend new roots and bond with the underlying soil. Early spring can also be an acceptable time for laying cool-season grasses. But you want to avoid laying sod just before the heat of summer arrives because in these temps, new grass often goes dormant and refuses to establish new roots. Above all, avoid the blistering hot days of summer for laying sod.
Sod availability may also play a role in your decision on when to lay sod. Waiting too late in the fall may leave you with few choices as suppliers run out of stock are are suspending operations for the season.
Before Getting Started
Before starting any work at all, it’s important to evaluate your soil. Started by testing your soil for the proper pH. Most turf grasses will do best in soil that falls between 6.0 and 7.5 in pH—slightly acidic to slightly alkaline. Soil that is too acidic or too alkaline may cause your new grass to struggle and even fail. There are ways to correct these deficiencies by adding amendments, but to learn precisely what amendments are needed and in what quantities, you’ll need to test your soil.
You can easily test your soil for pH with an inexpensive home kit, but for much more detailed and useful results, have your county extension office do the test for you. Contact them first, and they will send you instructions, a soil testing bag, and an information sheet. To collect the sample, make sure you scoop up soil from several different spots in your yard. The soil in spot A can be different from the soil in spot B (even if it is only a few feet away), and the reading that you are seeking is the average number for the whole area. Collect the samples in a plastic bucket from the top 4 to 6 inches of soil at each site, remove any leaves or weeds from the samples, then allow the soil to fully dry and blend it thoroughly.
Once the various samples are blended, place the recommended quantity of soil into a soil testing bag. Fill out the information sheet. Then mail the bag and information sheet back to the extension office. If the resulting reading is not between 6.0 and 7.5, the extension office can help you decide what steps to take next. Typically, you add sulfur or ammonium sulfate to lower soil pH or add garden lime to raise it.
The laboratory soil test will also give you information on the nutritional value of your soil, and it may suggest blending in fertilizer with particular nutrients prior to laying sod.
In some regions, you will have a choice of grass species you can select from. In northern regions, for example, sod farms may offer a standard Kentucky bluegrass mix, a salt-tolerant mix for applications near roads and sidewalks that get treated with deicing salt, and a low-mow fescue mix. Further south, the option might include Bermudagrass, zoysiagrass, tall fescue, or a blend of several grass types. Thus, it’s wise to do a little research to determine what type of sod makes the most sense for your region and your circumstances. The extension service for your nearest university is usually the best source of such information.
Prices can range from as little as .30 per square foot to $3.00. depending on the type of grass you choose, availability, and transportation costs. Sod is generally sold by the square foot. The area of your lawn is easily determined by multiplying the length by the width of your lawn’s space. Make sure to order at least 10 percent extra to allow for some waste, which is inevitable.
Small quantities of sod can be transported yourself from a sod supplier, garden center, or home improvement store, provided you have a suitable vehicle. But it is more common to have it delivered by truck on pallets, so make sure you have a suitable area for the delivery truck to unload the pallets—preferably nearby the site where you’ll be laying the sod. It’s best to have your preparation work fully completed before the delivery truck arrives, as the sod will not survive long sitting rolled up on pallets in your driveway.
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