LESLIE: Well, if you’re looking for a great lawn but don’t have time to watch the grass grow, it’s best to lay sod properly to get a great-looking lawn fast.
TOM: Ah, yes. But it’s not inexpensive. And sometimes, sod gets a bad rap but that’s usually because of mistakes people make while trying to lay it. Here to tell us how to protect our investment and lay sod properly the first time is This Old House landscaping contractor Roger Cook.
ROGER: Thanks for having me. And I’ve got a great way to sell sod.
TOM: Why do we do that?
ROGER: I take people out in their front lawn and I hand them a piece of sod and I say, “OK. Here’s a piece of grass that was grown for 16 months under perfect conditions. They watered it, they fertilized it, they cut it.” And in the other hand, I put a handful of seed. I say, “OK. You take care of that.”
TOM: You decide. Take your time.
ROGER: “You take care of that for 18 months and it’ll look exactly the same as this. Can you do that? No? Then we’ll put sod down. Thank you very much.”
TOM: All of a sudden, it’s looking a lot more affordable to lay sod properly. So if we are going to install sod, is there a right time of year to do that?
ROGER: It’s gotten to the point where we do it almost all year round.
ROGER: But I like to do it in April, into early summer and particularly in the fall. If we …
TOM: So you don’t want to do it mid-summer because, obviously, it’s very hot, it’s going to brown out, you don’t – haven’t given the roots a chance to really take hold yet.
ROGER: Yeah. And you have to be very careful with sod. It should go down the day you have it arrive at the job and especially in July and August. If it sits, the inside of the roll will get hot and brown and the grass will actually die.
LESLIE: And, to lay sod properly, should it go down the same day that it’s cut from the sod farm?
ROGER: Ideally. Sometimes, they’ll cut it the day before or the night before if it’s real hot and bring it out. So, you want it to go down as quickly as you can get it.
TOM: Now, what’s the process for getting your yard ready to lay sod properly?
ROGER: The process for seeding and sodding is the same. You’re going to go in, do your soil test. You’re going to rototill the lawn, you’re going to add compost, you’re going to add starter fertilizer and lime. Then you’re going to rake everything off smooth – perfectly smooth – ready for the sod or the seed. This is where you make that choice.
TOM: Now, if you do the soil test, that’s going to tell you what the condition of the soil is at that moment and give you a chance to adjust that with your additives?
ROGER: Right. And that’s why I said we add lime. You know, the soil here is usually acidic. Other parts of the country, it may be different. But the soil test will tell you what to add.
LESLIE: Alright. So now your soil’s all prepped, your beautifully cut sod arrives all rolled up to your property. Is there a method to the madness to lay sod properly or do you just start anywhere and start unrolling it?
ROGER: No. Absolutely. You really want to spend some time thinking about how you’re going to lay the sod and getting the pallet of sod as close as possible to that area. That’s the key. You don’t want to be carrying them a long way. So we usually pick a nice, straight line to start with and we’ll unroll the sod. And you want to butt it together like a rug. So when you look, you can barely pick up those seams in the sod.
TOM: Now once that sod is laid, I can imagine that making sure it’s properly watered is really critical in those first few months.
ROGER: Right. Initially, you want to give it a good soaking. You don’t want it to turn to mud but you want to make sure that water gets – goes down to 3 to 4 inches deep, because the new roots are going to chase that water right down into the soil. The farther they get in the soil, the more water they’ll be able to get to.
LESLIE: And if you’re using an irrigation system, that’s obviously something you’re going to put in before the sod starts to go down. But how do you adjust for the head location? Or is that something you put in after the sod is laid?
ROGER: Usually, you lay out the heads and everything’s in place and ready to go for the sod. If something changes, you can always cut a pipe and make it longer or shorter or put a 90 in it, whatever you have to do.
TOM: Now, if you have done everything right, when is it safe to start running your lawnmowers and other landscaping machines over that sod?
ROGER: We use a one-third rule. We only want to cut off one-third of the blade of grass. So when it’s 3 inches, we cut it back to 2 inches.
ROGER: And that’ll usually happen in 7 to 10 days. But the key to cutting it is you have to shut off the water the day before. If you go to go on new sod with a lawnmower – even a light one, which you should be using – you’re going to end up leaving tracks all through your new lawn.
LESLIE: Now, if you’ve gotten your perfectly grown sod on now your perfectly ready-to-go soil, do you then have to fertilize this new sod? Or do you wait a season?
ROGER: We wait four to six weeks to put down the next layer of starter fertilizer. And the reason being is you’re watering that over and over to get the sod established. So you’re actually flushing some of the ingredients that you want in the soil out. So you’re going to replace those by fertilizing.
TOM: So once you’re all done with this project, Roger, you step back and you look at it. Would you still see all those seams from when the rows were laid? Or should it all sort of meshed together nicely?
ROGER: If you did a good job and took your time, it should be all meshed together tightly. And within a week or 10 days, absolutely, you wouldn’t be able to see the lines.
TOM: This Old House landscaping expert Roger Cook, thank you so much for stopping by The Money Pit. Great advice as always.
ROGER: I’ve had a great time.