Nearly everyone dreams of having a perfectly lush, green turfgrass lawn in the backyard. Indeed, lawns provide many benefits to homeowners! A well-managed lawn is an excellent filter of chemical and nutrient runoff, builds soil through the breakdown of clippings, thatch and organisms that exist in turf systems, is aesthetically pleasing and increases property values, reduces ambient air temperatures and provides a durable surface for pets and play! However, none of these turf benefits can be realized if you don’t install and establish sod correctly. Remember these ten tips when planning, installing, and establishing sod to realize your perfect lawn dream!
Choose the Correct Species for Your Site. Not every site is equal. Is irrigation present, or will the turf be on its own? Are you willing and able to provide a higher level of care or will you sacrifice some aesthetic appeal for a lower maintenance turf? These and other questions need to be answered before you buy! Do some homework before settling on a particular grass species and cultivar; they all have merits and drawbacks.
Prepare the Site. Ensure the area you’ll be installing your new sod is weed-free, not compacted, and smooth. Several weeks before installation, apply a non-selective herbicide to “clean” the site of weeds. After existing weeds die, it’s a good idea to till the area or at least “rough it up” with a heavy rake. This helps alleviate site soil compaction which allows easier root initiation from sod to soil. Finally, smooth the site to ensure good root to soil contact and prevent a bumpy surface later.
Buy Quality Sod. Research where the dealer you purchase sod from sources their grass. Ensure you’re buying turf from a respected operation that follows Sod Production Best Management Practices. Not all farms are equal.
Lay it Quickly. If buying from a retail dealer, make sure their sod is fresh. Sod quality declines rapidly after 48 hours from cutting. Ideally, sod is installed the same day it’s cut on the farm, but not later than the next day.
Water periodically during installation. If installing a large area of turf, periodically wet sod you’ve already laid. Think about the day the sod you’ve laid has had. It was ripped from its home soil, windblown on a trailer en route to your site, laid onto a warm, bare soil surface and is currently baking in the sun waiting on you to finish laying the rest. That’s stressful and a good way to have a crispy brown patch in the new lawn! Ease the sod’s stress by periodically wetting as you lay it. It’s also not a bad idea to lightly moisten the site prior to laying the new sod. Avoid making it muddy.
Mound Soil Around Edges. This prevents the edges of freshly laid turf from drying quicker than the rest of the grass and browning out. It doesn’t have to be a lot, just take a heavy rake and fill in the gap between the soil surface and the leaf blades. Think of it as hiding exposed roots from the sun and wind. Trust me, this step keeps you from having a nice brown ring circumventing your new green lawn!
Pack it Down. You can be fancy with a drum roller partially filled with water or simply use a rake or tamping tool to lightly tamp the grass down. This helps ensure good root contact with the soil, prevents dry patches in the establishing sod, and quickens rooting time.
Water Correctly. Your new sod needs to be thoroughly watered daily for the first 10-14 days after installation. Remember how stressful the sod laying process is to turf. It takes a little while for sod to recover and initiate rooting into its new home. Don’t miss a day! Following this initial 10-14 day period, back off to once every couple of days for another two weeks or so. After that, the sod should be rooted in nicely and be able to rely on regular, as needed, lawn irrigation intervals.
Stay Off It! Minimize traffic on new sod for several weeks after installation. Roots are establishing during this time and are extremely vulnerable to disturbance until anchored. I know you’re ready to enjoy your new lawn, but you’ve come too far now to mess it up!
No Fertilizer for 30-60 days! Plants without roots have a hard time taking up nutrients. Therefore, it makes sense that until sod has firmly anchored into place and established a new root system, fertilizer application should be withheld. Fertilizer applied during the initial establishment period will likely be wasted and leach through the soon-to-be rootzone and could even burn fragile new roots. Also, avoid using a starter fertilizer for the same reason – there aren’t any roots to take up the nutrients.
By following these ten tips, you’ll be well on your way to a perfect lawn! For more information on these and other lawn care topics, contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Agent and consult The Florida Lawn Handbook, a research-based publication written by UF/IFAS Extension specialists.