Do I Need to Rototill Before Laying Sod?

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When you want a green lawn in a pinch, sod is the answer to your prayers. Sod is patches of established grass with a thin layer of soil attached to a biodegradable material. You can purchase sod in patches or by the roll.

Why Choose Sod?

The foremost advantage sod has over growing grass from seed is the fast establishment. Once sod is laid, there is only a short waiting period between when the sod is installed and when you get to enjoy it. 

Since sod establishes so quickly, you can be flexible when you implant your lawn. Some seeds can take up to 21 days to germinate. Sod is already growing grass. It roots best during the grass’s growing season, and will sooner be able to withstand temperature changes as the seasons change.

Sod also provides immediate erosion control. In sloped areas that are barren, sod can help hold the soil in place. This prevents further degrading of the area and reduces the collection of water at the trough of the hill.

Preparing Your Lawn for Sod

The first step in preparing your lawn for sod is to perform a soil test. Knowing your soil’s pH level, nutrient content, and moisture content are extremely important. 

These results will help you not only pick out which grass is right for your lawn, but it will tell you how to amend the soil in anticipation of sod installation. 

While you wait for the results of your soil test, you need to measure the area to be sodded. If your lawn is in an irregular shape, expand out your parameters until you reach a rectangular or square shape. It’s better to have too much sod than not enough.

Do I need to rototill before laying sod?

Tilling the soil of the area you plan to sod is highly recommended. Tilling aerates your soil. Aeration is the process of agitating the soil in a way that results in increased oxygen exchange. 

Soil that is heavily compacted will not allow vital oxygen and nutrients to penetrate. This results in matting or dead patches in your yard. Heavily compacted areas can appear trampled and dry despite watering. When the soil of your lawn is compacted, sod will not establish itself. This will result in the death of your turf. 

Tilling also breaks down weed roots and ground dwelling insects. Both of these can mean trouble for your new sod.

Preparing to till the area

When preparing to till the area, consider the results of your soil test. Most lawns thrive at a neutral pH of 7.0. If your soil is measuring acidic, and the grass you’ve chosen doesn’t thrive in an acidic environment, you need to amend your soil.

To increase the pH of your soil, you can add lime to your yard as you till it. This will mix the lime directly into the soil, making it more bioavailable. The pH will adjust more quickly than if you simply sprinkled lime on top of the soil. 

When your soil is too alkaline, measuring over 7.0, you can amend it by adding sphagnum peat moss. Laid on top of the soil, peat moss can take some time to break down. However, when it is incorporated into the soil, it breaks down much more quickly. This will lower the pH of your soil and bring it back down to an acceptable range.

If your soil’s pH is already in check, you can consider adding other organic material such as compost to the soil. Compost floods the soil with nutrients. 

These nutrients will feed your sod as it establishes itself in your lawn. After installation, the sod is most delicate. Sod that is properly supplemented will root faster than sod left to its own devices. Once sod roots, it will be much stronger and able to withstand damage. 

Tilling the lawn is highly recommended

Not only will it loosen your soil, but you have the opportunity to add micronutrients directly to the soil. 

If you don’t have a tiller on hand, you can borrow one from a friend or neighbor, or you can rent one from your local home improvement store. You can obtain a rototiller that you walk behind, or you might prefer a tilling attachment for your lawn mower or tractor. 

When those options have been exhausted with no avail, you can manually aerate your lawn with aerator tools. 

After Tilling

Type of Sod

The type of sod you choose is dependent on the grass you want to grow. When picking a grass, you should consider the climate you are in. In the United States, there are three main climate zones. The cool season zone, the transition zone, and the warm season zone. 

In the cool season zone, only cool season grass should be grown. Warm season grasses will shrivel up and die here as they encounter the frigid temperatures that this zone’s winters bring.

In the warm season zone, warm season grasses are preferred. If you attempted to root only cool season grass here, it would be scorched by the hot summers experienced in this zone. 

The transition zone allows the most wiggle room. Based on your knowledge of previous seasons, you can establish whether where you live is mostly warm or mostly cool. Here, you can successfully install and maintain sod that is composed of warm and cool season grasses.

If you purchase a blended sod that has warm season and cool season grasses within it, you’ll notice the cool season grass pucker up and fade away as the warm season approaches. When fall comes, the warm season grass will go into dormancy while the cool season grass thrives.

Where to Purchase Sod

 You can purchase sod at home improvement stores or from a landscaping company. It’s worth the effort to do your research on prices. For major home improvement stores, you can browse their website to analyze their prices. Call local landscapers and ask them what the price of sod would be. You should have the measurements of your area on hand when you call.

After determining the type of grass you desire and what the best price for the sod would be, place your order. Some companies can even customize the shape in which the sod is made. 

Installing Sod

For large areas, it is easier to install sod from large rolls. However, these rolls weigh a lot. They are not easily handled by one person of average strength.

For smaller areas or those working alone, you can purchase sod in rectangles.

These rectangles are easy to maneuver and cut down to get around corners. 

Less than 48 hours before you lay the sod…

You need to thoroughly water your lawn. You should not do this immediately before you lay it, however. Watering your lawn right before you install sod will result in a muddy mess. Wet soil is easily compacted. As you walk through your yard to place the sod, the weight of your body on the pliable earth will cause it to compact. This action will reverse all of the good you’ve done by tilling and aerating the soil.

If your sod is in rolls, line the end of the roll up with the edge of your property. If there is a driveway adjacent to your lawn, use the border of your driveway as your guide. Place the roll down and begin to roll toward the edge of your property. If the roll is not long enough to span the entire length of your yard, sync up the end of the roll with the beginning of the next roll.

When working with parcels of sod, you’ll need to find a straight line to be your guiding point as well. Begin at the edge of your line, whether it’s your property line, your driveway, or the paving of a walkway, and lay down your patch of sod. Lay the next patch of sod directly butting up to the edge of the first piece. Continue this until you reach the end of your property. 

Regardless of the form of your sod, as you get to your second, third, and next row of sod, you’ll need to misalign the seams of the previous sod. Once completed, your sod and its seams should resemble the pattern of laid bricks. 

After Laying Sod

After successfully laying your sod, fill in the seams with potting soil. This will allow the sod to bridge between each parcel and grow in between the gaps. 

For the first few weeks, you’ll need to water your sod three times a week. If you see fungus develop or mushrooms beginning to sprout, cut back on the watering. 

Around the third or fourth week, you can reduce the water to once per week. This is also an opportune time to fertilize your new lawn. Fertilizing at this point will replace any nutrients lost by the frequent watering. 

The most important step in installing sod is the preparation of the area. Tilling aerates the soil, increases the biodiversity, and gives you an opportunity to expertly amend your soil. 

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