Getting Started With Sod

We’ve been waiting for soils to warm up so we could plant sod this spring. Finally we’re just about there, so I thought I might list the most critical factors. They’re really important, so scan through them all. I’ll keep my comments succinct.

If you’re buying very much sod, have it delivered. It is very heavy.

Have your sod delivered (unless you have a heavy-duty truck). One pallet will weight 2,000-3,000 pounds.
Plant your sod by the end of May, before the weather turns really hot. It makes for easier work, and it won’t dry out so quickly as you get it established.
Apply a glyphosate-only herbicide (no other active ingredient) to eliminate existing grasses and weeds without leaving any herbicidal residue in the soil.
Rototill to prepare the soil carefully. Rake to a smooth grade.
Know ahead of time what type of sod is best. I’ll leave that for another discussion, but in simple terms, St. Augustine for part shade or full sun; bermudagrass for full sun. Zoysias fall in-between and are becoming increasingly popular across much of Texas.
Note: There is no grass that will tolerate full shade!
Buy from the best sod yard available. Your local independent retail garden center owner or manager will know who they are in your area.

Fresh sod will be bright green, and its soil will be moist. Avoid browned, dry sod.

Buy fresh sod. Hopefully it will be Texas-grown, dug late in the afternoon and shipped overnight. Arrange to pick it up or have it delivered early in the morning. (To say it again, sod is very heavy if you’re bringing your own truck.)
Have a team or four or five workers (great family project). Carefully lay the sod onto the tilled soil. It helps if you walk on pieces of plywood so you won’t leave footprints.
Snug the sod up piece against piece. Cut small pieces to fit into voids that will always show up.
Water each area of the yard as soon as you have the sod planted. Fill any conspicuous cracks between pieces, although narrow spaces will fill in very quickly.
If the lawn looks lumpy after you have planted the sod, consider rolling it one time with a half-filled lawn roller.
For the first two weeks, water each day (unless it rains) for about 5 minutes per area. Then gradually wean the grass to longer intervals between waterings.
Mow at the recommended height as soon as the grass grows slightly beyond it. Keep the grass at that height. Low mowing encourages dense, spreading growth.
Fertilize the new grass after the second mowing using an all-nitrogen food with half or more of that nitrogen in slow-release form. That first feeding should be at half the recommended rate. Then, one month later, fertilize at the recommended rate.

Continued Below


Attempt to start new sod without first rototilling the ground and raking it smooth. Some people simply spread an inch of sand on top of the old grass and weeds, then lay out their sod. That’s a lazy shortcut that will doom you to failure – or at least to less-than-stellar results. You only get one chance to do the job right.

These people planted bermuda sod on top of established grass and weeds. They also made no attempt to fill in the cracks between pieces. It is still bumpy today.

Accept sod with nutsege (nutgrass). If you can see nutsedge in the thin layer of soil, turn it down. The sod-cutting machines will slice the pea-sized “nutlets” cleanly in half. If nutsedge is present, you’ll be able to see those little pieces.
Don’t use weedkillers, including pre-emergent herbicides until the new grass has been through its first winter.

Even St. Augustine will fail to grow when an area receives fewer than 5 or 6 hours of direct sunlight daily. At this point, it’s time to consider a groundcover.

• Critical information! Do not plant sod in a really shady location, especially if other grass has died before it. If the trunk of a tree is the “epicenter” of the loss of grass, shade is the issue and it’s time to turn to a shade-tolerant groundcover. We covered that in great detail in a special edition of e-gardens here just a couple of weeks ago. Here is a link to that issue.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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