Using sod, as opposed to seed, sprigs or plugs, to start a new lawn allows you to create an attractive turf area almost instantly. Sodded sites can also tolerate traffic much sooner than their seeded counterparts. Proper care during the first month or two after the sod is laid is crucial for the rapid establishment of a vigorous, attractive lawn.
Water the sod within 20 minutes of laying it. Following installation, irrigate the turf lightly and frequently so that the sod and underlying soil are kept constantly moist, but not soaking, and are never allowed to dry out until the sod has rooted to the soil. This typically takes one to three weeks. Plan to water the sod daily, depending on the weather. Gently tugging on the corner of a piece of sod will reveal if the sod has rooted. A rooted section will be difficult to peel back and will have some white, healthy roots. Once the sod is established, decrease the frequency of irrigation, providing the turf with 1 inch of water every four to seven days, depending on the weather, and wetting the top 4 to 6 inches of soil each time you irrigate the sod.
After the initial watering immediately following sod installation, roll or tamp the sodded area lightly as soon as the sod is dry enough to walk on. This will press the sod down and ensure that the grass roots are solidly in contact with the soil. Additionally, fill in gaps between sod sections with potting soil or high-quality topsoil.
After the turf is at least 4 inches tall or once it has rooted and you have decreased the frequency of irrigation, the grass is ready to be cut. The cutting height the first time you use the mower should be slightly higher than the planned eventual grass height or the height recommended for the grass species. Gradually lower the cutting height over several mowing sessions, never removing more than a third of the grass blades at once. Keeping the cutting blades sharp will avoid unnecessary stress to the plants.
Even if you worked plenty of organic matter amendment and starter fertilizer into the soil before laying the sod, an additional fertilizer application will further encourage vigorous growth. Unless otherwise directed by the results of a soil test, about six weeks after laying the sod, broadcast a slow-release, granular fertilizer over the new sod at a rate of 1/2 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 square feet of sod. If no rain is anticipated, water the fertilizer in well to move it into the turf's root zone.
5. Traffic Considerations
Excessive, unnecessary activity on the sod will slow its establishment. For about the first 10 days after sod installation, keeping the area cordoned off with cones or stakes and rope or string and limiting activity on the sod to care and maintenance is ideal. Minimizing foot traffic and pet activity on the turf for about three additional weeks will further encourage vigorous root growth. Avoid vehicular traffic on the sod for the first several months, if possible.
- Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences: Lawn Establishment
- Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service: Establishing a Lawn From Sod
- University of Rhode Island Landscape Horticulture Program: Installing a Sod Lawn
- Michigan State University Extension: Nine Steps for Establishing a New Lawn Using Sod
- Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images