Establishing a Sodded Lawn

Establishing a healthy, attractive lawn means planting the best grass for your site at the right time and in a careful manner. The type of grass and the planting method you select will determine the best time of year to plant. Site and soil preparation, including fertilization, are especially important.

Site Preparation

Preparing the site involves removing weeds and debris, planning for drainage, and grading the site.

  1. Control perennial weeds with a nonselective herbicide. Hard-to-control weeds may require the services of a professional.
  2. Remove debris. Insist that the builder not use the site as a dumping ground for paint, concrete, and other materials.
  3. Plan for easy maintenance and a pleasing appear-ance. Avoid terraces, steep grades, poorly drained areas, and heavily shaded spots.
  4. Install tile drain in poorly drained areas. Get profes-sional advice about the type of drain and installation.
  5. Remove the topsoil (usually 4 to 8 inches) and stockpile it nearby if grading is needed. (If bringing topsoil from other sites, be cautious. It may contain hard-to-control weeds or weed seeds.)
  6. Build protective walls to save trees if the final grade is to be appreciably higher than the present level.
  7. Shape the underlying subsoil to the desired contour, and redistribute topsoil uniformly above the subsoil. A 2 to 3 percent slope is needed for proper drainage away from buildings. Make certain the soil is firmed after shaping. There should be no visible footprints after walking on it.
  8. Water the area to enhance settling. Fill areas that settle unevenly to avoid standing water.
  9. If possible, mix 1 to 2 cubic yards of peat moss or compost per 1,000 sq ft into the top 6 to 8 inches of subsoil if planting in heavy clay or very sandy soils. Clay soils are prone to compaction and require frequent aerification (removal of soil cores).

Soil Preparation

Well-prepared soil with adequate nutrients for growing grass encourages the development of a healthy lawn.

  1. Take soil samples from the front yard and the backyard to determine soil pH and nutrient requirements. A single soil test may be all that is necessary if there are no obvious differences in soil texture, terrain, or troubled areas of the front yard and backyard. If the soils seem different, collect soil samples to a depth of 3 to 4 inches from several (10 to 15) locations and mix them together to produce a composite sample. Send approximately 1 cup of the air-dried soil sample to the NCDA & CS Agronomic Division Soil Testing Services, 1040 Mail Service Center, Raleigh NC 27607. Boxes and forms can be obtained at your county Cooperative Extension center or at the Agronomic Division office in Raleigh. Allow several weeks for the results to be returned.
  2. Based on the soil test report recommendations or the fertilization guidelines presented below, incorporate lime and fertilizer into the top 6 to 8 inches of the soil using a disk or rototiller. Regardless of the region, a deeper root system is able to extract more moisture and nutrients from the soil, improving drought tolerance and overall health of the plant.
  3. Rake or harrow the site to establish a smooth and level final grade. Soil particles should be no larger than marble size, and pea gravel size is even better. Hand raking is the best way to level the soil and work out hills and hollows. Allow time for rain or irrigation to settle the soil, and roll or cultipack lightly to firm the soil before planting seed, sprigs, plugs, or sod. Hand rake again to break up the crusty surface before planting.

Fertilization

As recommended above, it’s best to submit a soil sample for testing when establishing a new lawn to determine how much lime and fertilizer should be added to your soil. This is especially important if you are planting centipedegrass. It prefers acidic soils and low levels of phosphorus and may not require the addition of lime and phosphorus. Fertilize before planting. Apply fertilizer and lime when the soil is prepared based on these guidelines:

If you obtained a soil test

Apply the amount of lime and fertilizer recommended for your soil by the soil testing laboratory. For additional information about interpreting a soil test, visit this Web site: http://www.ncagr.com/agronomi/uyrst.htm

If you did not obtain a soil test:

Follow these recommendations for all grasses except centipedegrass.

  1. Apply 75 pounds of ground limestone per 1,000 sq ft.
  2. Apply a starter type fertilizer (one that is high in phosphorus) based on the type of grass and the planting method. Fertilizer bags have a three-number system indicating the primary nutrients, such as 8-8-8 or 5-10-10. These numbers denote the N-P-K ratio—the percentage of each nutrient in a fertilizer. The percentages are always noted in the following order:
    N Nitrogen for green color and growth.
    P2O5 Phosphorus for good establishment and rooting.
    K2O Potassium to enhance pest and environmental stress tolerance.

Some common examples of starter type fertilizers required for a 1,000 sq ft area include 40 pounds of 5-10-10, 20 pounds of 10-20-20, or 16 pounds of 18-24-6. For sandy soils, typical to the coastal plain and sandhills of North Carolina, fertilizer rates should be increased by 20 percent.

Fertilize after planting. Apply fertilizers uniformly and with care using a centrifugal (rotary) or drop-type spreader. Apply half the fertilizer in one direction and the other half moving at right angles to the first pass to ensure thorough and uniform coverage (See Figure 3).

For vegetatively planted (sprigged) warm-season grasses: Fertilize throughout the first growing season to encourage faster spread. Every three to four weeks during the growing season, add 0.5 to 1 pound of nitrogen per 1,000 sq ft until the plants have completely covered the desired lawn area.

To help reduce turf loss: Avoid high nitrogen fertilization of cool-season grasses in the late spring or summer and of warm-season grasses in the fall or winter. If higher nitrogen fertilization is applied, there may be a greater occurrence of diseases.

When to Plant

Cool-season grasses

You may successfully install a cool-season grass sod anytime in the cooler portions of the growing season when the ground is not frozen.

Warm-season grasses

Warm-season grasses are best established by sodding at the same dates suggested for seeding, about April until July 1. Sod will not produce roots unless the soil temperature exceeds 55°F for several weeks. Professional sod installers have been successful in establishing lawns beyond those dates, but care must be given to ensure that the soil does not dry out.

How to Plant

Sodding is placing sod stripped from one site to another for an “instant” lawn. Lay sod as soon as possible after it has been harvested to prevent injury.

  1. Make sure the soil is moist (but not overly wet) before laying sod. Irrigating the soil several days before delivery is often adequate.
  2. Install the sod within 24 hours of delivery. Plan to unstack and unroll the sod if it cannot be laid within 48 hours.
  3. While installing, keep sod in the shade to lessen the chance of heat buildup.
  4. Start sodding from a straight edge (driveway or sidewalk), and butt strips together, staggering them in a bricklike pattern (See Figure 5).
  5. Avoid stretching sod. Use a knife or sharp spade for trimming to fit irregularly shaped areas.
  6. Lay sod lengthwise across the face of slopes, and peg or stake the pieces to prevent slippage.
  7. After the sod has been placed, roll the lawn to ensure good sod-to-soil contact. Then begin watering.
How to lay sod

Content taken in excerpts with permission from: NCSU Carolina Lawns