In my years of experience, I have found that following these guidelines to prepare ground for sod or hydroseed will establish a lawn worthy of the cover of Better Homes & Gardens™. For me, there is nothing better or more appealing than a well maintained and manicured lawn to enhance the look and feel of a truly lovely home.
Preparing ground for sod or hydroseed is basically the same except for the height difference with sprinklers heads and top soil level against borders; and with hydroseeding it is not necessary to fertilize before application as the hydroseed has fertilizer within the mix.
In order to prepare the ground for sod or hydroseed, first answer: What is your ground like?
If you have rocks…remove as much as you can, or you may have to use more top soil to compensate. If you have chemicals or gas spills…dig out completely. If you have old roots, remains of an old tree trunk, or roots from surrounding trees under your soil…remove them as these create an acid that will yellow your lawn. For areas where the lawn is near or around a tree, it is better to not install grass in the area below the tree canopy since the grass will not grow well (use bark, rocks, or ground cover and other acid loving plants).
Do you have an old lawn to remove?
Kill the existing lawn with Roundup™ since it is most recommended for the eradication of foliage. DON’T use the extended long lasting type of Roundup™. The area will need to be sprayed twice over a 1 – 2 week period to kill stubborn weeds like crabgrass. Apply the 2nd application 5 – 10 days after the 1st application, just after the grass is in a weakened state, but before it rebounds.
When preparing your ground for sod, if your soil is dry and hard (dry clay soil is often hard as rock), add water a day or 2 before so you can step on a rounded shovel and it will penetrate into the soil at least 6”. Be careful not to water so much that it makes a muddy mess and the grass and soil much heavier. You can rent a sod cutter or use a pick axe (flat curved side) to remove approximately 2” of the roots and grass on the top surface then dispose of it. The main purpose of disposing of the grass and roots as opposed to rototilling it in is that debris can form in clumps under the soil as it decomposes and will leave a depression and make your soil uneven and bumpy. When using a sod cutter, cross cut areas so your pieces of old sod are about 3 foot or smaller in length so they are not too heavy to load up and remove. When possible and warm enough, let the cut area sit for a few days to dry out and it will be lighter to remove when disposing. Even if your area is small, the sod cutter will make your job much easier than using a pick axe or shovel to remove the old grass.
When re-doing an older lawn, it’s often wise to put in a new sprinkler system because the old may have brittle pipes or there may be roots breaking through, and the new systems are more efficient and you can design them for optimal coverage. If you are using Emitters or Full Spray sprinkler heads, you can put them anywhere on your water lines. However, if you use Rotor Spray heads you need to put full circles on a separate line since it can take 15-25 minutes to cover an area. You can place half or quarter rotor circles on the same line as it only takes 5-10 minutes to cover an area. Also with any system whether emitters, full spray, or rotors, make sure there is double coverage of areas since just about every spray head misses something because there are gaps, blind spots, corners, etc. I use flex tubing (purple/blue color) to connect my sprinklers to the system. I buy the longer 18” types which have flexible outer ribbed tubing and an inner clear heavy vinyl water supply line and I have found them to be much more durable than they look. When using the flex tubing, your sprinklers can be pushed down or pulled up as needed, usually without any harm done. Fill in all trenches and make sure the soil is tapped down well as you go when back filling to avoid an uneven lawn as the soil settles. Raise the sprinkler heads to ½ – ¾ inches above the soil level for sod and at soil level for hydroseed.
When preparing ground for sod or hydroseed, rototilling is essential. Over time, soil gets impacted and you will need air pockets for the new roots to grow. As with sod cutting, make sure your soil is damp and not too wet so you can insert a shovel easily. It is best to rototill the soil at least 4” deep, the deeper the better! After breaking up the soil with a rototiller or a pick axe, level the soil with a wide landscape rake (works great for ease of leveling and faster than small a metal rake). You don’t have to be too particular in leveling but do get rid of any rocks that are larger than 1”, roots, or debris. You can rent a rototiller, pick axe, or wide landscape rake at most major hardware/rental stores.
Adding Top Soil
Get a good mixed soil of 70% topsoil and 30% compost mix. 2 – 3 inches is good level to add. Unless you’re doing a small area its more reasonable and easier to have soil brought in and dumped as close as possible to the area you’re working on. Wheel barrow and dump soil in small piles evenly throughout the area when preparing ground for sod or hydroseed. When leveling your top soil against the borders, for sod you’ll want to bring the height of the soil to 1 ½” – 2” lower than the edge; for hydroseeding the top soil level should be about ½” – 1” lower than the edge. Next, level with a wide landscape rake. Once the soil is semi-level, walk back & forth dragging the rake by the handle. Crisscross the area several times to cover different directions until fairly level. Remove any debris or bigger rocks or dirt clods. After it’s fairly level, turn the rake upside down (flat end down) and rake the same multidirectional way.
The purpose of rolling is to semi-compact the soil so that you don’t have sink holes where the sprinkler trenches were covered and you will have a smooth working surface. A roller (typically rented) needs to be filled with water at least half way. Sometimes too much water can be too heavy to roll or will push clumps of soil rather than roll over the soil. Roll over area in multi-directions to pack the soil and reveal any low spots that need to be filled. Add soil, re-rake and roll until you’re satisfied with your leveling. If you’ve rolled your soil properly, it is not necessary to roll again after laying the sod as often suggested. The weight of the sod when watering will “seat” the sod firmly against the ground. Rolling after the sod is in place can easily push the sod out of place and create seam separations especially in hilly yards.
Fertilizing for sod Installation
The last process before laying your sod is to fertilize the soil with either Starter, Triple 15 (15-15-15) or Triple 16 (16-16-16) fertilizer. DON’T use any fertilizer with “weed” control. If you forget to fertilize before installation, you can fertilize over the new sod. It will be IMPORTANT that you fertilize again after 3 weeks using the same type of fertilizer as with installation. You normally wouldn’t fertilize this frequently but you will be watering much more than normal which will cause the fertilizer to dissipate.
Type of Sod to Purchase
The Fescue Blue is most recommended for the greater Sacramento and surrounding counties including the sierras. Well over 95% of all lawns now installed in these regions is the tall Fescue/Kentucky Blue grass blend. The old fescues used years ago were much broader leafed and not as pleasing to the eye. The new fescues are dwarfed having smaller blades and they look beautiful. The fescue is more drought and cold resistant because of its deep rooting system going more than 4 feet down with proper soil conditions. The Kentucky Blue grass is blended in because of its character of re-rooting open areas around itself. The fescue that if uprooted or dies will not replenish and therefore needs small amounts of bluegrass blended in to the mix to keep your free of voids.
The Perennial Rye is used less frequently in the greater Sacramento and surrounding counties to match existing older lawns. It can be used for heavy abuse and sports fields but requires more care, water, and fertilizer to look good.
Caring for Sod Upon Arrival
Sod arrives on pallets typically, unless you are getting smaller quantities delivered. On warm/hot days (especially if no shade), you may need to lightly spray the sod with water to change the soil from light to dark brown. When watering, direct most of spray towards the grass exposed on the sides of the rolls. These are the areas that tend to dry up first if they sit for any length of time. Because our sod is cut fresh the day of arrival, it should hold up for 3 days if maintained this way though it is not recommended and should be done the same day it arrives whenever possible.
When your sod arrives, ask us for the best scenario for laying the sod with your yard layout because we will take into account your walk path, water usage, quickest installation with fewest long cuts, least waste, etc. If installing on hot days within the 1st hour after the start of laying the sod, run a sprinkler in the areas you’ve just installed or spray by hand to keep the sod wet.
Lay the sod firmly against the other new sod. Always double check to make sure the 3 edges are snug against each other since moving one end of a sod strip will often create a crack somewhere else, before moving on to the next piece. It will be too late if you have a few rows laid to go back and adjust a seam that was missed. Re-adjust any edges that bulge up by separating or by stepping firmly onto the sod to solidify against ground surface. The cutting of sod will be made easy with a very sharp knife or utility knife. Sharpen the blade or change out utility blades about every 500 square feet of sod laid for smooth sailing on your sod installation.
Caring For Your Sod After Installation
Please refer to the Lawn Care section for watering and fertilization instructions.
If you have any questions about preparing ground for sod or hydroseed, contact us today!