Sometimes, you need to start from scratch. Heavy construction and poor maintenance can destroy your lawn, making it easier to replace it with new sod instead of trying to rehabilitate the soil. Here’s what it takes to establish a new lawn with sod from cutting out the old turf to getting the new grass to take root.
Preparing for the Job
Before you start slicing up your lawn, there are a few things you need to do to prepare:
— Get a soil test. This will let you fertilize the underlying soil to give your new grass a fresh start. Expect the test results to take at least two weeks to arrive.
— Order the sod. You should get about 5% more than what you’ll need to cover the yard. Make sure it’s delivered within 24 hours of being cut. It needs to be installed the same day.
— Contact your utility companies to locate and mark underground pipes and lines. If you have a lawn irrigation system, it will also need to be marked.
— Find a place that will take your turf. Most garden centers and soil yards will accept old sod.
Remove Old Sod
A motorized sod cutter like Billy Goat’s SC121H or SC181H will make quick work of large areas, while shovels and garden can remove soil in places cutter can’t reach. Don’t forget that the 181 can use both 18 and 12-inch blades: switching to a narrow blade can get the cutter into more areas, saving a lot of back-breaking work.
The blade of the sod cutter should be just low enough to remove the grass, roots and all. Cut a couple feet and lift up the sod. If you see bare soil underneath, the blade is the right height.
Cut sod should roll, but loose soil can come out in chunks. Have a cart or wheelbarrow handy to pick up the sod as you work. Do not till the old turf into the soil. This makes it harder to grade the soil and will encourage weed and fungus growth.
Till the soil to a depth 4-6 inches, adding fertilizer and nutrients according to the results of the soil test. Adding some organic matter can help with water absorption and give the microbe population a boost, leading to healthier grass. If you have an overseeder, you can use it to drop granular fertilizer on the soil.
Use rakes to flatten soil. Now is a good time to backfill low areas with soil to get an even surface.
Use a rake to comb out rocks, clods and other debris. Aim for a uniform height about an inch below surrounding concrete and edging. Once the new sod is down, the lawn should be even with these features.
Water the soil, getting it moist but not muddy. The soil will need to sit exposed for one to two days before installing the sod.
Laying the Sod
Seams should be offset by at least a foot and a half to keep the sod from peeling up. To cut sod, use a carpet knife to cut from the soil side up into the grass. This will leave a flat edge.
Start by place a perimeter layer around buildings, curbs, sidewalks, and driveways. Fill in the yard, running sod across slopes. If the lawn is flat, lay down sod in the longest lengths possible. Butt seams together, pushing them tightly to remove any gap. You may need to lift and fold the ends in together.
Work toward the middle of the lawn, using small pieces for the center. The fewer seams you have near the edge of the lawn, the less likely the sod will dry out.
Once the yard is covered, fill in gaps with soil and use a lawn roller to push the underside of the sod against the underlying dirt.
Connecting the Sod to the Soil
Stop all lawn traffic for three weeks, including kids and pets. If possible, avoid any foot or vehicle traffic for 6 weeks to give the sod the best chance to take hold.
Give the lawn short, frequent watering to get roots started, transitioning to longer, heavier watering to encourage deep root growth. The top three to four inches of soil should remain moist over the next month or so.
Wait at least a month before mowing the yard. At this point, the grass should be at least three inches tall. Using a walk-behind mower will be easier on the sod.
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