When Is the Best Time of Year To Lay Sod?

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Take it from me, seeding a new lawn will almost always yield better results than sodding one. But there is a time and a place for using sod.

We don’t like to wait. That’s why we buy single-serving coffee makers and microwave bacon. It’s why there seems to be a fast-food restaurant and a drive-thru window on just about every corner. We’re an impatient lot. And that’s why we have sod, because many of us prefer a ready-made lawn to one that needs time and nurturing.

Note: What follows reflects recommendations for Northern lawns (north of Interstate 70) when installing cultured sod with cool-season grasses such as Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue. Timing will vary by several days or even weeks, depending on the arrival of winter in each region.

Why Do We Lay Sod?

Although seeding a new lawn or reseeding an existing one will give you more grass type options and a healthier, better-performing lawn, sodding does have its benefits:

  • It’s a lot quicker. In a few hours, you have an instant lawn that looks like it’s been there forever.
  • It requires less pampering once installed. There’s no need to water three or four times daily, like you do when nursing new grass seedlings to maturity.
  • The installation window for sodding is wide open, compared to the tighter window with seeding.
  • You can enjoy your sodded lawn sooner than a seeded one.

Best Conditions to Lay Sod

Because the sod producer did all the preliminary hard work, all you need to do is make sure the ground is properly prepared beforehand. Cultured sod comes with a pre-established root system to get it off to a quick start. The best growing conditions for laying sod are the same as planting a lawn from seed:

  • Begin soil preparation by core aerifying areas compacted by heavy traffic or naturally-existing heavy soil.
  • Conduct a soil test and add amendments such as lime, sulfur or compost.
  • Make sure the finish grade is true. The surface should slope away from foundations. All low areas should be filled in and high spots removed.
  • Remove all large stones, soil clods, tree roots and other debris from the surface.
  • Once prepared, the soil surface should be firm and covered with about one-half inch of loose soil. It should have just enough moisture content to keep the dust down. Do not lay sod on top of muddy or extremely dry, dusty soil.

Best Time of Year to Lay Sod

Laying sod can be done almost any time after the ground thaws in the spring and before it freezes again in late fall. Some times, however, are better than others:

  • Delay sod installations until soil temperatures are consistently in the mid-50s F or warmer. Buy an inexpensive soil thermometer to track this.
  • The best time to lay sod is late summer or early fall, when daytime temperatures are still warm and nighttime temperatures are cooler. Warm soil temperatures help sod roots quickly knit into the soil surface. This also gives the sod plenty of time to get established before winter weather arrives.

Worst Time of Year to Lay Sod

  • Don’t lay sod too early in the spring or too late in the fall. Sod producers don’t begin harvesting until conditions are right anyway. Get your irrigation system operational, pressure-wash your deck and remove your outdoor furniture from storage. Only then should you order your sod.
  • Don’t sod during the dog days of summer. Sod rolls can heat up and quickly deteriorate during transport, or while it’s still stacked on a pallet waiting to be installed.
  • Sodding during an extended drought can be problematic, even with sprinklers or an irrigation system. Continuous cycles of too wet and too dry soil conditions will stress new sod.
  • Avoid laying sod just before the ground freezes. I once watched sod put down during a late November snowstorm; it froze solid before knitting into the soil. Incredibly, it popped out from under the snow the following spring with no severe damage or subsequent issues. That demonstrates how hardy sod can be. That’s not to say I would recommend it! The installer got lucky.

Top Sod Laying Tips for Success

  • Check around for reputable sod sources so the sod you’re getting contains the right grasses for your lawn. Also, make sure it contains grass varieties with current genetics. Some sod growers like to use older varieties because they’re cheaper and produce a crop faster. That’s important to them, but not necessarily beneficial to you. Some of the old standby varieties need more water, fertilizer and fungicides. They also can produce more thatch which can cause trouble down the road. Focus on selecting sod grown with elite varieties that will demonstrate improved color, better turf density and disease tolerance, plus require less lawn fertilizer and water.
  • Apply a quality starter fertilizer before laying the sod. This type of fertilizer will contain higher percentages of phosphorus and potassium, the second and third numbers on the fertilizer bag.
  • If sodding a hillside or steep slope, lay sod horizontally. Using biodegradable or wooden stakes to anchor the sod rolls will also help prevent the pieces from sliding out of place, especially during a heavy rain event.
  • Stagger the sod rolls to eliminate long-running seams. This will help to “lock” the sod rolls together once installed.
  • Use a sharp-edged spade or sod knife to carefully cut sod pieces so they fit snugly against trees, landscape beds and sidewalks. This will result in a professional-looking job that you can be proud of. Tight-fitting seams will also grow together and disappear quicker than loose-fitting ones.
  • Water daily until the sod is firmly knitted into the soil. Then start to water less frequently and for longer periods. It’s easy to over-water, so be careful.
  • Don’t mow too soon. Give the sod time to knit into the ground. But don’t wait too long either. Removing more than one-third to one-half of the leaf blade during one pass can shock newly installed sod.
  • Continuous watering can make your lawn’s surface soft. Make sure the ground is firm before driving lawn mowing equipment over it.
  • Fertilize with the same starter fertilizer 30 to 45 days after installation.

Joe Churchill
Joe Churchill is a Senior Turf Specialist for Reinders, Inc. in Plymouth, MN with a passion to promote realistic and environmentally-sound turfgrass maintenance practices through responsible use of water, fertilizers, pesticides and other inputs. Joe's client base includes professional turf managers serving the lawn care, sports turf and golf course industries. His lawn is the envy of the neighborhood and, in his free time, he enjoys kicking back on the Northshore of Lake Superior.