The Q&A Archives: preparations for planting sod

Question: I have a very small area 6'x10' that I would like to plant sod in . what do I need to do to get the ground ready?

Answer: The following soil preparation steps for any type of lawn (sod, seeds or plugs) is adapted from a chapter in ?Desert Landscaping for Beginners? from Arizona Master Gardener Press, written by local expert Sharon Dewey on low desert turf.

Remove all debris and large rocks.

Establish rough grade at one inch below the sprinkler heads by filling in low spots and leveling high spots.

Wet the soil to a depth of 6-9 inches, but 10-12 inches is better. Let it dry for 2 days. Don?t work wet soil, which can damage its structure permanently. It should crumble easily in your hands if it?s workable.

Add soil amendments. In our area, typically add at least 2 inches of nitrified wood mulch or other organic matter, such as regular mulch or compost. Gypsum at a rate of 100 pounds per 1000 square feet improves drainage. Soil sulfur at a rate of 5 pounds per 1000 square feet assists in soil pH reduction, but this is on a limited and temporary basis. You can?t really change the pH of our desert soils significantly. Ammonium phosphate fertilizer (16-20-0) can be added according to package instructions.

Till in the amendments at least 4 to 6 inches deep, but 6-8 is better. Don?t leave them in layers on top of the soil.

Decide what type of irrigation system you're going to use and install that.

Water to settle the sprinkler trenches and soil and to build water reserves in the soil. Allow the soil to dry for one to three days so that it is workable. Rake and level the surface.

The following info is compiled from an article on the National Gardening Association's website called "A Lawn in a Day."

Arrange for delivery of your sod only after you have fully prepared the soil and on a day when you'll have time to install it.

On delivery day, water the soil to make it moist and damp but not muddy. Sod should be put down no more than 24 hours after it has been cut at the farm, because the rolled sod will heat up and begin to biodegrade.

Inspect the sod before the delivery truck leaves. Shake it to make sure it doesn't fall apart. The sod should be green and the soil moist. If you don't like the appearance, send it back.

Suppliers usually transport sod on pallets carrying 50 to 75 square yards each. To avoid a lot of heavy lifting, ask the driver to place pallets in convenient places around your property (but don't let them drive over walkways or patios, because the combined weight of the truck and the sod can cause damage).

Start laying the sod along the longest straight line next to your lawn-usually a sidewalk or driveway. When preparing the soil, leave the soil level 3/4 to 1 inch below the level of that straight surface to make a neat, smooth transition from grass to pavement.

Butt and push the sod's edges and ends against each other tightly, without stretching. Stagger the joints in each row like bricks, and avoid gaps or overlaps. On slopes, place the turf pieces across the slope.

Use a large knife to trim the corners. Avoid leaving small strips at the outer edges, because they won't retain moisture.

To prevent indentations or air pockets, walk or kneel on the new sod as little as possible.

After installation, roll the entire area with a lawn roller one-third full of water to press the sod roots into the contact with the soil. (If the roller were full of water, it could become too heavy to move.) ?Desert Landscaping for Beginners? recommends rolling in 2 directions.

One common cause of problems is uneven (or insufficient) watering. Start watering within 30 minutes of installation, thoroughly wetting grass until it soaks through into underlying soil. To check penetration, lift a corner of the sod. If it isn't soaked, keep watering. Once the water begins to run off, turn sprinklers off to let water soak in. Then water again.

Recommendations for watering new sod from ?Desert Landscaping for Beginners?:

Water 4 times daily in summer and 2 times daily in winter. Soak the sod enough to keep the top 3 inches of soil along with the layer of sod constantly wet but do not allow water to stand for long periods. When rooting has sufficiently developed to prevent sod from being lifted from the soil (about 2 weeks), cut watering to once a day in the summer and every other day in winter. After 21 days, water 2 to 3 times a week in summer and every 5 to 10 days in winter.

Good luck with your lawn. If you have other questions, feel free to send us an email.

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