The first step is to kill and remove poor-quality turf, which you can accomplish several ways.
Cut the old lawn as close to grade as possible before you begin. Solarization kills grass, weeds, and weed seeds by overheating them under a layer of clear plastic. During warm weather, securely anchor the plastic over the area you want to clear. You will need two months to achieve the desired effect. Do not attempt solarization in shady areas, or if you have cool summer nights.
Cut the old lawn as close to grade as possible before you begin. During warm weather smother the ragged turf with heavy mulches, such as old carpeting or 6-inches of wood chips. You can also achieve the same effect using several layers of newspaper or large pieces of corrugated cardboard covered by 3-inches of wood chips. You will need two months to achieve the desired effect. Do not attempt heavy mulches in shady areas, or if you have cool summer nights.
Hoe or Sod Cutter:
For small lawns, use a grape (grubbing) hoe. On average, two people can remove and haul away up to 300-square feet in an hour. For large lawns, consider renting a sod cutter. A sod cutter slices under the grass, enabling you to pull up strips of old turf. Using a hoe or sod cutter will be easier if your lawn soil is moist.
- Remove old lawn after a heavy rain or deep watering. First, make 2-inch deep cuts in the turf every 2-feet using either a manual or a power edger.
- Use a grape (grubbing) hoe to remove small sections of lawn. This job will go faster with a helper.
- Slice the turf just below the grade. Let the weight of the tool do the work of chipping away at the grass.
- Rent a power sod cutter if you are tackling a big area.
Follow up with tilling to alleviate compaction and to prepare the soil for amendments. If you have the time, also use the solarization technique described above to kill any weed seeds that remain in the soil.
To kill unwanted grass and weeds to the roots select an herbicide that degrades quickly (does not last long in the environment), such as glyphosate (Roundup). Mix according to the manufacturer’s directions, and then completely cover all grass plants and weeds. Take care not to spray on garden plants. Apply on a sunny, windless day when the temperature is above 60°F. If the turf has not completely died after four weeks reapply the herbicide and then wait one week after the last application before tilling the dead turf into your soil.
STEP 2 – Fix Grade Problems
Take the time to fix any existing grade problems, before adding amendments to the soil. For minor grading problems, small versions of earth-moving equipment are often available to rent or buy. You can also use a landscaping rake for working topsoil to the proper grade.
- To make minor grade adjustments use a landscape rake.
- Water the area. Later, fill where puddles formed using soil from high spots.
The first rule of grading is that the ground should slope away from your house in all directions dropping at least two or three inches every ten feet. The maximum slope in a lawn should be twelve inches for every four feet. If the drop is greater than twelve inches you should plan to build a low retaining wall or cover the slope with a hardy ground cover or ornamental grass.
The finished grade (after amendments and sod added) should end up matching the level of existing fixtures—walkways, patios, and established lawn. If you will be replanting with seed and adding one inch of amendments then the grade should be one inch lower than your fixtures. If you will be replanting with sod and adding one inch of amendments then the grade should be about two inches lower than your fixtures.
The proper way to re-grade starts with removing the topsoil from the problem area. Now adjust the subsoil by scraping away high areas and filling in low areas. Spread 2-inches of the reserved topsoil and till it in to the first 2-inches of subsoil. This will help prevent drainage problems between the two layers of soil.
Finally, spread the rest of your topsoil, which should add at least another four inches. If you need to add more topsoil you should buy a loam that is free of debris, such as roots, stones, weed, seeds and pesticides.
Large grading often requires help from a landscaping contractor with heavy equipment.
Step 3: Amend the Soil
This is your best opportunity to add amendments such as fertilizer, organic matter, and lime or sulfur. Use a soil test to determine the best amendments for your particular soil. The best way to test your soil is to send a sample to a Cooperative Extension Service (CSREES), which is usually located at or affiliated with a state university, or to a commercial soil tester.
Step 4: Rake Smooth and Firm
- Remove stones and vegetative matter brought to the surface during tilling.
- Rake the area until it is smooth.
- Water the ground and check it for puddles.
- Allow the soil to dry; once dry enough, move soil from high spots to fill the depressions.
- Roll the prepared soil to provide a firmer base and to foster adequate soil structure. Fill a lawn roller about one-third with water, and roll until your footprints are no deeper than a ½-inch for optimal planting. If seed is planted in soil that is too loose generally ends up too deep and may die before they reach the surface.
- Complete planting preparations by thoroughly watering the area to a depth of 5 or 6 inches two days before planting.
Step 5: Planting Your New Lawn
There are four methods to planting a new lawn: Sod, Seed, Sprigs, and Plugs.
Apply a starter fertilizer high in phosphorus, such as 2:1:1 or 1:1:1 ratio, then lightly water the area. Have the pallets of sod delivered to a shady spot if possible and begin work immediately upon delivery of your order. Sod can go bad quickly, especially if it heats up or dries out. If you cannot start right away, unroll the sod and keep it moist.
- Immediately upon delivery, check sod for damage, such as a yellow-green or bluish color, weeds, tears, disease, and insects. Reject bad sod.
- Prepare soil for sod by rolling with a roller that is one-third full of water.
- You will fill most rollers from the side of the drum. Remove the rubber stopper, fill with water, and replace stopper. You are ready to roll.
- The rolled soil should be compacted enough so your footprints are no more than ½-inch deep.
- Lightly water the area and walk on it as little as possible.
- Use a sharp knife to cut sod. Some pros sharpen the edge of a trowel to cut sod.
Lay sod over one section of lawn at a time. Start by laying full strips along the outside edge (such as the sidewalk) of the area you plan to sod. Starting with a straight row will reduce the amount of cutting and fitting you will do later. Work toward the opposite edge of lawn, usually the edge by your house. Use a sharp-bladed knife or sod-cutting tool to cut as required. Make your last row a full-width strip, if possible.
- Use a sharpened trowel to make it easy to cut sod to fit at butt joints or when cutting against a straightedge.
- You may also use a trowel to level any minor irregularities in the soil while laying sod.
- As you lay sod, keep all joints as snug as possible while avoiding overlapping. Do not stretch sod strips to fill gaps. To fit sod at odd angles, lay one piece over the other and cut through both at once. Lift the top piece, remove the piece below and discard.
- After you have installed several pieces of sod, spray with water until the sod is completely soaked—about 1 inch of water.
- To fit sod at odd angles, lay one piece over the other and cut through both at once. Lift the top piece, remove the piece below and discard.
- Using a long board as a straightedge, make your cut and discard the waste.
- It is important to have full strips at the perimeter. These are the strips most likely to dry out and will do so more quickly if narrow or short.
- Use a sharp edger to trim bed where necessary, and use a roller to eliminate air pockets under the sod.
- If rolling exposes joints between the sod strips, fill them with fine soil. Use a rake to work soil into small cracks.
With contoured borders such as paths, driveways, and patios, overlap the border with sod, and trim away the excess (can be done later). If you have sod you will not be able to lay until the next day, unroll it in a shady spot and water it lightly.
If you decide to sod your lawn in sections, you will need to lay sod against part of the existing lawn. Mark the dividing line with twine or stakes. Use the twine or stakes as a guide and cut a straight line in the existing turf using a manual or power edger. Lay sod to this edge, and make a tight, unobtrusive seam.
If you are installing sod on a slope, start laying the sod at the lowest point. Stake each piece in three places to prevent slippage. Stakes should be equally spaced and set in from the sod strip’s edges by at least 6 to 8 inches. In hot weather, lightly watering the sod prior to rolling will also help prevent slippage.
After installing the sod, make it firm by rolling it with a roller that is one-third full with water. If the roller is too heavy, it could cause the sod to slip. Follow rolling immediately with a thorough soaking—to a soil depth of 6 to 8 inches—and restrict traffic for several
A Map to Laying Sod
- Have sod delivered to a shady spot near you planting site.
- Water the soil and avoid walking on it.
- Start laying sod at your outer lawn perimeter using whole sod widths.
- Try to work in the opposite direction of yard slope.
- Lay the next row against the first, fitting each edge snugly, and staggering the joints.
- Use cutoffs longer than 2-feet to begin new rows.
- Use short lengths of sod in row interiors.
- Water installed sod within 20 minutes.
- Kneel to the sodded side of each row; avoid damage to sod by using a sheet of plywood.
- Trim borders after laying pieces using a sharp knife or manual edger.
Apply a starter fertilizer (one with a nutrient ratio of 1:1:1 or 1:2:1) to the prepared surface, but do not till it in. Spread the best seed you can afford at the rate recommended by the seed packager (rates are generally in pounds per 1,000 square feet). In the absence of specific recommendations from the seed packager, the rule of thumb for seed coverage is 15 to 20 seeds per square inch, use less when conditions are favorable or more when they are not.
Make trial passes with your spreader, and adjust it until you achieve seven or eight seeds per square inch. Spread seed in two passes, first in one direction and then in a perpendicular direction, to ensure even coverage of about 15 seeds per square inch. If your spreader delivers too much seed even when set on the lowest setting then you should bulk up the seed using vermiculite or sand.
Rake the seeded surface lightly to mix seed with the top 1/8-inch of soil, and then roll using an empty roller to improve the germination rate.
Note:Seeding sloped areas is difficult because the seed tends to run to low points when it rains. One solution is to contract with a landscaper who has hydroseeding equipment. Hydroseeding involves spraying a suspension of fertilizer, mulch, and water onto the prepared surface. Apply frequent light waterings to hydroseeded surfaces to keep them from drying out.
There are two ways to plant sprigs by hand, you can broadcast or stolonize.
Broadcast or Stolonize: You can broadcast, or stolonize, sprigs over prepared soil at a rate of 5- to 10-bushels per 1,000-square feet. Then cover with 1/4 to 1/2 an inch of soil, and press the sprigs into the soil by rolling.
Furrows: You can plant the sprigs in shallow furrows, 1 to 2 inches deep and 6 to 12 inches apart, depending on the grass variety and the sprig producer’s spacing recommendations. Plant end-to-end in 4 to 6 inch intervals, and cover with soil. Be sure a portion of each sprig remains exposed to light, ideally one-quarter of its length, and then lightly roll or tamp the planted area to press the sprigs into the soil.
Plant plugs in furrows or holes every 6 to 12 inches in each direction depending on grass type. For slower-spreading grasses, such as Zoysiagrass, plant 6 inches apart. You can plant grasses that spread more quickly, such as St. Augustinegrass or Bermudagrass, farther apart.
You can purchase plugs or make your own from unwanted areas of turf. If you are digging individual holes, using a bulb planter will make the job quicker. Use a golf-green cup cutter to cut circular plugs, or use a sharp knife, such as a machete, to cut 2-inch-square plugs.
Step 6: Caring for Your New Lawn
You have put a lot of work into creating a new lawn, so don’t forget the most important step. Plan for watering needs before you plant your lawn. Insufficient water and overwatering are the leading causes of new-lawn failure. Take precautions to prevent damage. Minimize play and foot traffic on new and sodded lawns for at least three weeks.
Do not fertilize new lawns for at least six weeks. After six weeks, apply a light fertilization of ½-pound nitrogen per 1,000 square feet. Thereafter, fertilize according to the recommendations given for established lawns.
Water your new sod at least twice a day, including once midday. Keep the soil moist to a depth of 1 to 2 inches. Check to make sure that soil does not stay saturated for long periods of time; otherwise the plants may not root. Reduce watering frequency to every second or third day once lawn has begun new root growth (about two weeks). After four weeks, a sodded lawn can survive for longer periods of time without water.
Do not mow a sodded lawn for at least 10 days after installation and until the grass has begun to grow vigorously. If you use a rotary mower, set the throttle low to avoid lifting and chopping up pieces of sod.
For newly seeded lawns, set sprinklers to mist the surface four times a day, beginning at 7 A.M. and finishing at 6 P.M. Keep the seedbed moist, but not saturated, to a depth of 1- to 2-inches. As seedlings grow to a height of 2-inches, reduce the frequency but increase the depth of watering.
Begin mowing after the grass has grown to a height of 3 or 4 inches , before it falls over in a slight breeze. Set the throttle of your mower on low to help prevent seedlings from uprooting. For your first mowing, remove just enough (1/2- to 3/4-inch) to give your lawn an even appearance. Next time, cut to the maximum height recommended for your type of grass, but do not remove more than 30% of the blade in any single mowing. Once sprigs and plugs are established, regular mowing will encourage lateral spreading.
Plugs or Sprigs
Water your new plugs or sprigs at least twice a day, including once midday. Keep the soil moist to a depth of 1 to 2 inches. Check to make sure that soil does not stay saturated for long periods of time; otherwise the plants may not root. Reduce watering frequency to every second or third day once lawn has begun new root growth (about two weeks).
Begin mowing after the grass has grown to a height of 3 or 4 inches, before it falls over in a slight breeze. Set the throttle of your mower on low to help prevent seedlings from uprooting. For your first mowing, remove just enough (1/2- to 3/4-inch) to give your lawn an even appearance. Next time, cut to the maximum height recommended for your type of grass, but do not remove more than 30% of the blade in any single mowing. Once sprigs and plugs are established, regular mowing will encourage lateral spreading.