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Summer sodding traditional for some, but lawn success more a matter of preparation

As they drip with sweat, contractors and landscapers often lay sod in the summer because rain helps the grass grow. But you don’t necessarily have to bear the brunt of beastly heat to lay sod, says a UF/IFAS scientist and Extension specialist.

Getting the grass to “take” is more a matter of preparing the soil than the time of year you put down the sod, said Laurie Trenholm, a UF/IFAS professor of environmental horticulture and statewide turfgrass Extension specialist.

For example, if you put sod on construction-compacted, uneven soil, you’ve lowered the odds of the sod establishing itself, Trenholm said. In fact, in many new developments, contractors bring in fill soil for the house foundation and use it for the planting material. This material often has high pH, good characteristics for the cement slab of the home or business, but not good for the landscape.

“I would probably usually go with spring as the ideal time to lay sod, but, in reality, I’ve seen sod establish well in any season,” Trenholm said. “The most important factor is how well the ground is prepped prior to sodding or seeding.”

Trenholm offers these suggestions to get the most out of the sod you install: Till in organic matter, remove construction debris, grade the ground or repair or replace irrigation if needed. You can find more tips in this UF/IFAS Extension document that Trenholm co-authored.

In another UF/IFAS Extension document, Trenholm explains that without proper site preparation and post-installation care, sod can die almost as easily as any other newly planted area. When sod is delivered, Trenholm urges you to inspect it carefully to ensure there are no weeds, insects or stressed areas.

When she conducts training sessions, Trenholm often asks, “What time of year is best for laying sod?”

Trenholm will hear people say:

  • Summer because of the rain. But the heat could quickly desiccate newly planted sod because it lacks roots, especially if we get a couple days or longer in the 90s with no rain.
  • Fall because the weather cools down. But warm season grasses slow down their growth, so establishing those sods might take longer in some cases.
  • Winter because of the somewhat cooler temperatures, depending on location. “But what if you’re in north Florida and get a freeze? Watch out,” said Trenholm.
  • Spring because that’s when the grasses start growing because of longer days and warmer temperatures. But it’s dry, so irrigation may be needed.

Establishing new sod is often the “single largest usage of water in the residential setting,” said Whitney Elmore, urban horticulture agent and director of UF/IFAS Extension Pasco County.

“While it’s true that sod requires some extra care to successfully take root, new turf typically does not need nearly the amount of water that’s recommended by some installers and landscapers,” Elmore said. “When it comes to establishing new turf, the key is to understand what is going on underground, at the root level.”

“When you lay sod, its roots are very close to the surface. During the first 10 days or so, you want to make sure your sod does not dry out, and you want to support new root growth,” she said. “Depending on the time of year, this can be achieved through brief applications of water in frequent, short ‘bursts’ throughout the day during the first few weeks of establishment.”

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The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS)
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