When I first bought my house, the back yard was a disaster. There was this weird, giant bush in the middle of the yard. It was extremely un-level, with giant holes everywhere. And the ‘grass’ was mostly weeds.
So I knew in order to get my dream backyard, it was going to need a complete overhaul. After putting up a fence and making a patio, the next big thing on this list was sod. I decided to do sod instead of seed, seeing as it was summer and raining a lot, and a muddy yard would end up being a muddy house since I have a dog that LOVES to play outside.
As you probably know, hiring someone to put sod in your backyard is expensive. Having a pro install sod for you can cost between $1 to $2 a square foot. BUT, buying just the sod doesn’t actually cost much. For my entire backyard, I paid $450 for all the sod.
While it is a lot of work to lay the sod yourself, it’s also completely possible for a beginner DIYer to accomplish. Here’s the list of things you’ll need:
- Lawn Roller
- Metal rake
- Work gloves
- Box cutter (or other very sharp cutting tool)
- Rototiller (you can rent this if you don’t own one)
- Bags of top soil
1. Rototill your yard
You want to have at least 4-6 inches of loose soil, so get that rototiller going! Because my yard was extremely un-level, my dad used his tractor to rototill about 2-3 feet down. He used the bucket on the tractor to move around bigger piles of dirt to fill in the holes. (This isn’t necessary for normal yards! We just really needed to move dirt around to fill in holes)
Make sure to call 811 and have someone come out to your yard and make sure there are no utility lines you need to watch out for!
As you can see, the rain made the yard a muddy mess after rototilling. We waited a day for it to dry out before leveling. If you can, wait for good weather to do this project. We only had a specific weekend to work on this though, so we just had to keep going!
2. Level out the yard
As I said earlier, my yard was extremely un-level. It had 2 giant holes in it, that created a huge hill in between them. We used my dad’s tractor to level these out (though it can be done with normal shovels, it would just take longer). For the rest of the yard, we used a metal rake. It had rained after we rototilled, so the dirt had gotten pretty hard by the next day when we went out to level the yard. In one way, this was nice as it meant walking around in the dirt didn’t make huge footprints. But it also meant it was a lot harder to move the dirt around and make everything level. Make sure to remove rocks while you’re raking. Anything bigger than 1 inch needs to be removed.
We leveled in sections. We focused on approximately a 10 ft wide area closest to the house. Once that area was level we would go through the next steps until the sod was down. Then we would move on the a new section. This worked really well so we weren’t constantly walking on an area we had already leveled out and then have to redo because of the footprints.
3. Pack the soil down
Fill your water barrel ¾ of the way with water, and roll it over the area you just raked. This may seem like an easy step, but make sure to roll the barrel gently, and try to keep it moving the whole time. For me, every time the barrel stopped, when I’d push it to get going again I’d end up leaving footprints.
4. Lay your sod down
It’s time to start laying your sod down! You’ll want the edge of each piece to be right up next to each other. Don’t let there be any spaces between them (but also don’t let them overlap). You’ll want to do the first row along a straight edge. If you have a fence and want the sod to go right up to the fence, lay it along the long side of your fence. Once you’ve finished that row in the section you prepared, you’ll move on to the second row. However, this time you’re going to cut the first piece of sod in half, so that when laying the sod down it will be in a brick pattern. Your third row will start with a full piece of sod, and will look just like the first row. Hopefully you can see this brick pattern in the below photo.
5. Roll over the sod
Use your lawn roller to roll over the sod. This makes sure your sod and dirt are flush together and don’t have air between them, which is important in helping the roots establish faster. Try to limit walking on the sod for the next three weeks.
Water immediately after rolling the sod. Keep watering daily for at least a week (unless you get rain). During the couple weeks, you can lift up a corner of the sod to see how wet it is. If it’s dry, it needs water. If it’s dripping wet, it has too much. (Yes, you can over water it!) You want the sod to be moist, but never muddy. Always water in the early morning or evening. You don’t want to water it in the middle of the day in the heat and sun.
7. Mow the grass
You will want to wait until the grass is about 3-4 inches tall before mowing the first time. Make sure to use a walk behind mower. A heavy riding mower won’t be good when your grass is this new and still rooting. Only cut about 1/3 of the length.
Cutting no more than 1/3 the length of the grass is a good rule any time you’re mowing. My dad came to visit and decided to mow my lawn while I was at work. Normally, I’d be super happy aobut that. But he accidentally mowed my lawn on the shortest setting (3 months after the sod was put down, so it had rooted and was growing strong by that point), and it immediately started dying.
So that’s it! As you can see from the above photo, the final product was totally worth it! And it only cost $400 in sod. It took us a total of 3 days, but we also put irrigation in the yard since everything was dug up already, so about 1/3 of that time was spend digging the trenches for the irrigation. I would definitely recommend this project for any yard that’s patchy and un-level!
After laying down the sod, we built our own pergola. I’ll be posting an article soon with all the steps to build your own pergola, so you can have have an amazing back yard and save thousands!