The first step in preparing a lawn for sod or seed is to kill the existing grasses / weeds. Defoliant products like round up are ideal because they do not poison the soil. The foundation of your lawn really starts with the soil. If you see patches of moss growing amongst your grass, you probably need lime added to your soil. We recommend having the soil tested, as this will help determine the Ph of the soil and what nutrients will be required to ensure long term success with your chosen type of grass.
How to Prepare a Lawn for Sod or Seed
Amending the typical soils of our area by adding sand and organic compost should be your first step when seeding or sodding your yard. This step makes a real difference in any lawn. We use a 50/50 mix of sand and compost at a rate of 1-2 tons per thousand square ft (an area roughly the size of 2, 2 car garages). This rate is sufficient to yield good results without wasting resources. We spread these materials on the surface then work them into the soil 3-4” deep. A bobcat bucket with teeth, a plow or tiller can all be effective. We simply want to create an absorbent layer of soil that will not pack as hard as our native clays. Digging to greater depths for turf grasses can cause uneven settling of the soil/yard over time and requires far more materials cost. Power raking to smooth and level also finishes mixing the materials into the existing soils. In these 2 pictures, you can see one picture has a dark organic/sand mix spread across the surface. In the other, the organic/sand mix has been worked into and mixed with existing loose soil then power raked with a special bobcat attachment that removes rocks and debris while mixing and smoothing the soils. We add the final touches by hand raking the entire lawn and leaving a 1” lip at the edge of all concrete surfaces so the sod goes in flush to the concrete surface. This allows water to drain off the concrete and lessens the need for frequent edging.
Some landscapers will say “top soil” is the answer. It is certainly the easier approach. They only haul in enough topsoil to spread a thin, leveling coat across the surface. They won’t turn over the existing soil so compacted soils just below the surface are still going to resist absorbing water and fertilizer. As soon as the nutrients in the new sod & thin soil layer are depleted, the grass will resume its previous stressed state. Are you willing to purchase 10-12 tons of top soil for every 1000 sq. ft? That’s what it takes to provide 3” of soil for 1000 sq. ft.
Many will choose to scrape a yard flat and smooth then seed or sod on the hard ground that’s left. Choosing to skip these preparation steps will usually result in less germination, slower growth, much shallower root systems and therefore a less dense & healthy lawn. In the case of sod, skipping these steps also means shallow roots, less drought resistance, and overall less success toward a healthy and more maintenance free lawn. If you are selling and don’t care what it looks like in a year or two, maybe a “quick and dirty” approach is appropriate.