Sod is beloved by homeowners and landscape professionals because it is the only lawn solution with near-instant results. But that doesn’t mean your new lawn is 100% established from day one. Nor should you treat it as such.
While sod arrives at your home already lush and green on top, the underside is a different story. Sod roots are incredibly immature — after all, they have no real soil to work with. Following installation, sod takes several weeks to develop a full root system that can tolerate environmental stress and damage.
Despite this, sod is still the fastest way to establish turf grass from scratch. Giving new sod a few weeks to adapt and grow before subjecting it to mowing or heavy foot traffic is a small price to pay for an otherwise quick and easy route to a permanent lawn.
If sod installation is in your future, I’ve shared everything you need to know about preparation and aftercare for proper root development below. You’ll also learn exactly how long it takes for new sod to take root and why this process is so vital to the health of your lawn overall.
- How Long Does It Take For New Sod To Take Root
- Preparing Soil For New Sod
- How Deep Do Sod Roots Grow
- How To Tell If New Sod Has Taken Root
How Long Does It Take For New Sod To Take Root
With proper care, new sod will start to take root almost immediately. You can expect sod to develop a shallow root system within the first two weeks after installation. These preliminary roots will sustain the sod as it continues to grow and establish itself.
After about six weeks, your sod should have a mature, deep root system. These deeper roots are essential to long-term health and will give your grass the strength it needs to survive summer droughts and winter freezes.
While the above timeline is typical of most sod, there are some exceptions. Most notably, sod that is stressed or laid over subpar soil may develop roots very slowly. So I recommend monitoring root development during the first several weeks to ensure things are progressing smoothly.
Preparing Soil For New Sod
In my opinion, site preparation is just as important when installing sod as it is when laying down seed. Fresh sod will have an easier time taking root over high-quality, prepared soil.
If you’re hiring a professional team to install your sod, I definitely recommend inquiring about your native soil composition and what steps (if any) will be taken to prepare the soil. If you’re DIYing this project or want to cut down on installation expenses, then learning how to properly prepare the soil yourself is crucial to getting the best results possible.
Preparing a site for sod installation involves removing weeds and debris, grading, tilling, and supplementing the soil as necessary. In terms of healthy root development, removing debris and tilling is the most important.
By clearing the area of weeds and debris, you ensure that the sod makes full contact with the soil after installation. This is necessary for vigorous root growth. Tilling the top layer of soil will loosen the material, making it easier for the roots to penetrate into the soil.
I also highly recommend removing any buried debris uncovered while tilling — i.e., rocks, lumber, dead tree roots, etc. — that could impede deep root development in the future.
How Deep Do Sod Roots Grow
Mature grass roots usually range from 6 to 24 inches in total depth. Hardy varieties of Kentucky bluegrass, fescue, and ryegrass can extend over 3 feet into the soil. Bermuda grass has the longest roots of any popular turf species, reaching up to 6 feet in depth.
With time, your new sod will develop roots characteristic of the specific grass species you’ve chosen. Other factors that can impact sod root depth include watering practices, soil quality, and overall health.
Grassroots will penetrate into the soil as long as there is available water. So it’s important to saturate the top several inches of soil each time you water your lawn.
Dense soil, such as that with high clay content, may prevent grass roots from growing to their full potential. It’s also crucial to note that diseased, pest-infested, or stressed grass may produce shorter roots than healthy specimens.
How To Tell If New Sod Has Taken Root
The easiest way to tell if fresh sod has taken root is by tugging at the material with your hands. Gently lift one edge of the sod. If there is little or no resistance, the sod hasn’t yet taken root. If the sod resists your efforts to lift it, however, it has taken root.
Even if the sod lifts easily, you can check for new root growth by examining the underside. This is a great way to monitor your sod’s progress in the days immediately after installation. Young roots will be white and will lengthen, strengthen and thicken as they become more established.
I recommend testing several sections of sod using this method before determining that the grass is established enough to walk on or mow. It’s very common for some areas of sod to take root faster than others.
Why Does My Sod Look Dead?
Brown or yellow sod is not a good sign. This usually means that the sod is not taking root and therefore not getting enough water and has started to enter dormancy. You need to supply adequate moisture immediately to prevent the sod from dying off.
How Long To Water New Sod
You should plan to water the new sod daily with an orbital sprinkler for at least three weeks after installation. This will prevent the sod from drying out before it has taken root. It will also encourage deep-root development early on.
Pre-soaking the soil prior to installation will create a soft, penetrable surface for the new sod to adhere to. It’s also important to water fresh sod immediately after installation.
In most climates, the sod must be watered several times per day for two weeks after installation. I recommend watering new sod regularly, but lightly to prevent oversaturating the soil with too much water at one time.
The third week after installation, you can switch to watering once a day. I recommend watering more deeply at this time to encourage deep-root growth. Continue this routine for about a week, then transition to watering only as recommended for your chosen grass type.
Can You Walk On New Sod
Walking on fresh sod can damage it. I recommend staying off of newly planted grass entirely for the first two weeks after installation. This time is crucial for early root development, and walking on the grass will only hinder its growth. While your new sod will have a shallow root system after two weeks, it’s still best to keep all foot traffic to a minimum.
After four to six weeks, sod can sustain regular foot traffic. By this point, your new sod will have developed a deep root system and grown tall enough to need mowing several times.
I know that waiting a month or longer to fully enjoy your new lawn can feel like an eternity. However, adhering to these rules will make a big difference in both the short- and long-term health of your sod.
When Can You Mow New Sod
Rather than looking to the calendar to decide when it’s safe to mow fresh sod, I recommend monitoring its growth. Sod can be cut when it reaches a mowable height. Depending on the weather and the type of grass, new sod may need mowing within a week of installation.
To be totally sure your sod is ready for mowing, I also suggest performing a “tug test.” Mowing sod that hasn’t yet taken root could damage the lawn and stunt growth. Be sure to mow in the direction of the seams to reduce the risk of lifting the sod.
Should I Fertilize New Sod
While new sod needs nutrient-rich soil to grow, it’s best to supply these nutrients before installation rather than after. During site preparation, supplement the soil with aged compost. According to Mississippi State University, compost should be applied at a rate of 25-50% of the existing topsoil. A balanced starter fertilizer can also be mixed into the top layer of soil before sod installation but is not necessary.
Once established, you will want to fertilize sod just like any other turf grass. Since nutritional needs can vary greatly between different regions and grass types, I recommend consulting local resources to determine the best fertilizing schedule. If you don’t already know your soil composition, I also suggest testing it before fertilizing your new sod.
How Soon Can You Fertilize New Sod
Fertilizing sod too early can stress the grass. To prevent burning the roots of your new sod, I suggest waiting at least 4 weeks before applying fertilizer for the first time. Waiting up to 6 weeks is ideal unless your grass shows signs of malnutrition.