Cleaning Up Your Own Backyard

Floating Sod: What It Is and How to Prevent It

by Warren Garcia

A common problem when installing a sod lawn is an issue called "floating sod." This occurs when the sod floats on top of the soil instead of making full contact.

Signs of Floating Sod

It can be difficult to recognize that the sod isn't in full contact until several days after installation. One common symptom is that it is taking more water to keep the grass green compared to the watering schedule recommended by your installer. Since the sod is floating above the soil, water is draining away before the roots can soak it up—thus, the need for more frequent watering. Within a week, you may begin to notice drying out or dead spots.

Another symptom is that the sod should begin to take root within a week to ten days. If you can still pull up the corner of a piece of sod easily, then it is floating above the soil. The soil beneath the sod may also seem boggy or overly wet.

Causes of Poor Contact

Poor preparation is the primary cause of floating sod. Before installing the sod strips, the soil needs to be tilled and loosened to at least a 6-inch depth. Any old plant material, including existing lawn grasses, must be removed or completely turned over. Sod won't root into hard soil or through matted grass and weed growth. Instead, it will float on the surface and never form healthy roots.

Another cause of floating sod is that it isn't installed properly to encourage full contact. After laying the sod strips—which must not overlap each other—compaction is needed so that the bottom of each strip is in full contact with the ground.

Potential Solutions

Unfortunately, the only solution if the ground wasn't properly prepared is to pull up the sod and do the job right. If you catch the problem early, you may be able to roll up the sod strips and work the soil with minimal damage or loss to the sod. You will need to act quickly, especially if the sod is stressed from several days of floating.

Compaction can help if done right after installation or within the first few days if it is overlooked initially, but this is only a solution if the soil was prepared properly before sod installation. Compaction is done by rolling over the lawn with a lawn roller. For small areas, you can compact by hand. Lay cardboard over the newly laid sod and then walk back and forth over it heavily to encourage full contact.

Contact a sod installation company for more help with your new sod questions.