Soil Preparation for St Augustine Sod

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Soil Preparation for St Augustine Sod

Let’s face it; soil preparation is the most important step in building a good lawn. Good soil makes healthy, deep rooted lawns that need less water. Soil is the foundation that is laid for building your dream lawn from the ground up.

For the sake of this article, you have decided to go with laying St Augustine sod because it provides an instant lawn, most often weed free, and it’s great for slopes where seed washes away.

The first step to take is get your soil tested. This will take the guess work out of preparation. You can contact your local extension office to find out about getting your soil tested professionally. Professional soil testing is the recommended route to take and usually only costs a minimal fee.

rough graded soil

Rough Graded Site

Soil consists of four basic ingredients: minerals, organic matter, water and air. Our goal is to achieve a good balance of these ingredients and produce what is called a healthy loam in our soil. The testing phase will help us achieve this result.

The next step is to rough grade your site. During this phase you need to remove unwanted debris such as stones and wood. Keep in mind the level that you desire your lawn to be while rough grading. Soil should be higher at the base of your house foundation and gradually slope down away from the house for proper drainage.

The next step is to add amendments to your soil based upon the test results you received. This is really where you save time, money and create less work for future lawn care.

St Augustine grass is sensitive to iron deficiency and readily develops chlorotic symptoms in alkaline or iron deficient soils. This deficiency can be corrected with foliar applications, iron sulfate or iron chelate.

Newly planted St Augustine sod will respond to phosphorous fertilizers in terms of an increased rate of spread. Potassium has been shown to increase root growth, cold tolerance and drought tolerance in St Augustine grass.

So long as fertility and drainage are adequate, St Augustine grass tolerates a wide range of soil types. St Augustine grass grows satisfactorily at a pH range from 5.0 to 8.5, but develops a chlorotic appearance in highly alkaline soils (above pH 7.5). It does not tolerate compacted or waterlogged soil conditions.

The next step is to cultivate your soil. It’s important that you cultivate the soil deep and develop soil that has desired drainage properties. It is recommended that you cultivate a depth of 6 to 12 inches.

St. Augustine grass is highly tolerant of soil salinity, producing satisfactory growth at salt levels as high as 16 mmhos. This means it’s a great grass for coastal lawns.

If you are planning on installing any sort of underground irrigation system, a great time to complete this step would be after the cultivation of your soil.

soil preparation

Final Grading

Final Grading

Final grading is the last step before planting. Rake the area and make sure it is free of rocks and leveled out as much as possible. You should aim for a smooth surface to lay the sod. Sod requires the final grade to be lower than a seeded lawn so that the sod will fit flush with sprinklers and sidewalks.

Because St. Augustine grass is sensitive to the cold, it is imperative that installation – when the sod needs to catch on to your soil – not take place when temperatures risk getting low. Now, plant your grass!

Author Bio

Matt Morrison is a lawn expert, homeowner, and website hobbyist from Texas. He enjoys working on his own lawn and helping others make their lawn the best it can be. You can read more of his articles here.

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  1. I have Bermuda grass in my yard. My neighbor has failed to take care of their yard and now I’m facing the issue of either crabgrass or Dallas grass in my yard. I’ve tried pulling it up but to no avail. I thinking about cutting the grass down to the bare minimal and planting St. Augustine. Can I plant over the Bermuda with tilling it all up.

    • Mike,

      It depends on whether or not you mind Bermuda grass sneaking back in to mix with the new St. Augustine. If you just till the Bermuda up, then it will inevitably come back.

      If you don’t want anymore Bermuda, then I recommend getting rid of it now because it’s nearly impossible after you have your new grass established. You could try a selective herbicide such as Ornamec to kill the grass or nuke the area several times with Round Up.

      Make sure you do proper soil preparation before you lay the sod as it will make it much easier to get it established.

  2. wes snyder

    why does my st augustine grass thin out long after i’ve sodded,i water and have tru green lawn care?

    • Wes,

      Make sure your sod is getting plenty of water while it gets established. Sometimes grass thins out if it’s in heavy shade or near another tree/plant which competes for the water/root space.

  3. I have St. Augustine on my yard. I have sprayed insect killer for chinch bugs that seem to have cause dead spots in my lawn. How long do i wait before resodding? Should i apply a slow release fertilizer before or after resodding? Being in the month of August in Texas, what other factors should be taken into consideration? Thank you.

    • imee,

      You could lay the sod in August, but I would recommend waiting a little bit – at least until the drought has broken. For more information about the details of sodding please check out our other article – How to install sod. Good luck!

  4. Is topsoil required before I lay my St Augustine sod? San Antonio Texas

    • Chris,

      It’s recommended to put a good topsoil base down before laying sod on top. Good luck!

  5. My landscaper laid down St.Augustine sod directly on top of previously chinch bug damaged St.Augustine sod. That’s not the right thing to do,is it?

    • I would have taken the opportunity to rework the soil before planting the new sod. It’s probably too late now, but you’ll know next time.

  6. Kelli tyson

    We built a pool & had the pool people spread the extra dirt over existing st Augustine grass which was almost dead & had weeds, what steps should we take to prepare to lay new sod?

    • I would add some compost, fertilizer, and other beneficial soil amendments, then till it up as best you can.

  7. My entire front yard has been taken over by weeds,I was told it is chic weed. so I would really like to re-sod yard. What is the best way to start this process. it was suggested that I put weed/feed over weeds and then put either topsoil or sand and then put sod down.

    • Pat,

      I prefer to avoid using chemicals particularly when I’m trying to recondition the soil for sod. I’d shoot for some organic methods if possible. Then I’d add soil amendments to be tilled into a layer at least 6″ deep.

  8. Paul Holbrook

    I prepared my soil well and laid 5 pallets of sod 4 weeks ago.
    It is looking good on top, but is not developing any lateral growth yet. I have fertilized lightly 1 week ago with Scotts Bonus S. We have gotten 3 nice rains since I laid the sod and I have kept it moist in between with the sprinkler system. I left spacing of about a foot in between the pieces of sod.
    Should I fill in around the sod with more top soil? Will that encourage the lateral growth?

    • Great job Paul. You could improve the soil around the sod if it looks like it needs it, but I think what you’re missing is time for lateral growth. Just keep up the good work and it will spread – I promise 😉

  9. laura baker

    Our backyard contains only crabgrass and those sticky burs. What would be the best way of planting st augustine?

    • Matthew

      I think the first step would be to get rid of the weeds as best you can. Then improve the soil with amendments, tilling, and a final grade. After that plant the St. Augustine sod. Good luck!

  10. I just recently hired a landscaper to lay new sod (mid June is not an ideal condition) on my existing dead St Augustine grass. It’s been hard to take care of the new sod in this drought condition regardless of how much I try to water. Some of them already looked dead. What are the best ways for me to protect my new sod in this drought condition and how can I stimulate the root growth?

    • Stay vigilant. Droughts are difficult to nurse grass through, but if you can keep it alive then it will get better (and easier). Sometimes parts of the sod will die regardless of how well you care for it.

  11. john in south texas

    Can St. Augustine sod be laid down in September? IM in deep south texas-10 miles from Mexico.
    Anything special or extra I need to do if I sod in September?

    • Yes, you can. Just make sure it gets plenty of water and follow all the normal rules.

  12. john in south texas

    Im ready to go for it!! Perhaps my situation is like many others.
    I tested my soil and it shows a pH of 7.0.
    Nitrogen tested low.
    Phosphorus medium.
    Potassium was low.
    The above tests were done with a cheap soil test kit from Lowes. The nitrogen , Phosphorus and potassium only test either low, medium of high-no firm numbers.
    My plan is to kill the bermuda I have now with roundup, clean the dead grass off, till the soil and remove 2-3″ so I can add some good top soil and then lay the sod.
    Should I amend the soil any further than just adding good top soil??
    Ive read somewhere to sprinkle some chelated iron on the soil??
    How much iron/100 sq feet? Any other amendments-fertilizer?

  13. I live in Milton, Fl. In the Western portion of the panhandle. First, thanks for your site, it looks like really valuable information.

    My two major issues are: 1. I have several large oak trees in the yard that provide quite a bit of shade, and 2. The yard is sloped fairly steeply, with a drainage ditch at the very front. As a result, I’ve experienced a good deal of erosion.

    I planted centipede 15 years ago. Almost immediately it started receding. I was able to keep most of it growing until a few years ago when we experienced an extremely dry summer. I simply couldn’t water enough to feed the grass and the trees. Once the grass had died, any rain we had would wash a portion of top soil from the yard.

    I plan to till the ground and add soil as necessary before laying the sod.

    Before I make this investment though, I want to feel comfortable that St Augustine is the right grass for my yard. Will it tolerate the shady conditions, and will it be able to handle the grade – and the ditch? Or.. should I be looking at a different type of grass to plant?


  14. I am in the process of preparing my yard for st. Augustine, how much of the old grass and weeds do I need to remove before laying the new sod?

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