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Can I put sod down in the winter?

sod in winter

We frequently are asked if sod can be installed in winter.

Yes, you can have a new lawn and lay sod in the winter. Sod is your only option to have a nice yard in the winter. You cannot use grass seed in the winter because it is too cold. The grass grows very slowly this time of year, but once it starts to warm up, it takes off. It is better to lay tall fescue and Kentucky bluegrass in the winter than in the heat of the summer.

Posted by Jack Warpinski on 12th of October, 2005. Updated Dec. 9th 2022

Cool season turfgrass (Tall Fescue, Kentucky Bluegrass, Fine Fescues) can be installed year round in the entire United States.  They are more accustomed to cool weather and can tolerate being planted in the middle of winter.  If installed in the middle of winter in freezing temperatures, the sod might lay dormant on top of the soil and resume growing once weather warms in March.  This brief winter dormancy in cool season grasses is normal in the northern part of the country.  

Warm season turfgrass (Zoysia, Bermudagrass, Centipede, St. Augustine) can be planted year round in the southern portion of the county, but should only be planted during the growing season in areas of the country that are subjected to long term freezing.  The reason for this is that extended periods of time below freezing can kill freshly established warm season grasses since they do not have a developed root system.  In Maryland, this means Zoyia and Bermuda should be installed between April and Late September

Winter is actually a great time to install sod!

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Sod will last for up to two weeks when the weather is below 40 degrees!  This means you have more time to complete your project.
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Less water! You usually only need to water sod once after installation if installed in winter.  The cooler temperatures and more frequent precipitation will keep the soil moist for the new grass.
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It will stabilize the soil.  Sod does a better job at preventing runoff when compared to straw.

Should anything different be done when installing sod in winter?

There are only two differences when installing sod in cold winter weather:

  • Sod only needs to be watered once after installation.  The cool weather will usually ensure that that ground stays moist enough after that.  If the weather suddenly warms after sod is installed, it might still be a good idea to check that the sod stays moist each day.
  • You don't need to use a starter fertilizer if you are installing dormant grass.  The grass is not actively growing and therefore will not use the fertilizer.  It is better to wait until the weather warms and then apply a starter fertilizer.

Can sod be installed on frozen ground?

Yes, sod can be safely installed on frozen ground as long as the soil was prepared properly prior to freezing (rototilled and raked smooth).

Some other things to think about...

Keep these other points in mind when installing sod in winter:

  • Sod left outside overnight might freeze in cold weather!  This does not harm the plant but might make it hard to unroll.  It is best to install the same day you receive it, or at least tarp the unused sod to prevent the cold wind from freezing it.  
  • You need to water the sod at least one time after installation.  Make sure you have access to water and the system is not winterized or frozen!