How to Cut Sod By Hand

Sod is cut to transplant it to a new area, either to replace damaged turf in a more-visible part of the lawn, or to make a new planting bed.

You can lift sod by hand or with a sod-cutter. A sod-cutter is a gasoline-powered wheeled tool that cuts sod into strips about 16 inches wide. It does a neater job than most people can do by hand, and does it quicker and with less effort. Most rental agencies carry them.

However, for small areas, it’s not worth the trouble and expense of renting a large tool. Here’s how you lift sod by hand:

Cut sod by rolling it as you cut it. Use a sharp spade for this operation. Work with moist soil, neither too wet nor too dry. Begin by making vertical cuts around the sod you want to remove. If the section is wider than a foot or so, make vertical cuts to separate it into strips a foot wide.

Next make an opening at one end of a strip by cutting a v-shaped notch a few inches deep. Place the spade horizontally and slide it back and forth so it chops at the grass roots just below the surface. It’s easiest to work with a D-handle spade in this position. As you chop the grass roots, roll the strip of sod to expose more roots. After the roll is about 4 feet long, cut it off and begin a new roll.

Store sod by unrolling it in a shady spot like a driveway or walk. Keep it watered; it might take frequent—even daily—watering in dry weather. It will stay alive for weeks until you’re ready to use it.

To remove sod without saving it, use a mattock or heavy hoe, such as an onion hoe. Keep the tool sharp. With a spade, make vertical cuts around the area you want to remove, then chop out the sod with the mattock. Add the chopped sod to the compost pile.