Lay turf as soon as it arrives or you could struggle with sod heating

Don’t risk sod heating (aka burnt out turf) read this article to find out how you can avoid it.

Sod heating is an interesting phenomenon that you don’t see in many other landscaping products other than turf.  It can devastate a pallet-full of turf within hours and leave you disappointed and angry.  Worse still – if you haven’t complied with the supplier’s Terms and Conditions of sale, you may not be entitled to a refund.

What is sod heating?

Turf is a living product.  Each roll of turf contains thousands of individual grass plants.  The difference between these plants and potted plants from the garden centre is that whilst the turf is rolled up, the grass has no access to light, fresh air or water.  What is it that grass plants need to survive?  You guessed it….light, fresh air and water.

As soon as turf is harvested and rolled up, the plants are placed under stress.  Rolls are stacked up on a pallet for safe transportation.  Pallet are then loaded side by side onto a lorry.  There is very little air-flow between pallets or rolls to help oxygenate the plants and keep them cool and healthy.  Over time, the pallet of turf heats up.  On warm days, it can heat quite quickly.  In a way, it’s a bit like a compost heap.  The stressed out plants generate their own heat which exacerbates the situation and before you know it, you have a real problem.

The plants overheat and they suffocate and die.  Then they begin to rot.

What are the signs?

The first thing you’ll notice is the heat.  In extreme cases the pallet of turf will even steam.

In advanced sod heating there’ll be a smell too.

turf heat stress
A severe case of heat stress in turf. The grass has blackened and become slimy and unsightly

If you unroll a turf that is suffering from sod heating the grass will be a yellowy-green colour and it will be floppy.  Healthy turf has dark green grass that feels springy.

In really bad cases, the grass will be black or even grey and ash-like.

Heated turf typically has stripes of variable colour running parallel to the short side of the turf.

burnt out turf
This turf has been beautifully installed but unfortunately the customer laid it the day after it was delivered. The weather was warm and some of the turves were damaged by sod heating.




dead burnt out turf
Two weeks later and as you can see the healthy grass is establishing nicely. The burnt out turf has perished. The lawn can be saved by overseeding the brown patches and within a few weeks it will look terrific.

How can you avoid sod heating?

Forget about cooking lunch, having another cuppa or waiting for your friend to arrive.  As soon as your turf is delivered, you need to spring into action.

First job is to break the pallet down into smaller piles so that the air can circulate freely around the rolls of turf.  If you are wise, you will already have prepared the soil for turfing and you’ll have a wheelbarrow and some laying boards to hand.  Make small stacks of turf all around your new lawn so that they’re handily placed for when you’re laying them.  Put the stacks in cooler shadier spots if you can and try to have no more than 6 rolls in a stack.

As soon as your turf is laid, water it well.  Really well.

If you are at all worried about the condition of your turf, take photographs and email your supplier immediately.

Whatever you do DO NOT COVER ROLLED UP TURF WITH ANY KIND OF SHEET.  This will create a microclimate that speeds up sod heating.

The second rule of storing turf is NEVER WATER TURF WHILE IT’S ROLLED UP.  Again, this will accelerate sod heating.

Start laying turf immediately.  Even if it’s raining or the sun is going down.  It cannot wait until tomorrow.  Tomorrow, if needs be you can tidy up your work.  That’s far easier than trying to undo sod heating.

What can you do if your turf has been affected by sod heating?

If the effects are mild and the grass is yellowing but the roll doesn’t feel hot – it’s fine to go ahead and lay the turf.  Keep it well watered and it should recover.

mild sod heating
This turf has been affected by sod heating – but only slightly. With plenty of TLC it will recover

If rolls are very hot and the grass is black or grey, unroll them anyway and take photographs.  Lots of photographs.  Contact your supplier immediately – via email if it’s after office hours – and ask for their advice.  Most reputable suppliers will be happy to offer advice but be warned, if you have delayed laying your turf then you may not be eligible for a refund.


Recommended reading


How to care for new turf 

How to lay turf


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