The green, green grass of your dream lawn doesn’t have to exist only in a galaxy far, far away. If you’re fighting the battle for a beautiful lawn, you may have found yourself wondering whether seed or sod is better. The grass may look greener in your neighbor’s yard (hopefully you’re not at war with them over who has the best lawn in the neighborhood), but whether they used seed or sod to achieve it, there are a few things to consider before you decide your next move.
Sod: Transplanting mature turf that has been cared for by a professional. Can be rolled out like a rug. Usually involves hiring a pro to install, especially for large areas.
Seed: Growing grass from seed; Involves planting and sprouting your own grass. Can be done yourself or hired out.
On the Money
One of the two major factors involved in the decision to sod or seed is expense.
Sod – Simply put, sod is the most expensive option because you are essentially paying someone else for time and materials of growing the grass. And, it is dramatically more expensive than seed. If money is no problem, sod may be the winning choice for reasons you’ll see below.
Seed – Financially, seeding is an appealing choice as the cost of even the best seed mix is still a lot cheaper than sod, so if budget is your driving factor, seed wins out.
The other major decision factor is time—the amount of time and effort it takes to grow and nurture a lawn, as well as the time of year you can plant it.
Sod – No question, if you need a nice lawn right away, sod is your hero. This option provides an “instant lawn;” you can go from dirt to green lawn in a day. The speed of rooting varies with each season, and the rooting is essential to the longevity and health of the grass; fall and spring are optimal times to lay sod, though it can be laid any time during the year if water is available. Roots establish quicker than seeds, but may not root as well.
Seed – It takes a lot longer to grow a dense, lush lawn so if time is a factor, seed may be the losing option. If you’ve got time to tend the lawn, and can wait until the optimal growing season, seed is worthy of consideration. The time of year you plant is critical and limited. Early fall is best because more likelihood of weeds in spring. Growing your own turf requires a lot of attention and time, as well as watering.
Regardless of time and expense, quality is also a consideration.
Sod – Though initially sod may appear weed free, it is not always guaranteed to be weed free, seed is. Sod is a great alternative for sloped areas or erosion-prone areas where seed would struggle to survive. On the down side, only certain types of grass are grown for sodding so your choices are limited. If you need to tailor your yard to a specific environment, seeding with specific species for your area would be a better way to go. Sod is not known for shade tolerance. Sod can shrink and leave spaces which weeds easily invade. Turf needs to be overlapped when laid. Sod is also the cleanest choice; not a lot of dust or mud.
Seed – Though it can take longer to establish a dense lawn, over time I think seed edges out sod on quality. There are more grass types and varieties to choose from so can select a turf you know will grow well in your area. The probability of a stronger root system developing in the beginning means you’re more likely to have a stronger, healthier lawn over time. With seed, the grass develops in the same environment where it will live so you don’t face transplant issues and sensitivities. However, seeding can be frustrating. You might have to reseed, sometimes germination doesn’t take in spots or seed can be washed away. And it is messy, lots of dust and mud at first.
The critical component to a thriving lawn, whether you sod or seed, is the soil. The investment you make in soil preparation will give you the best strategic advantage and increase your odds of success.
It is absolutely essential that grass be well rooted in order to thrive. Often even sod fails because owners do not prepare the soil well before laying it. Prepare the site to ensure your lawn is healthy either way. Conduct a soil test first and learn the characteristics of your soil. The best type of soil for growing turf is sandy loam (mostly sand with some clay and silt). Clay needs to be amended with organic matter such as peat. You may need to finely grade the area and add phosphorous, potassium fertilizer or nitrogen depending on your soil test. Roll or pack the soil slightly. The effort and time you put in to the soil preparation will make a world of difference in winning the battle for a beautiful lawn whether you seed or sod.
Add to Your Arsenal
There are actually some other options you can add to your arsenal of possibilities for growing a great lawn:
Hyrdoseeding – a mix of seed, fertilizer and material that retains water that is sprayed on to a yard. It can work for slopes and large areas, has high germination rates and quick growth. Less expensive than sod but more expensive than seeding.
Plugs and Sprigs – You can start a lawn with individual plants, which is less costly than sodding, though both are considered rooted pieces of sod. Sprigs are thin 3 to 6 inch pieces of grass stems without soil. Plugs are 2 to 4 inch chunks of sod with soil covering the roots. Because of the amount of open soil, weeds can be a factor in planting plugs and sprigs.
Thank you to Garden Weasel for this information!
Seed or Sod. Which is best?
We have a love-hate relationship with our lawns. It’s time to evaluate your lawn. We will leave evaluation of your emotional relationship with your lawn until later. Much later.
Your lawn may not be living up to your expectations or you have a new property and mud is not your favorite landscape style. This is a good time to seed or sod a lawn. But which method is better? As with all things there are advantages and disadvantages to both, so you have to decide what is most important.
- Larger selection of species available. Different mixes of species and blends of different cultivars are available for specific management practices, sun or shade, disease resistance, and soil type.
- Turf develops in the environment in which it will live.
- Lower initial cost than sodding.
- Timing of establishment critical. Best time is September or October. April – June is also a good time, but weed seeds germinate in greater numbers in spring.
- Longer time period to get a dense lawn.
- May require reseeding due to poor germination in some areas or wash outs from heavy rain or irrigation.
- Weeds can be a problem until lawn is fully established.
- Initial watering is critical.
- “Instant lawn”.
- May be walked on soon after planting.
- Dust, mud and erosion are quickly reduced.
- May be planted anytime during the growing season as long as adequate water is available.
- Basically weed-free.
- Higher initial cost.
- Choice of species can be limited.
- Not produced in shaded environment.
- Large volume of water needed initially.
- Sod may shrink and weeds may invade especially if the sod is not properly installed. Do not stretch sod. Stagger seams similar to brick-laying.
- Speed of rooting varies with season. Spring and fall are optimal.
Whether seeding or sodding, initial soil preparation is crucial. If possible get a soil test first so any amendments can be added. Add compost especially to clay soils. Rough grading and fine grading is crucial for both seeding and sodding. Control perennial weeds first. Don’t assume tilling or covering with sod will kill perennial weeds such as creeping Charlie, bindweed or quackgrass. An initial application of a non-selective herbicide of glyphosate sold as Round up may be helpful.
Tips for successful lawn seeding
- Purchase quality seed.
- Rake, roll lightly, then mulch lightly.
- Top ½ inch of soil should be kept moist until seeds germinate. First watering will be lightly and frequently. Keep in mind germination rates: Kentucky bluegrass 10-30 days and perennial ryegrass 3-10 days. Once the seedlings have emerged, watering should be deeply and less frequently.
Once the seedlings are growing:
- At 2-inch height, fertilize at ½ rate.
- Mow when 3-4.5 inch height down to 2-3 inch height.
- Limit heavy traffic for first year.
- Wait until after 3 mowings for postemergent herbicide application if needed.
Tips for successful sodding
- Choose fresh, healthy sod with a thin soil layer.
- Choose sod grown on soils similar to that of planting site if possible.
- Lightly roll after installation.
- Water thoroughly.
Post-Planting Care of Sod
- Sod should root in about 14 days.
- Fertilize using the regular recommended fertilization schedule.
- Mow using the “1/3 rule”. Do not remove more than 1/3 of the leaf blade at one time. Gradually mow down to 2-2.5 inch height.
- After proper rooting, core aerification can encourage deeper rooting.
Thank you Sandra Mason, Horticulturist, for this helpful article.