Seed vs. Sod

So, you need a new lawn.

This year you’ve decided to start over with new grass, or you’ve recently built a new home and you figured it would look nicer surrounded by grass rather than dirt (your neighbors would agree, of course).

Well, you have two basic choices: you can plant seed or install sod. Granted, there are other options, and we’ll get to those in a minute. Hydroseeding could be considered as a third option, but it is relatively new for consumer usage and isn’t available in all areas. Also, consider that some grass types are nearly impossible for homeowners to grow from seed, as is the case with St. Augustinegrass which should be planted from sprigs.

Soil Preparation

Regardless of your installation choice (see or sod), you will have a certain amount of soil prep work prior to installing your new lawn. The area will need to be tilled, cleared of any debris, enriched with amendments and perhaps graded and leveled. Once the soil is properly prepared, your new lawn is ready to be installed.

More about soil preparation:

The Importance and Benefits of Preparing Soil for Planting
How To Prepare Soil For Planting – Tips and Advice
How to Prepare Garden Soil in the Fall
Prepare your soil for spring planting

Planting Grass Seed

Starting a new lawn from seed is generally the most economical choice. Depending on the size of your lawn, you should be able to purchase enough seed to cover the entire area for under $50.

One of the biggest challenges with planting grass seed is timing, since it has to be planted in the spring or the fall months, because those months provide the ideal conditions for grass seed germination. The summer months are too warm, and the winter months are too cold. Consider it the “Goldilocks Principle”: the conditions have to be just right.

A second consideration with grass seed is its watering needs. In order to properly germinate, grass seed must be kept constantly moist, which often requires that two or more waterings are applied daily. The number one reason for seed germination failure is lack of water, which will dry out the seeds. Once they are dry, they won’t germinate at all. If you have a rather large area and watering all of it is impossible for you, then seeding may be too difficult a job to handle all at once.

Last, you will need to apply a layer of mulch, such as hay or straw, over the seeds and that will add to the cost. Plus, there is the time involved to rake up the straw after the grass develops.

On the plus side, grass seed is available in many different varieties and mixtures, so you can purchase the right type for your yard, such as a variety that is adapted to sun or shade, or a combination of the two. If you purchase a high-quality seed, such as Scotts Pure Premium Grass Seed, you will reduce the chance of planting weed seeds as well, since Scotts grass seed is 99.99% weed free.

If you follow the proper directions for planting grass, buy a high-quality seed and stick to the watering guidelines, you will have an established lawn (ready to be mowed) in 4-6 weeks. However, it will take at least one full growing season for the lawn to become completely established.

Installing Sod

Out of all the options for planting a new lawn, installing sod is the most expensive and labor intensive. Sod is purchased from sod farms, which sell it by the square foot. Depending on the size of your lawn, it could cost $500 to $2000 for enough sod to cover the entire area. Of course, the costs are even higher if you are hiring someone to install the sod for you.

But if you are going to install the sod yourself, you should know ahead of time that it can be difficult work for several reasons. First, the sod is heavy, and moving it into place can be exhausting. Second, many pieces will need to be cut to fit around landscaping beds and hard surfaces. In addition, you need to be very generous with the water, as you cannot afford for the sod to become dry.

When the sod is delivered, it should be kept in a shaded area and not allowed to become dry. Installing it the day it is delivered is the best option and that is tricky, since you will have to work with the sod farm or nursery to determine exactly when the sod can be delivered. Unlike seed, you can install sod at any time during the growing season, including the hot summer months.

Buying sod requires some homework on your part, but thankfully this site has all the information you need for buying and installing sod.

As soon as the sod is installed, the first watering should be at least six inches deep. The sod and the ground beneath it need to be thoroughly moistened. After this first watering, the grass should get at least one inch of water for the next two to three weeks. You’ll have to be careful that the edges on the strips of sod don’t dry out.

When properly installed, sod creates an instant lawn. The roots should take hold in about a week and the grass is ready for use.

Other Options

Some areas of the country have seen an increase in the usage of hydroseeding to plant a home lawn. Hydroseed is a mixture of seed, fertilizer and mulch that is “sprayed” over the area. It is commonly used along highways and around commercial construction sites where easy lawn installation is required.

Certain grasses that can’t be grown from seed require plugs or sprigs. Plugs are usually sold in plastic trays and sprigs can be purchased by the bag. For more information on sprigs and plugs, see the section in lawn care basics.

Whatever method you choose, make sure you are getting the proper grass type for your lawn needs, and that you have weighed all of the factors before deciding. If in doubt, go with seed and purchase premium grass seed. That way you’ll know you are getting a quality lawn from grass seed that is prepared to handle to tough conditions.