Sod versus Seed

Do you want a new lawn? You've got two options: you can plant seed and sprout your own turf, or you can buy sod and roll it out like a plush new carpet. Either way, the results are the same. Which begs the larger question: to seed or not to seed?

The answer boils down to time and money - and which you can afford more of. Sod is instant lawn. You can go from dirt to grass in one day.

Once the province of landscape contractors, laying sod is now common among do-it-yourselfers. After all, few of us can resist the temptation of transforming our yards in the blink of an eye with grass harvested and trucked in from a commercial farm. The catch is that using sod will cost you.

If, however, you don't mind waiting three or four months while your lawn grows in, then starting from scratch is considerably cheaper. Other reasons to use seed include the wider array of grass varieties to choose from, and the ability to cover hard-to-reach sites such as steep slopes. And you won't import any potentially troublesome nonnative soil either.

You can choose from a wider selection of grass varieties from seed than from sod.

Preparing the Site

Whether you decide to use seed or sod, preparing the site is basically the same, except for the soil grade level. The following steps are broad guidelines, so consult a garden professional for specifics appropriate to your area.

  • Clear the ground of old or dead grass, undesirable roots and large stones.
  • Water the area to encourage weeds to emerge.
  • Kill and remove weeds.
  • Amend soil with organic matter and then rototill.
  • Level the soil while it's dry, tamping with a rake or roller. For sod, grade the soil an inch lower than sidewalks and driveways to account for the thickness of the sod. For seed, grade the soil level with sidewalks, etc.
  • Fertilize with a granular fertilizer and moisten slightly.

Adding the Seed or Sod

Now you’re ready to get the lawn started.

  • Sod is perishable and should be installed immediately after delivery. Place the pieces end to end in precise rows with no gaps and stagger side seams like brickwork.
  • Seed should be spread evenly at the rate prescribed on the package and covered lightly with mulch. Cover the seeded area with netting to prevent hungry birds eating the seed.

Watering

Water daily to prevent the lawn from drying out.

  • Sod should be kept wet for one to two weeks.
  • Seed needs light but frequent irrigation for two to four weeks. Light watering prevents the seed being washed away before it germinates.

Mowing

Mow only after the grass is one-third taller than it should be, e.g., if you want a two-inch-high lawn, let it reach a height of three inches before you mow it.

Ongoing Maintenance

Once your lawn is established, continue to water, mow and fertilize regularly. With proper maintenance, your lawn should remain lush and inviting regardless of its origins.