If your property needs a new lawn, you’ll have to decide whether to use sod or seed. The best option to choose will depend on your budget, the size of your property, your level of patience, and your personal preferences and goals. In today’s article I’ll compare sod vs seed to help you choose the best option for starting a lawn on your property. I’ll also share some pitfalls of each method that homeowners often fall prey to, and tell you what to watch out for to have success with either method.
Should You Choose Sod or Seed for Your New Lawn?
Here’s a quick, side-by-side comparison table highlighting key differences between starting a new lawn from seed vs installing sod.
I’ll go in-depth in a moment, but this is a good starting point to quickly determine which option may be best for you:
|More expensive – You’re paying for mature turf grown in ideal conditions, delivered to your door.
|Less expensive – Even if you buy the highest quality seed on the market, you’ll still spend less (and might get a higher quality lawn).
|Instant results – You’ll enjoy curb appeal as soon as you finish installation of your new sod.
|Delayed satisfaction – It will be a month or more before you get to look out at your yard and enjoy your new lawn.
|Fewer options – Generally you will have a limited number of choices in terms of grass available to you with sod.
|Greater selection – There is a huge variety of grass seed options, so you can choose a grass type that you know will thrive on your property.
|Less work – Even if you DIY the install, the project will probably take a day after site prep is completed. It’ll be a long day of hard work, but afterward you can kick back and enjoy your new lawn.*
|More work – While the effort will be spread over several weeks, the time commitment of growing a lawn from seed is significant.
* after laying sod you should not walk on it for at least two weeks, and I don’t recommend mowing it until it is well established either.
Now let’s take a closer look at sod vs seed for your new lawn.
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What is Sod (and why would you choose it over seed)?
Once it is laid down, you’ll need to water it regularly and avoid walking on it for a few weeks. This will allow the roots to grow into your lot so your new lawn can establish itself.
Sod can be easily installed by a professional landscaping company in a day. If you have a large property, hiring a professional will probably be necessary. It might be too big of a job for you to do yourself.
For smaller properties, installing sod is a pretty straightforward (if labor-intensive) project. I have an in-depth guide about laying sod that will guide you through every step of the process.
An advantage of sod is that you won’t have to deal with lots of mud or dust following install.
When comparing sod vs seed for a new lawn installation, sod delivers instant curb appeal and a healthy, mature lawn. Your new lawn will require minimal work to care for and maintain as it becomes established on your property. You’ll just need to water regularly at first.
Sod is also a better option for any areas of your lawn that are prone to erosion or are sloped. This is because grass seed has a difficult time taking hold in these kinds of conditions. With seed you risk having the grass seed or seedlings run off in a heavy rain.
Precisely how long sod will take to root into your soil can vary by season, by the type of grass in your sod, and by how well you prepare your lot for your new sod.
The Right Starter Fertilizer Ensures Success
Be aware that adequate rooting is necessary to the grass’s health and hardiness. Using a high quality starter fertilizer designed to encourage root growth is a good way to improve your results.
The best times of year to lay down sod are the spring and fall in northern lawns. I like to lay sod in fall in the transitional zone. Late spring works well in the south with warm-season grasses that grow best during the heat of summer.
The most important thing to consider when laying sod is availability of water. This is followed by leveling and loosening the soil where it will be installed. Finally, providing a high quality, phosphorous-rich starter fertilizer to promote root growth will ensure success.
I like Espoma’s Bio-Tone (Amazon link), an organic product that I use all the time in my garden. In my opinion there’s nothing better for promoting healthy root development when adding any plant to the landscape.
Your sod should be staggered when installed in a running bond pattern. And really butt the pieces up against one another tightly. There’s always a little turf shrinkage after installation. Making a point to get the sod tight or even overlapping slightly will help you avoid bare patches.
Other Things To Consider with Sod
One disadvantage of a sod lawn is that if the installation is improper (if you just lay sod over existing grass, for example) the roots may never establish themselves quite as well as what you’ll get from a lawn grown from seed.
For obvious reasons, sod is also much more expensive than seed. After all, one component of the price is the time and resources that have been spent growing the grass under ideal conditions in the first place.
Many homeowners are surprised to learn that sod isn’t always necessarily weed-free. It’s important to be aware of that if this is the avenue you choose to take, and to choose your supplier carefully.
If you decide to go the sod route, you will have to choose from only a limited number of different kinds of grass. This is because most sod farms use only specific species of grass for each product.
When deciding what species of grass to purchase for your new lawn, you need to take the climate of your region, the light conditions of your lot, and the soil in your yard into consideration. Grass that grows great in an open field of rich loam and under full sun may whither and die in your shady lot with heavy clay soil.
Do research to find out about the species of grass that thrive best where you are. Also think about what your preferences and time availability are in terms of lawn maintenance.
It’s important you get a type of grass that will fit your needs.
Why Choose Grass Seed Instead of Sod?
Growing a lawn from seed can be extremely satisfying, but only if you’re committed to putting in the preparation, and the time required to nurture your seedlings as your new lawn establishes itself.
Many homeowners fail when trying to grow a lawn from seed because they don’t follow-through. Missing a day or two of watering can be the difference between success and failure, so be honest with yourself about whether or not you’re ready to commit to growing a new lawn from seed.
One advantage of seed is the fact that you can be more selective in terms of the type of grass you want.
For example, you can choose to go with a seed blend that best suits your needs, researching the different species and their specifications first.
Even if you decide to buy the most expensive type of seed mix, you’ll still find that it’s much more affordable than any kind of sod you can lay in your lawn, so often you can grow a higher-quality lawn from seed than you could get when installing sod … it will just take more time and effort to achieve the lawn of your dreams.
Seeding Your Lawn
The best time of year to plant grass seed for most lawns is the early fall. This is because spring usually brings a greater density of annual weeds which will flourish in the conditions you’ll be creating for your new lawn to grow. This can interfere with grass growth, and even crowd out your young seedlings or rob them of the water you’re delivering.
In order to be successful in growing your own grass from seed, you will have to be consistently patient and attentive to lawn maintenance.
If you want to use seed, you’ll be thrilled to learn that over the long term, it tends to result in a healthier and even more beautiful lawn than sod can give you. As long as you have the patience necessary to see the process of seed growth and root establishment through, you can do better over the longer term.
When you grow grass from seed, the grass will live long term in the soil it originally grew in. This gives it the greatest likelihood of success.
Drawbacks of Starting a New Lawn with Grass Seed
A drawback of starting a lawn from seed vs sod is that it will take longer to grow the kind of lawn you want. There will also be several weeks where your neighbors think you’re weird for spending so much time watering a big patch of dirt.
Patience is a virtue, though, and if you’re willing to put in the time required, you will be rewarded with a lush green lawn.
Be aware that you might come across some challenges in growing grass from seed, however.
For example, re-seeding or overseeding your lawn is sometimes necessary. Grass seed might not take properly in specific spots, could be damaged, or you might just want to reinvigorate your lawn with young plants to keep it thick and healthy.
For obvious reasons, planting seed is much messier than laying sod. It will involve much more work in the soil, tilling or raking and leveling your lot, dust, and water from the irrigation that will surely get you soaked pretty much every day. So get ready for a messy job.
How Soil Preparation Differs for Sod vs Seed
Soil preparation is essential, regardless of whether you choose to grow a lawn from seed or sod. Even sod can fail to take root or thrive if you don’t prepare your soil appropriately.
Proper soil preparation is a critical component to ensuring a lovely and long-lasting lawn for your property. This is true with either type of installation project.
My #1 piece of advice is to start your project by performing a soil test. This will give you information on the characteristics of the soil, the nutrients your yard has in abundance, and some areas where your soil may be coming up short. I use this kit from Amazon which gives me a lab analysis of my soil in an online dashboard. I can highly recommend it.
If you have clay soil, you will have to add some organic matter in order to amend it. This organic matter could be a material such as peat, or screened compost.
Something else you may be required to do is add in some potassium, phosphorus, or nitrogen fertilizer. It will depend on the time of year. The nice thing about the soil test kit I linked above is it gives you specific recommendations on the best fertilizer for your lot. This ensures you’ll see the best possible results (and don’t waste money spreading nutrients your yard already has in abundance.
Choose the Option that Works Best for You
Take the size and characteristics of your property, your personal preferences, and your budget into consideration. These should guide you when making the decision whether to start your new lawn by sod vs seed.
There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to growing a new lawn. If you need to sell your home in a hurry and are looking for instant curb-appeal, go with sod.
Locked down in a global pandemic and looking for a project? Go with seed.
Somewhere in between? I hope some of the information I’ve shared in this article helps to steer you in the right direction.
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