A New Lawn: Sod vs. Seed

As mentioned in this previous post, we moved in to a new house last fall, which means we get to install a new yard. And while I am very much a proponent of everyone including more trees, shrubs, perennial flowers, and even annuals in their gardens, I cannot deny that I am also a fan of grass. There’s just something about walking barefoot on the cool grass in the summer.

There are a lot of reasons to reduce the amount of grass in your yard: it can be terribly water inefficient, it requires a lot of maintenance, you can’t eat it or make a bouquet out of it, etc. But, there are some reasons to still include at least some grass in your plans: it doesn’t have to be water inefficient or require a lot of maintenance, and while you still can’t eat it or make a bouquet out of it, you can play tag or Frisbee or red-rover or football or (insert favorite activity here) on it and it will withstand the traffic and stress much better than, say, a bed of pansies. And it will be a lot more comfortable than doing said activities on gravel or amongst the roses.

So, while I’m not advocating endless expanses of emerald green turf, I do believe there is a place for at least some lawn in the home garden. If you’re building a garden from scratch, like we are, your next question then is probably something like this, “Ok, so we want a lawn. Should we plant seed or sod?”

Here are some points to consider:

  • I don’t know if this is true for every sod farm, but where I live the sod options are limited to Kentucky Bluegrass and …Kentucky Bluegrass. If you are looking for a custom blend or a particular species of turf grass, then seed would be the route to take.
  • If you are on a tight budget, seeding is a good option since you’re paying just for the seed and perhaps the application of it. Though, if you’re going to do it yourself, you may also need some specialized equipment to make sure the seed is evenly applied across the area.
  • Sod, on the other hand, while more expensive per square foot of grass, needs no specialized equipment for installation once the initial soil prep is done – which is is the same for both seed and sod.
  • One of the hardest things about successful establishment of a lawn through seed is that those seeds need water to germinate. And if they dry out before those roots are established there’s no going back. This is why hydroseeding is so popular. The grass seed is applied with a protective mulch that will help keep the seed from drying out too quickly. Water will still need to be applied at regular intervals those first few weeks, however, for successful establishment. And while those little grass seeds are getting regular water to help them grow along, so are any weed seeds that were in your soil. Competing against weeds to get a foothold is probably the other biggest hurdle your grass seeds will have to cross.
  • Sod, on the other hand, is basically a weave of mature plants that have been cut from where they were once growing and you will transplanting in a new location. It will still need regular watering to get those roots to take hold in your yard, but the water isn’t going to evaporate away as quickly as it would from a bare surface and the sod will be much more competitive against any newly emerging weed seedlings.
  • Another important factor for where I live is that sod is also not going to blow away. We get some strong canyon winds every morning and evening and I’m concerned that the seed wouldn’t have much of a fighting chance against the wind and the weeds.

I also really like the idea that with sod I’m getting an “instant” lawn. I know I’ll have to be a little patient and not walk on it for a few days, but the waiting period will be much shorter than if I was planting seed. And with an active toddler, keeping her off the germinating grass seed just sounds more exhausting than necessary.

The following two photos show the difference between starting a lawn from seed and starting a lawn from sod. Both seed and sod were applied last fall. The seeded lawn is patchy and fighting a lot of weeds. The sodded lawn, while still coming out of winter dormancy, is looking lush and full.

a photo of a lawn started from seed

A lawn in my neighborhood seeded last fall.

a picture of a sod lawn

A lawn in my neighborhood started from sod last fall.

Which have you done? Seed or sod? Would you do it again?

2 Comments

  1. This is a great discussion. I have put a lot of sod in over the years. It’s quick, easy and relatively lower maintenance. you usually have less weed problems because the sod farm has taken care of that. But it is more expensive. The question of sustainability also comes up because a slim layer top soil is removed with each crop. Once you remove all that then you need to “rebuild” your topsoil. (You can’t really rebuild a topsoil. But you can manage for nutrient requirements and organic matter content). I have more recently developed a love for seeded grass,it’s cheaper and but it’s more therapeutic than anything. I recommend it if you love managing your land, weed control, irrigation management, watching things grow, and you have a whole lot of patience. Basically, grow seed you want another hobby. I have mixed feelings about hydroseeding. I feel like it’s the worst of both worlds, the cost of sod with the irrigation, weed control and patience of seed. That being said, there are lots of places where it is the best fit.

    • You bring up a really good point about topsoil that I had never even stopped to consider. And while I do find it therapeutic to watch plants germinate and grow, I don’t know that I have the patience to watch my whole yard grow like that. Maybe that’s an argument for a smaller amount of grass?

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