To Seed or Sod


Any homeowner with a lawn dreams of a thick green carpet of healthy grass, the kind that invites barefooted fun on a warm summer afternoon. It is possible to live the dream but it requires an investment of time and effort or outsourced help from trained experts. A big component of the desired blanket of green surrounding your home is the installation of seed and/or sod for even if your lawn is in magazine-centerfold-shape now, without proper TLC, your grass will begin to thin and develop bare spots which in turn will make it vulnerable to invasive weeds.

Northern lawns

(with cool season grasses such as Bluegrass, Fescues or Ryegrass) 

By fall, most northern lawns can use some sprucing up. Sometimes trouble spots can be re-established, but often yard damage has gotten so extreme that complete renovation is necessary. In such cases, there are essentially two repair options: seeding or sodding. Seeding means establishing a new area of grass from scratch. Laying sod is done by installing a mature grassy roll of carpet, creating an instant lawn. Both methods have their strengths and weaknesses, so the best option will depend on your situation.

Seeding requires some patience in that the grass will need time to develop, whereas sod provides mature grass immediately. When seeding, timing is somewhat limited because new grass seed will be particularly vulnerable to weather and weeds; seeding is best done in the fall, distanced from ever-present spring weeds and summer’s heat. Sod can be laid from spring through fall, so there is not a timing constraint, although sodding in hot weather increases the risk of drought damage to the new sod. Areas subject to erosion can be difficult to seed effectively in that seed can be swept away by runoff before it has the chance to establish itself. With sod, soil is protected while the sod takes root.

A quick glance at this overview of seeding and sodding may make sod seem like the clear choice; however, there is no clear winner when it comes to fixing your lawn. Seeding has several advantages as well.

  • Sod is grown much like a farm crop in large, open fields. Because of this, grass grown as sod is used to plentiful sunlight and does not do well in the shade. If your property has many trees or is otherwise shady, this may be an issue.
  • Along these same lines, sod offers less variety in the types of grass available. With seed, there are many options.
  • Though it may take a while for root systems to develop from seed, once well established, they are typically in it for the long haul. Since sod is transplanted, you run the risk that it will not properly take hold in its new environment.
  • Finally, seeding is drastically less expensive than laying sod–always a pertinent factor in any landscaping decision.

Southern lawns 

(with warm season grasses like Bermudagrass, Zoysia, St Augustine and Bahiagrass)

Generally the best time to repair southern lawns are in the late spring or summer. Only Bahiagrass and common Bermudagrass produce viable seed so more often than not, southern lawns are repaired by sodding or planting plugs of sod. With proper care, plugs grow in solid in eight to 12 weeks. Seeding Bermudagrass has traditionally limited lawns to a wide bladed grass that produces a coarse textured lawn; however, plant breeders have recently developed seed for some thinner bladed varieties that are now commercially available.

One of the limitations of most southern grasses is that they don’t grow well in the shade. One variety, St. Augustine, which is adapted to grow in Florida and along the Gulf and Atlantic coastal areas, is the most shade tolerant but it is sensitive to cold in many other areas. With such limitations, if you have thin grass in shady sports of your lawn, you should consider options other than grass such as mulch or ground covering plants.

Whether you are revitalizing your existing lawn or starting out from scratch, there are multiple ways to build rich, healthy grass. Most homeowners don’t know that difference in grasses and often take a one-size-fits-all approach to lawn care. Different grass – and seed and sod – all offer varied considerations. Consult a lawn care expert to help determine the best options for your yard and whatever special conditions it holds.

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