The Anatomy of a Great NEW LAWN

Updated: Nov 22


healthy large green lawn
Large, green, freshly mowed lawn.

New Lawn, Should You Choose Sod or Seed?


Deciding to use sod or seed to establish a new lawn is essential. Budget, time constraints, season, slopes, and market forces are some of the planning factors.


SOD IS EXPENSIVE

Seeding a lawn is less expensive than sod. Sod must be grown, maintained, harvested, transported, and installed. Because of the thin layer of topsoil below the grass plants, sod is heavy when stacked in large quantities, which adds to the transportation costs.


Suppose you don’t have to bring in topsoil or deal with an existing lawn. In that case, seeding is easy because the materials aren’t heavy or expensive. Just raking, seeding, back dragging, mulching, and watering is left to do. There’s much less labor involved with a seeded lawn, so it costs less.


SOD ESTABLISHES FASTER THAN SEED

If you’re a homeowner and have children and dogs, you might want to install sod so that you don’t get dirt and mud tracked in the house. After 3 or 4 weeks, a sodded lawn is ready for light activity. However, depending on the season, it could take up to 2 months before a seeded lawn could take much foot traffic.


A SEEDED LAWN IS AFFECTED MORE BY THE SEASONS

Seeding a lawn in the spring can be challenging. You can almost count on having to reseed a portion or all of your yard following a downpour. There’s about a 3-week window where a homeowner needs to worry about losing their newly seeded lawn. It’s a sinking feeling to come home from work to see piles of straw, seed, and silt in the gutter after a gully washer.


If the ground isn’t frozen and you can make good contact with the soil, sod can be installed. In the fall, the roots will grow while the upper parts of the grass plant begin to go dormant.


With seed, you have to get it spread early enough to provide enough time for the roots to establish before a hard freeze. Typically, a month is enough time. You can also seed during cold temperatures, and the seed will remain dormant over winter. This method is called dormant seeding. The problem with this method is that much seed is eaten or rots over winter. Usually, you have to reseed the majority of the yard.


THE SLOPE OF THE LAND MUST BE CONSIDERED

The steeper the slope, the more risk there is when seeding a lawn. There are erosion control methods like jute mesh, seeded mats, and more, but I’ve seen days of work heaped at the bottom of a slope from one storm. After a sod lawn is installed with landscape staples on the slopes, it takes a catastrophic storm to move it.


SOMETIMES YOU NEED INSTANT CURB APPEAL

A sodded lawn has an immediate impact. You can see a property in the morning, just dirt and weeds, and then come back in the evening with a lush green lawn. On the other hand, with a seeded lawn, you’ve got at least a couple of weeks of thin, sparse lawns or just plain dirt.


If you’re trying to sell a house or lease retail space, it might be worth paying more for sod. Visually it makes a big difference. It puts the icing on the cake.


SO, WHAT DO I DO?

I prefer to seed a lawn. It takes time to establish a seeded lawn, but in the long run, it’s better. The reason is that the seed will germinate and start growing immediately into the soil in which it ultimately needs to grow.


With sod, there’s a foreign layer of soil being brought in, and there can be issues with the bond between the existing soil and the introduced layer attached to the sod. As a result, grass plant roots in the sod can sometimes have difficulty penetrating the topsoil.


So, if you can seed your new lawn, do it. You can also do a combination of installing seed and sod on larger yards. You can sod troublesome areas like swales (areas in lawn to channel water) and steeper slopes. This method looks strange for a while, but if you can use the same type of seed as the sod, it will blend nicely over time.


Lastly, whether you use seed or sod, the soil must be adequately prepared before the installation. Have a soil test done at a state university with a horticulture and agriculture program. I send my samples to the University of Massachusetts. The soil test analysis will tell you what your soil lacks and what to add to it to improve it.


If the soil you plan to grow a lawn is hard and compacted, you want to break up the surface by scarifying or rototilling. You’ll want to add any recommended soil amendments while the soil surface is broken. Rototill to 6” depth, just enough to break up dirt clods into pieces, but don’t overdo it. Grade and rake the soil surface so the site drains correctly and you’re ready to install your lawn.


For the first 3 or 4 weeks, proper moisture must be maintained while the seed or sod tries to grow into the landscape. You don’t want puddling or significant runoff, but you never want the soil to dry out. Provide the proper water, and you’ll have a great lawn.

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