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Seed or Sod?

This week’s Dirty Little Secret provides the scoop on which turf grass option offers the best solution, depending on the circumstances.

We live in a world of instant-gratification—movies on demand, meals ready to eat, next day delivery from Amazon…and instant turf grass. During many landscape projects, the decision to seed a lawn or sod a lawn is debated, with each side offering good reasons to achieve that beautiful turf many Americans have come to love. This week’s Dirty Little Secret provides the scoop on which turf grass option offers the best solution, depending on the circumstances.


The Good

The primary reason many consider seed is an up-front lower cost. Since a bag of turf seed can cover thousands of square feet, and one roll of sod covers 10, it’s easy to see how that single bag of grass seed can be attractive. In addition, broadcasting seed is less labor intensive in the short term. There’s also the argument over long-term root development and turf health—many argue that seeded turf yields better roots, and thus a healthier turf in the short term.

The Bad

Seeded turf can be a great solution, if timing and environmental factors allow. But the window of time in which seed can germinate is limited to after last frost until mid-summer, as temperature extremes prohibit healthy growth. Since bluegrass seed takes 15-30 days to germinate, there’s a lot of time spent looking at bare soil, during which time erosion, weeds, birds, and pets can quickly dig into that short term savings of selecting seed. Seed also requires constant moisture to keep new seedlings viable.


The Good

Soil-backed sod is farm-raised mature turf, cut fresh and delivered daily. Sod farms cover hundreds of acres, taking on the laborious front-end work of growing grass so turf can be transplanted for an instant impact.

Since sod is mature turf, it only needs to be rolled out on a well-graded yard and watered in place. And watered, and watered, and watered…. Depending on time of year and sunlight levels, new sod can become a chore to keep watered until its transplanted roots get reestablished. An irrigation system can help, but adds cost to the project bottom line. Since sod is already growing, it’s instant coverage, keeping mud off properties and pets. It can be installed sooner and later in the growing season, and can be used quicker than seeded lawns can after establishment.

The Bad

Cost of sod is always initially higher than seed, to account for its growing, transporting, installation, and watering needs. Since sod is grown in sunny fields from sun-tolerant grass seed, it doesn’t tend to work well in shady gardens, or will require extensive overseeding with shady seed as the turf transitions. Since sod is heavily fertilized and dark green, there’s often a noticeable color difference when installed next to existing turf, at least for the first season.

Final Thoughts

In the long term, the cost of the two turf options can come close to each other, especially when seed needs to be helped along with additional labor to become established. Seed requires more patience, but can deliver a healthy turn over time if willing to invest in the additional establishing work. Balancing time of year, cost and labor considerations, patience, and site conditions are the best way to determine which approach is the best.

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