Each spring and fall we get calls to “fix my lawn!” Customers often have an idea of what they want: sod (I want it now) or seed (I want low cost). As horticultural professionals who want to provide the most sustainable solution and the best value over time, here are our “CUES” when recommending seed, sod, or something else entirely:
Cost – While it’s true that seed is less expensive than sod, keep in mind that much of the cost of a good lawn installation is in preparing the soil. Adding compost and correcting pH and nutrient deficiencies account for most of the cost. If the budget is tight, consider improving the lawn over time by aerating, adding compost, and overseeding.
Purpose – Do you want a new lawn as a play area, because you like the calming look of a big expanse of green, or because turf is the default landscape use in our country? Lawns are great if you have kids and/or dogs and full sun. (Sun is important to help the grass survive the stress of constant foot traffic.) If this is not your situation, consider other options. A lawn alternative will be lower maintenance and provide greater aesthetic and environmental benefit than lawn.
Timing– The best time to start seed lawns is late Aug-Sept. Weed seeds germinate and establish faster than grass in spring and early summer, so wait until fall to seed if you don’t want a weedy new lawn! If you have the conditions and budget for sod, you can install any time from April to October.
Sun – Sod is composed mostly of Kentucky Blue Grass, mostly because it spreads by runners and holds together well as rolls of sod. Unfortunately, blue grass needs full sun (6+ hrs) to do well. If you bought a home with a shady lawn where they threw in sod to make the sale, you know what I mean. Starting from seed allows us to choose a more shade-tolerant grass blend in areas that get 4-6 hours of sun, or dappled shade. If your proposed lawn area gets less than 4 hours of sun, it’s likely to be an uphill battle to keep grass growing. Your landscape professional can offer other possibilities.
Want to know more? Check out The Organic Lawn Care Manual by Paul Tukey. And find more tips on sustainable landscape practices from Greenscapes, a local organization working to promote and protect beautiful landscapes.