Which is Better: Grass Seed or Sod?

Grass seed in hand
Pride of ownership in your new home doesn't stop where its walls begin and end. From the front curb to your lot lines, your new lawn echoes your commitment to this investment and the statement it makes. Whether you inherited a less-than-stellar lawn or you're starting with bare soil after new construction, there's no better time to get your lawn on track. Understanding the differences of sod versus seed sets a course for the lush, vibrant lawn you aspire to grow.

Evaluating Your Starting Point

When faced with an existing lawn, your first decision is whether to work with what's there or start over. Carefully examine the lawn for weeds, undesirable grasses and areas that look weak or diseased. As a general rule, if your lawn has less than 40 percent weeds, improving what you have is a viable option. It takes diligence, but overseeding existing grass and eliminating weeds can turn marginal lawns around. If your lawn has more than 40 to 50 percent weeds or numerous areas of dead or struggling grass, it's best to start from scratch and totally renovate.

Get to know your soil and its challenges before you move on to sod or seed. Take a tip from the pros and test your soil; it's an integral part of any successful lawn project. Test results and recommendations eliminate guesswork with an in-depth look into essentials such as soil pH, organic matter and potential availability of necessary nutrients. With your starting point confirmed, you can fertilize and amend your soil with confidence and improve its ability to support dense, healthy grass.
Badminton rackets on grass

Examining Options for Sod or Seed

Whether you establish your new lawn from sod or seed, all the personal and environmental benefits that natural lawns offer can be yours. Both approaches lead to beautiful, healthy, sustainable lawns, but the methods differ significantly from the start.

With sod, a sod farmer does the growing for you. Harvested sod consists of mature grass and a soil layer, held together by netting or severed grass roots. It's sold in ruglike rolls ready to be unfurled, and it comes with a unique set of pros and cons:

Advantages of sod

  • Instant results. Newly installed sod offers immediate gratification. It's not ready for normal lawn traffic, but it instantly gives the look of finished lawn.
  • Fast establishment. Handled and installed properly, new sod generally takes just two to three weeks to root well and become established.
  • Immediate erosion control. On slopes or areas with erosion problems, sod works as a blanket to help hold soil in place from the start.
  • Flexibility in timing. Sod can be installed anytime in the growing season, except in very high heat. Sod roots fastest when laid during the period of peak growth for the type of grass involved.
  • Limited weeds. Quality, state-certified sod has few or no weeds. It outcompetes weed seeds that that try to move in early on.
  • Quick traffic turnaround. Once sod roots establish, it's ready for normal lawn traffic, including entertaining, play and pets.
Rolling out sod
Disadvantages of sod
  • High initial cost. Finished sod carries a higher price tag than comparable grass seed coverage.
  • High labor expense. Improper installation leads to poor rooting, visible seams and failed, unsightly lawns. Effective results may require trained professionals.
  • Restricted grass choices. Sod limits you to grass varieties sod farmers choose. This means fewer choices matched to your unique home and lawn goals. Take time to seek out farmers who grow premium, top-performing grasses, such as Water Star varieties.
  • Different growing conditions. Growing conditions in your yard may vary significantly from where sod was grown. Adjustments to different light levels and soil conditions can be difficult. Most sod is grown in full sun, so shady lawns can be challenging for sod.
  • Short transplanting window. Fresh sod must be laid as soon as possible after harvest, ideally within 24 hours of being cut.
With grass seed, you become the grower. This allows you to influence and experience every step of your lawn's establishment, from germination and rooting to the development of thick, lush, green turf. Starting a lawn from seed has its own distinct set of considerations:
Advantages of grass seed
  • Lower initial cost. The cost of premium grass seed is much less when compared to the cost of sod for the same size lawn.
  • Low labor investment. Seeding a lawn is a simple process when you follow best practices for planting grass seed. You can avoid common mistakes – even as a first timer.
  • Expanded grass choices. Seed allows great flexibility in choosing grass varieties to match your growing conditions and complement your environmental and ecological values and desires. Choosing grasses suited to your geography, light and soil translates to better performance and less maintenance, which means more leisure time for you. For example, Pennington Smart Seed./sup> grasses require significantly less water than ordinary grasses, offer improved resistance to disease and pests, and come in regional mixes and blends to match your needs.
  • Established in place. With seed, your grasses continue to grow in the same place where they germinate and root. Grasses can grow deep and healthy root systems, undisturbed.
Growing grass
Disadvantages of grass seed
  • Defined window for seeding. To establish well, seed should be sown during peak growth times for the grass involved. For example, germination and growth of cool-season grasses favor cool conditions, so early fall is the best time to plant these seeds. Improper timing leads to failed seed or weak grass susceptible to insects and disease.
  • Gradual initial establishment. Germination speeds vary between grasses, but newly seeded lawns may need up to 10 to 12 weeks before they're ready for even light foot traffic. Weather also influences growing speeds.
  • Greater initial maintenance. Watering is critical during seed establishment. Careful monitoring and attention are essential in this phase.
  • Erosion potential. Until roots establish, seed and soil can wash away or pool in heavy rains and void your efforts.
  • Weed competition. Grass seeds are vulnerable to competition from weed seeds for water, light and nutrients. Proper fall planting helps, because weeds are less active in fall.
  • Longer maturation time. A newly seeded lawn needs one full growing season before it's dense, mature and established well enough to withstand vigorous lawn traffic.
Whether you chose to establish your new lawn from sod or seed, protect your investment by keeping your lawn in peak condition. Nurture your grass with regular fertilization, wise watering and proper mowing techniques, and you'll soon be enjoying the rewards.

Pennington is committed to helping you grow the finest lawn possible. With a hand from Pennington's educational resources and premium lawn and garden products, your new lawn can be everything you want it to be.
Grass 101