When you plant a new lawn, the first concern, of course, is the long-term health of the grass. Poor grass growth is unsightly as well as an invitation to weeds. Both laying sod and seeding a freshly tilled area can give good results but the considerations differ. Choose according to your needs and, if possible, resist the urge for the instant results laying sod seems to give. Both seeded and sodded lawns need care.
Sowing grass seed is considerably less expensive than buying sod and the preparation work is the same -- loosening and, if needed, improving the soil to give the plants a good growing medium. The spreading of seed also involves less time and effort than the laying of sod.
The attraction of being able to roll out a layer of grass, water it in and sit back and enjoy the instant green is considerable, however. While expensive, the results are more predictable if given reasonable care. Because the exposure of bare soil is eliminated, sod is less subject to erosion on slopes and to invasion by germinating weed seeds.
Grass seeds need moisture to germinate and the young plants need moisture to develop and put down roots. During hot weather, it may be difficult to keep grass seed watered, though a light mulch of straw will help. Depending on your area, you may be able to seed in fall and take advantage of the rain. In many areas, late spring and early summer sowings are less successful than those done in fall or early spring.
Sod is less picky about timing and weather than seed and can be installed in most seasons. Because the roots are very shallow, sod needs frequent watering in warm weather but will not dry out as quickly as grass seed.
With both sod and grass seed, make sure that the varieties included are the ones recommended for your area. Local nurseries usually have a seed mixture approved by your county's extension service.
For best root growth, buy sod that is freshly cut and that has been grown on soil similar to your own.
Caring For Sod
Push a heavy roller, usually available for rent, over the sod for best root contact with the soil. Water immediately and regularly until the roots grow deep enough to withstand some dryness. Drench the sod with enough water to reach the ground beneath to a depth of 4 to 6 inches. Put off fertilizing until the next seasonal recommended application, either spring or fall.
Caring For Seed
Spread the seed no more thickly than recommended to avoid crowded, weak growth. Roll the seedbed as you would sod for best contact with the soil. Mulch lightly with straw or other material and keep the surface of the ground moist until the new plants are about an inch tall, watering lightly but frequently, perhaps even several times a day. Water more deeply and less often as the plants get taller. Keep foot traffic to a minimum until the lawn is mature.