Growing a beautiful lawn can be challenging. Many homeowners forgo the effort, water and time needed to sprout a grass lawn from seed. Instead, they purchase mature grass strips, known as sod, from professional landscapers and nurseries.
According to an early 20th century American Garden Club pamphlet, the best type of yard was one with "a plot with a single type of grass with no intruding weeds, kept mown at a height of an inch and a half, uniformly green, and neatly edged." Americans and others around the world have been striving to meet that standard of perfection for nearly a century, using several different varieties of sod.
American lawns are a relatively new development. This status symbol of American life led many homeowners to diligently nurture grass, even in climates that did not lend themselves to a gorgeous swath of green grass. Sod sales were boosted in 1915, when the American Garden Club encouraged lawn growth through contests. Sod is living grass that has been grown on farms specifically to raise lawn grasses. Using sod allows homeowners to have a ready-made green lawn directly from a sod farm.
When picking sod, be sure it has a decent root system. You will have to water the sod frequently in the first few weeks to help the roots establish themselves.
Be sure to consider your climate. St. Augustine tends to do well in hot areas, such as the Southern United States, Africa, Mexico and Australia. Kentucky Bluegrass is beautiful, soft grass, but it is a cool-climate grass that will not do well in hot, dry areas. Zoysia grass is preferred for golf courses and by lawn owners who have clay or sandy soil. Zoysia will tolerate heat and rough treatment. It is a dense grass that resists weeds. Prices will vary depending on the type of sod purchased, the season, and the location. Sold by either the foot or the yard, you will find sod from as little as 15 cents per foot to $1 or more per foot.
Cool Season Sod Types
Cool season sods are more likely to grow in cooler areas that have regular rainfall and limited days of temperatures above 90 degrees F.
Cool season grasses need cold winters and warm summers. These sod types require significant amounts of rain or consistent watering; drought will eventually kill them. Types of cool season sods include bentgrass, Kentucky Bluegrass, bluegrass (rgh) and fescue, ryegrass, both annual and perennial. Kentucky bluegrass grows into the stereotypical green lawn carpet. This grass will turn brown and go dormant during dry summer months. Bluegrass also does not do well in high-traffic areas.
Fescue and ryegrass are more drought tolerant than bluegrass. Fescue has a deeper root system than either bluegrass or ryegrass and will stay green through the summer.
Warm Season Sod Types
Warm season grasses generally require more care and maintenance than cool season grasses. Warm season grasses are also more likely to invade each other’s growing space than cool season grasses. The types of warm season grasses include bahia, Bermuda, buffalo, carpet, centipede, St. Augustine and zoysia.
Bahia is an exclusively warm season grass used in lawns on coastal areas. It is very drought-resistant and can grow in soils from sandy to clay.
The hybrid version of Bermuda grass is cold tolerant; the traditional variety is not. This grass can stand heavy use—it is often used on football and soccer fields.
Carpet grass will do better in wet areas than other grasses. It will grow in sun or shade.
Centipede grass does not do well in high-traffic areas. It does have some cold tolerance.
Saint Augustine grass is coarse in texture and may not be comfortable to walk on barefoot. It is not cold-tolerant and does not do well with heavy-foot traffic
Zoysia grass would be best in sunny, high traffic areas. This grass has good tolerance for colder temperatures.
If you live in an area that is not exclusively cool or warm, you will have to study your property. Examples of places that have temperate conditions include the states of Oklahoma, Missouri and Arkansas in the United States, where both types of sod will grow, but some sod varieties may be more sun-tolerant than others.
Transition zones may require some analysis of shady versus sunny spots to adequately grow a lush lawn, according to the experts at American-Lawns.com. AllAboutLawns.com suggests placing cool season grasses in shady spots and warm season grasses in places that receive direct sun for long periods.
The most likely sod types to do well in transition zones are Kentucky Bluegrass, fescue (tall), ryegrass, Thermal Blue and zoysia, according to American-Lawns.com, because they can adapt to either sunny or shady spots, and these varieties can tolerate drought better than other cool season grasses.
Good soil base is critical to the health of your lawn. Be sure you have an adequate amount of topsoil spread before laying the sod. Warm grasses typically go dormant during the winter. Some gardeners do an overseeding of annual ryegrass to keep their lawns green. Check with your local nursery, landscape architect or sod farm to determine which types of sod will do best in your lawn's microclimate. Consider the growing patterns of each type of sod, as well. American-Lawns.com notes that Kentucky Bluegrass is a short grass; fescue is a long, clumping grass. Growing both in the same lawn will result in clumps of fescue growing up out of bluegrass.
Sod has the advantage of being professionally grown and well-maintained before it is placed in your yard. It should be free of weeds. When sod is laid properly, there should be no gaps or bare spots. This ensures a denser grass root system area and a greener lawn than one grown from seed.