Lawn Care: Sodding vs. Seeding

Sodding vs seeding

In this article, we consider the case for sodding versus seeding. Both methods have their pros and cons. Seeding is cheaper, has more varieties to choose from, the roots will grow deeper and will thus be better resistant to extreme weather. The downsides are that it takes longer to establish, it can only be done in the fall and it needs a lot of watering.

Sodding has the advantage that it is fast and can be done in any season. It costs more, is labor intensive, the choice of types of grasses is limited and needs a fair amount of watering too.

Choosing Seeds

We’ll start with reading the label. Laws require that all seed providers have to label the specific contents. You’ll know the percentage of the weight of seeds in there, and the percentage compared to what else is in the bag. We also prefer brands that specify planting so many seeds per square foot. Or sometimes by the square yard.

It’s good to remember the basics. You can choose between a shady lawn, a luxury lawn or a nice general kind of lawn. We tend to prefer the latter. That’s when we want to get a good selection of grasses that can stand up to a lot of hard wear. We mean grass that can get regularly trampled by crazy dogs and crazier kids. There’s more regular mowing and lawn care involved, but that’s worth the effort. Besides, we have kids to do that for us. The dog’s no good, though. Anyway, the important thing is that you get a lot of wear out of a lawn with fescues (red and tall), browntop, and ryegrass.

A more sprawling lawn might involve seeding of the shady variety. That’s the kind of grass that can do well underneath the shade, like if you have a lot of trees in your backyard. You’ll also want a shady lawn if there’s a lot of hedges lining your area. A shady lawn has blades of grass that are very fine. That includes slender red fescue and hard fescue.

If you’re a really swinging suburbanite, and you can keep those damn kids off your lawn, then you can invest in a luxury lawn. There won’t be as much mowing involved as you maintain creeping red fescue and chewings fescue.

The one consistent to all of those lawns is the presence of browntop. Nothing wrong with browntop, folks. That doesn’t mean that you’re buying a bad brand of lawn seedlings. Just be sure that any ryegrass that you’re getting is packaged as “fine.” “Turf” is good, too. As we’ve noted before, you really do get what you pay for when it comes to your lawn. The neighbors will thank you for being vigilant. We tend to buy upscale when it comes to grass seed.

A quality brand might still contain some weed seed, but not much. You should be able to even see which weeds are in the bag, so that’ll help you avoid toxic ones. You also want a brand that’s low on filler. That kind of inert matter is just going to take up space that could be used for seeds. You’ll also find a germination rate on the label. That’s how much of the seeds you can expect to actually grow some grass. It’s perfectly realistic to go for a germination rate of at least 75%.

Check the test date, too. We haven’t had a lot of problems with older seeds, but you’re not going to want anything that’s more than ten months past its test date. That germination rate is going to start slipping after that.

Planting the seeds

For the actual planting, start with some fertilizer on the surface. Go with a high phosphorus rate and mix it at 1-2-1. Don’t dig it into the dirt. Just let it rest there. We’re not big fans of fertilizers that claim to control weeds. They’re not going to be healthy for the grass.

We’ve never had a preference between casting the seed by hand, or using a hand caster or going with a spreader on wheels. The important thing is to follow the directions and only apply as much seed as the label recommends.

If the packaging doesn’t come with a suggestion, then try the old reliable rule of 16 to 22 seeds for every square inch. The best way is to cast the seeds out twice while aiming for about ten seeds with each casting. Try to do this on a day with no winds. (If you’re having a windy September, try applying a very thin layering of humus over the soil.) Do some light raking into the soil–but very light. Try to work just 1/8 of an inch down.

Taking care of the seeds

Then it’s time to break out the lawn roller (an empty one) and roll the soil to get the seeds down into the dirt. From there, it’s just steady watering over the next three to four weeks. Very steady watering. It’ll be pretty disastrous if you let the soil go dry. Water the area steadily, too. You don’t want to wash away seeds. Keep the growth even.

Watch out for animals and resist the urge to mow your lawn until you have at least a third of the suggested height for mowing.


grass sods

Of course, we’ve just covered a few reasons why the time is ideal for seeding. Still, there are sodding activists out there who insist on arguing.

We can all agree, however, that a good lawn begins with good soil. So you should start with a soil test to measure the acidity and pH. You should also do some serious tilling and try to lay waste to any perennial weeds.

Then you can get to sodding, and, yes, probably get a lawn going faster than with seed. We’ve never seen sod that had a good range of grass seeds included, though. You also have to worry about using sod if your coming season is dry. You can’t leave it around. We recommend rolling out any sod you purchase on that same day. Then get ready to do a lot more watering than with seeds. You have to really lay it on to get the roots of sod into the soil. Then you can start cutting back slowly after the first three weeks.

But if you go with seeding, well, it’s going to cost a lot less, and not just in your water bill. You also get to buy all kinds of grass seeds. That kind of thing is really fun. We’ve also had a lot more luck with seeding when it comes to a lawn that really holds up to the elements. That’s worth the extra work it takes to go planting those seeds.We don’t mean to suggest that you’re not going to be watering those seeds, either. It’s a full month of watering every day, but we’re just talking about ten minute stretches about four times a day.

You’re also not going to be very fond of birds. They tend to swoop down and eat seeds, so watch out for them–and we guess the sod holds up better when a dog decides to roam around your yard. Those are standard suburban woes, though.

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