Finding the best option for your new lawn means considering several important factors.

You’ve got a new patch of lawn that needs covering. Which type of grass should you go with: sod or seed? Here’s what you need to know.

What is sod?

Sod is a ready-made product designed to give you an instant lawn. When you purchase sod, you’re essentially buying grass plus roots (and some soil), all rolled up and ready to unfurl like a series of mini-rugs onto your space. Sod is usually grown on local turf farms. When an order comes in, workers will cut, trim and roll the sod; pack it onto a truck; and then deliver it right to your door.

What is lawn seed?

Lawn seed is just like it sounds: individual seeds grown and processed for use by landscapers and homeowners. When buying lawn seed, you’ll have a large variety of grass types available: from cool season grasses to deep-rooted, drought-tolerant fescue mixes. Spreading lawn seed is best done using a spreader for even coverage.

What is overseeding?

Overseeding your lawn is the process of replacing old grass with new–and often different–grass seed. Overseeding requires some preparation before sowing, such as aerating, dethatching, and often fertilizing.

Now that we’ve sorted out lawn cultivation methods, consider the following questions to find which one is right for you.

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Do you have sun or shade?

The type of lawn you choose is governed by how much sunlight your area receives. Since most sod cultivated in North America requires sunny conditions to grow, it’s wise to look at other options unless your yard receives full sunlight (6 to 8 hours each day).

If your yard is shaded by trees or buildings, sowing a lawn from seed is your best bet. Just be sure to choose a grass seed suitable for shady or mixed conditions. This will be indicated on your brand of choice. Some varieties are good for a broad range of light conditions.

If you need a lawn more quickly than seeding will provide, you can first lay sod and later overseed with shade-tolerant grasses. Over time, the sown grasses will replace the sod as it dies back from lack of sun. The best time to plant sod and lawn seed is in spring or early fall.

How big is your space and budget?

If you’re looking to cover a large area, seeding will be the most economical choice. Sod costs on average 35 to 85 cents per square foot. If you want that installed by a professional, the costs are greater. Lawn seed, on the other hand, costs an average of 3 to 6 cents per square foot. The costs to have a lawn seeded by a professional are also greater, though still less than using sod.

Do you want to water regularly?

When you first install sod, you’ll need to water it multiple times a day to keep it moist while it develops roots. After three to four weeks, you can reduce the frequency of watering, while increasing the amount per watering session. Since sod grasses are usually quite shallow-rooted, you’ll need to develop a regular watering schedule to keep roots alive. An established lawn needs 1 to 1.5 inches a week of water.

With a custom-seeded lawns, you have the option of choosing drought-tolerant grass seed or other ground cover mixes such as microclover and microclover blends. These require less watering than conventional sod or lawn seed.

Related: Drought Survival for Lawns

How often do you want to mow?

Most conventional lawn blends, including sod grass, require mowing once or twice a week during the growing season. If you prefer a no- or low-mow option, try Eco-Lawn or a microclover mix. These lawn alternatives have the added benefit of looking beautiful when left unmowed.

A blended lawn, one featuring fescue grasses, clover and other, drought-tolerant plantings, is a wise choice.

Are you looking for a low-impact lawn?

As noted above, sod requires more water and maintenance over the long term than the deeper rooted fescues on the market today. If you’re looking to cut your water bill and use less energy in your natural lawn care routine, you may prefer to sow your own lawn from one or more of the many environmentally friendly seeds available.

Are you planting on a slope?

While establishing any grass on a slope can be tricky, there are a few considerations that can help make your planting more successful. First, if you are simply looking to cover an area but aren’t concerned about erosion control, laying sod across the slope of the hill is the easiest method. If, however, you want to stabilize the soil in a sloped area, choose a deeper rooted grass seed that’s quick to establish. Over time, the root systems will form a network that will hold your soil in place.

What about soil type?

Both sodded and sown lawns do best when installed on prepared soil that’s predominantly loam (a combination of clay, sand and organic matter). If you’re unsure about the nutrients in your yard, you can perform some soil testing to get more information about soil conditions. Mixing finished compost or turf starter fertilizer into the planting area will help aerate the top layer and establish a pH favorable to grasses.

And the winner is...

Both sod and lawn seed have pluses and minuses. What you choose will depend on your location, goals and budget. Here’s a quick summary to help you find the best fit.

Pre-grown sod

  • Quick installation.

  • Lush, green varieties.

  • Established root system for instant growth.
  • Expensive for larger areas.

  • Limited options for choosing grass varieties,

  • Only grows well in sunny areas.

  • Requires more frequent watering once established.

Lawn seed

  • Inexpensive to install.

  • Wide variety of grasses to choose from.

  • Ideal for sun, shade or part shade.

  • Longer to establish.

  • May need overseeding if first sowing doesn’t provide even coverage.

  • May need protection from birds and foot traffic while establishing.

If you’re lucky enough to have full sun and a generous budget, you have your pick of options. The choice is yours. Just remember: both options will do best when installed on prepared soil according to the grower’s instructions. Your green lawn is only a few steps away.

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