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Seeding and sodding home lawns

Quick facts

  • Seeding is less expensive, but takes more time to establish a lawn.
  • Sodding is more more expensive, but provides instant results.
  • Both seeding and sodding need good soil preparation before starting.

When establishing a new lawn, a common question asked is, "Should I seed or sod?" Both have advantages and disadvantages. With new establishments, there are three important steps to consider:

  1. Selecting the turfgrass
  2. Preparing the site
  3. Caring for the new lawn

Timing and site-specific conditions may also influence your decision. For example, sodding will provide an immediate lawn to protect the soil if the site is susceptible to erosion, but it is more expensive than seeding.

Rows of new turfgrass seedlings; soil is still visible in areas.
Newly planted turfgrass seed
 An area of recently laid sod being irrigated.
Newly installed sod

The pros and cons

The most important difference between seeding and sodding is the time necessary for developing a mature or durable turf. Here are some of the advantages and disadvantages of each establishment method.

Seeding

Advantages

  • More grass species and varieties to choose from
  • Less expensive than sodding
  • Stronger root system development initially and long term
  • No layering of soil types to cause rooting problems

Disadvantages

  • Initial establishment is takes more time
  • For best results, time of seeding is limited mainly to late summer and early fall
  • Moisture is critical for the young seedlings
  • It takes nearly a full season to achieve a mature and durable lawn
  • Weed pressure will be greater

Sodding

Advantages

  • Rapid establishment and relatively weed-free in the beginning
  • Good for slopes or areas prone to erosion
  • Can be laid virtually any time during the growing season
  • "Instant" lawn

Disadvantages

  • Less flexibility in choosing species; most sod in Minnesota will be Kentucky bluegrass
  • Expensive
  • Labor intensive to install
  • Potential layering of soil types that causes rooting issues

Seed options

In Minnesota, Kentucky bluegrass, fine fescues, turf-type tall fescue and some of the perennial ryegrass varieties are recommended. Your local seed distributor, garden center , or county extension educator can help you to determine the best varieties for your lawn.

  • For shady locations, look for seed mixtures specifying shade tolerance. These will contain fescues along with some common and shade-tolerant Kentucky bluegrasses.
  • For sunny areas that receive a lot of wear, mixtures improved Kentucky bluegrasses. perennial ryegrasses, or tall fescues are best.
  • For low maintenance turf, mixtures of fine fescues or turf-type tall fescues will offer a durable lawn.

Sod options

Most of the sod grown in Minnesota is a mixture of Kentucky bluegrass varieties. Occasionally, some perennial ryegrass, improved varieties of tall fescue or fine fescue are available in the mixture. A retailer or installer should know what varieties are in their sod; if not, they can get this information from the sod grower.

Soil preparation: seed and sod

Rows of turfgrass seedlings planted at angles; some soil is still visible.
These turfgrass seedlings were planted at different angles and will fill in as they grow.

Soil preparation should be the same for seeding or sodding.

  • Do a soil test. Follow sampling procedures for representative results.
  • Make amendments as prescribed by the soil test.
  • Firm the soil slightly with a roller or cultipacker.

Seeding

  • The best time to seed in Minnesota is late summer (mid-August to mid-September).
  • Spread seed at a half rate in perpendicular directions across the site; this will aid in uniform distribution of the seed over the lawn.   
  • Lightly rake allowing about 10 to 15% of the seed to show.
  • Use a roller or cultipacker over the area to ensure good seed-soil contact.
  • Water to a depth of 4 to 6 inches and then follow a light and frequent watering program by applying light irrigation up to 3 to 4 times per day.  Minimize irrigation during rainfall events.
  • After germination, reduce the watering frequency as roots grow into the soil.

Sodding

  • Ideally, fresh sod should have been cut no more than 24 hours prior to delivery. It should be laid as soon as possible, or within one day after delivery.
  • Lay the sod on slightly moistened soil, staggering the seams so they are offset.
  • On a slope:
    • Lay the rolls across the slope.
    • Stake each piece to hold it in place.
    • Fill any cracks with soil to prevent edges from drying.
  • Use a roller about one third full of water to ensure the roots of the sod have good contact with the soil.
  • Keep the sod moist but not saturated until it is firmly rooted in the soil (a few days), then gradually reduce watering.
  • After about 10 to 14 days perform a “tug test” by gently tugging the sod in a few areas to make sure that it has firmly rooted into the soil. If the sod has resistance, it is rooted in and can be treated as an established lawn.
A truck and trailer with rolls of sod next to a boulevard of bare soil
A load of sod ready to be planted on a boulevard.
Sod pieces laid on the ground with the seams staggered and bare soil in the background
Sod with the seams staggered

Sam Bauer, Extension educator, Bob Mugaas, retired Extension educator, Brad Pedersen, College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences Depart of Horticulture, professor emeritus

Reviewed in 2018

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