Whether you’re starting out with bare soil in a new house construction, or your current grass needs resuscitation, there are several options for creating a healthy lawn. Seeding and sodding are the most common methods, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. Which one you choose will depend on a number of factors, including your budget, and how soon you want results.
Evaluating Your Lawn
For an already established lawn, you’ll want to do an inspection to see if you can rescue it, or if you should start over. Look for undesirable grasses, weeds, dead spots, and areas that are thin or look diseased. Most lawns can recover from grass disease (e.g. fungal infections) through good lawn maintenance, which also prevents future occurrences. Good lawn maintenance practices include:
- Keeping the correct pH soil level for your grass. Test your soil regularly and use the suggested soil amendments.
- Fertilizing properly. Follow product labels, and don’t under- or over-fertilize.
- Irrigating deeply, one or two times a week, to encourage deep roots that can withstand drought. Water early in the morning so the sun can dry the grass blades during the day.
- Planting a grass type suited to your climate, soil, and sun exposure.
- Mowing your grass to its recommended height and keeping the mower blades sharp.
- Aerating regularly to reduce soil compaction. For lawns with heavy clay soil, aerate every year, while other lawns should be aerated every two to four years.
- Dethatching to remove dead grass that restricts water, air, and nutrients from reaching grass roots.
For severe fungal infestations, apply the appropriate fungicide. You may need to consult a professional, as some lawn fungicides are only available to licensed professionals.
If you found your lawn was under 40 percent weeds, it can be improved and brought to a healthy state by eliminating the weeds and overseeding. However, if your lawn is between 40 and 50 percent weeds, or there are many dead or sparse areas, you may be better off redoing your entire yard. You may also have found that you only have a smaller section that needs replacing, in which case you just need to reseed or sod that area.
Steps Before Planting Seed or Laying Sod
- Make sure the grass you select is suitable to your yard conditions (e.g. soil type, sun exposure).
- Determine the best planting dates and methods for your grass selection and work backward to plan the preparation steps. Here is a table of Texas grasses showing their availability as seed or sod, and best planting times.
- Measure the total square feet to be planted.
- Kill the grass. Here are different methods to do this, some taking longer than others:
- Solarization. Do this in warm weather. Cut the grass as close to grade as possible. Irrigate the soil to penetrate one to two feet deep. Cover the grass under a layer of clear plastic. Wait six to eight weeks. Use a rake to remove the debris.
- Apply a non-selective herbicide to kill all grass and weeds about one to two weeks before seeding your lawn or laying sod. Remove the debris with a rake.
- Use a grape (grubbing) hoe or a motorized tiller to remove smaller lawns or rent a power sod cutter for larger areas. Do this either after a heavy rain or deep watering to make the job easier.
- Test the soil. One place to do this is through the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service soil testing labs.
- Prepare your soil and grade the yard:
- A top soil depth of 10-12 inches is ideal. Bring in loam or sandy loam to get the proper depth.
- Grade the soil to drain away from the house, driveway, sidewalk, and neighbor’s property. Use a 36-inch landscaping rake if you have a lot of grading to do. Remove all debris, such as stones or roots.
- Till the soil deeply, especially if compacted. Repeat the cycle of tilling, wetting the soil, and letting it dry several times. Let the loosened soil settle.
- If organic matter is needed, till it in so it’s mixed thoroughly into the top four to six inches of topsoil.
- If you don’t already have an irrigation system, this is the time to have one installed by a professional irrigator. When planting grass seed, the sprinkler heads should be at the same level as the final grade, and for sod, 1/2 to 3/4 inch above the final grade.
- Add any fertilizers and pH amendment recommended by the soil test.
- Irrigate several times if the soil was tilled for amendments. Then let it settle before a final grading.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Laying Sod
Sod is pre-grown mature grass, sold in rolls of about two feet by five feet. The grass is harvested in strips, with up to two inches of soil remaining intact so that the root systems, grass, and soil form a mat.
- Instantly looks like a finished lawn.
- No contending with mud or dust.
- Establishes quickly. Needs just two to three weeks to root well, at which time it can handle normal lawn traffic and be mowed.
- Holds soil in place immediately, preventing soil erosion on slopes or problem erosion areas.
- Flexible planting times. Can be installed anytime during the growing season, except when it’s very hot. It roots fastest when laid during the peak growing period for that type of grass.
- Greatly resistant to weeds if correctly installed.
- Less maintenance. Doesn’t need as much water as seeding during or after the establishment period.
- Sod costs much more.
- Higher labor costs to hire a professional for installation.
- Improper do-it-yourself installation results in weed-prone gaps, poor rooting, and a distressed-looking lawn.
- Fewer grass choices. You’re limited to the grass varieties sod farmers grow, and might not be able to find a grass species suitable to your yard.
- Not shade-tolerant. Most sod is grown in full sunlight.
- Limited time for transplanting. Fresh sod must be planted within 24 hours of harvesting to get the best results.
- Roots may not be as deep or firm, and some portions may not root. Sod in your yard is growing under different conditions and in a new location from where it germinated.
Advantages and Disadvantages of Planting Seed
When seeding a lawn, you are the grower, the one who affects every step — from the germination and rooting process to the development of healthy green grass.
- Seeds cost much less compared to the cost of sod for a lawn of the same size.
- Seeding a lawn yourself is simple if you follow best practices, even for beginners.
- More grass choices, so you can find the best species for your climate, soil, and yard conditions (e.g. shady areas).
- Develops a deeper and healthier root system because it continues to grow in the same environment where it germinated (no transplanting).
- Lawn is higher-quality because of the deeper roots and longer maturation time.
- Easy to patch and reseed.
- Planting times not as flexible. Must be sown during peak growth times for the grass species. For example, warm-season grasses should be planted between spring and early summer.
- Greater initial maintenance. Requires up to three daily waterings for the first three weeks and must be monitored carefully during this phase.
- Lots of dust and mud at first.
- Careful watering required to prevent seeds from washing away.
- Initial establishment takes longer than sod. Germination speeds vary with different grasses and weather but can take anywhere from 5 to 21 days. It can then take another 4 to 10 weeks for good root development and establishment, at which point it will hold up to light foot traffic.
- Areas may have to be reseeded if rain has washed seeds away, or if spots didn’t germinate.
- Can’t be mowed until it’s reached a height of 3 or 3 1/2 inches. Don’t remove more than 1/3 of its height.
- Greater problems with weeds.
- May need extra fertilizer.
- Long maturation times. Most grasses will take a full season to mature enough for steady foot traffic. It could take up to two years to have a fully-established lawn.
Please note, this article is for information purposes only. South Austin Irrigation does not offer seed planting or sod laying services.
To maintain a healthy lawn, you can rely on South Austin Irrigation to keep your irrigation system operating at its best. Call the experts at (512) 534-7449 or fill out our online service request form for professional maintenance and repair to your sprinkler system.