When I am going to establish a lawn area in my garden, I find that using grass seed is frustrating and I am not always assured of good results. Even if the soil is kept constantly moist for a couple of weeks, germination can be spotty, particularly if the weather turns hot and there is no rain. Weeds quickly develop in the newly seeded areas and must be removed by hand as herbicide will kill new grass seedlings. They cannot compete so there is more opportunity for weeds and wild grass to get established. Using seed is a time-consuming, challenging task that might take two growing seasons to get going.
Sod on the other hand, creates an instant lawn. Weeds cannot easily penetrate the sod so there is no weed problem, and for areas near entranceways, sod will prevent soil from being tracked into the house, particularly if there are children or dogs in the household.
Although some people have the impression that sod is prohibitively expensive, that is not the case. Sod costs roughly $2 a square foot — if you do the transporting and laying yourself — so a large area can be sodded at a reasonable cost. Laying sod is not a difficult task and certainly requires no more skill than does establishing a seeded lawn.
Both methods of establishing a grass area require a good seedbed. The area should be smooth, have a good depth of rich soil and be contoured to allow for proper drainage. A good way to ensure that the soil surface is smooth is to “zigzag” a heavy board across the soil as the sod is put down — similar to what is done when pouring a concrete pad. This will quickly show where the hollows and high points are located.
Always purchase sod from a reputable company, whether it is one that cuts sod from its own field or a business that brings sod in from another source by the semi load. Whichever method the company uses, be sure that they are willing to notify you as soon as the sod is available because it is a very perishable product and will soon deteriorate and be worthless after it is cut. Sod usually comes in rolls — a standard piece is 2×4-1/2 feet, which is 10 square feet. If the rolls sit for too long they will heat and spoil so never buy sod that appears yellow and has a fermenting smell like compost. Fresh sod will have a nice “earthy” smell and be rich green in colour. Reach into the rolls and make sure the inside of the rolls do not feel overly warm to the touch.
Sod is grown on either peat or soil. “Peat sod” holds together a bit better than the other kind and therefore is more popular. The sod should be moist but not sodden — remember that the water in it will add to its weight, so the wetter it is, the heavier it will be to load, transport, unload and install.
Prepare the area to be sodded ahead of time — it should contain lots of moisture so water it thoroughly a couple of days before the sod is put down. This will allow the top of the soil to dry enough so that it can be walked on without sticking to shoes and without leaving deep footprints.
Laying the sod is rather simple; the pieces are placed as tightly together as possible to minimize the width of the seams. Avoid walking on the pieces already put down to prevent them from shifting. Staggering the seams will create a tighter fit so begin every second row with a half-sod, cutting with a sharp knife or sharp spade. If there is no straight edge such as a sidewalk or fence to start at, then use a strong cord and a couple of stakes to get a straight line from which to start.
After the sod has been put down, water thoroughly and for several weeks after that the area should be watered every couple of days or so, depending on the temperature and rainfall. Until the grass roots get established in the soil of the seedbed — which takes a few weeks — the sod is very vulnerable to drying out, particularly along the seams. Mowing can begin when sufficient new growth warrants it, but set the mower on a high setting as the mower wheels will sink into the soft new turf and the blade might scalp the grass. Usually newly laid sod does not need to be fertilized, but like any other area of lawn, if the grass starts to lose its dark-green colour, add some nutrients. Make sure that the new lawn goes into the winter with a good supply of moisture at its roots.