LESLIE: Well, if you’ve been striving to create a lush, green lawn around your home but you feel like you’re consistently losing the battle to bald spots and weeds, you might be tempted to throw in the towel and start from scratch.
TOM: And if that’s you, the question is: should you reseed your lawn or go with sod?
Roger, I guess you have done quite a bit of both.
ROGER: Oh, I hate to tell you how much.
TOM: And I’ve been there with a lousy lawn. When we first moved into our house, the lawn was a weedy mess, so we kind of opted to kill off the entire yard with a round of Roundup and then we reseeded from scratch. It worked out but I have to say, it probably took two to three years for the blades to get really thick and healthy. Is sod a better approach or a quicker approach?
ROGER: With sod, you’re buying time. What I do to my customers is I bring a piece of sod to them. I say, “Here. If you seed the lawn in 16 to 18 months – under perfect conditions you take care of it – this is what you’ll end up with.”
TOM: Got it.
ROGER: So it’s time; it’s a question of time. Some people love the idea of seeding a lawn, then taking care of it and finally getting that lush product. Other people, they’d just as soon have the sod put in and have it instant but …
LESLIE: Well, regardless of which direction you’re going in, what is the prep to the surface, to make sure that it’s going to take? Because I imagine that that’s really key.
ROGER: You hit the nail right on the head, Leslie. Soil prep is the most important thing that is done. All lawns will fail if you don’t fix the soil.
So what we do is we rototill, we add compost, we till that in. We’ll add sand if it’s a heavy soil and then some starter fertilizer and then we put in seed or sod, depending on which way we want to go.
TOM: Now, Roger, do planning times play into the decision? I mean can sod be planted in the spring and be sturdy enough to survive the summer heat?
ROGER: Not only that, sod can be planted any time of year as long as you have water to take care of it, because it will need a lot of water.
ROGER: But seed can only be done earlier in the spring or in the fall. If you try to seed a lawn during July or August, it’s going to dry out.
LESLIE: It’s just going to dry out.
ROGER: You’re going to have nothing but weeds. Crabgrass loves that hot time of year.
LESLIE: But with sod, even in a northern climate where you’re getting snow? That’ll do fine if you put it in sort of winter-ish?
ROGER: I’ve actually sodded a lawn on December 24.
TOM: Merry Christmas.
ROGER: Yeah. But that spring, it was the greenest lawn in the neighborhood.
TOM: Really? Wow.
ROGER: It was great.
So one thing that happens is people go to a garden center and they see a piece of sod laying out on the asphalt or the concrete and they think sod is a miracle: that it’ll just grow like that. Sod fails and people are unhappy with it when you don’t prep the soil underneath it.
The other thing about most sod blends? They’re made for sunny areas. Seed you can adapt; you can buy different blends of seed that will do well in a shaded area. Sod, for the most part, should only be put in a sunny area.
TOM: But regardless of seed or sod, it really comes down to the watering. That’s where you can really – it doesn’t matter what it is. If you don’t have a proper watering plan, it’s not going to grow.
ROGER: No. And people don’t understand that when you put down a seed lawn, you need to water very frequently for very short periods of time, because that seed is just sitting in the top ¼-inch of soil, so that’s what you want to keep moist. Once it germinates, then you start watering for longer periods as the root system goes down in the soil.
LESLIE: Is there any consideration to what, I guess, what the makeup is of your soil? Like the chemical makeup or the pH levels? Do you need to think about that?
ROGER: I do a soil test on every piece of ground before we put grass on it. I want to know what the pH is; I want to know what the micronutrients are. These all affect how the grass will grow.
TOM: Now, Roger, very often in new construction we see this material called “hydroseed.” It kind of looks like they’re spray-painting a green lawn on brown dirt. Is that a viable option?
ROGER: It is, for large areas.
ROGER: All hydroseed is is a way to apply the seed and it’s just sprayed on with water, the ground-up newspaper they use, dye in the seed, so that you can do large areas very quickly. And because it’s sprayed on with those material, that helps it germinate, too.
TOM: I see.
ROGER: You know, a smaller area – less than 4,000 square feet – you’re better off doing by hand because the cost doesn’t weigh out on that small of an area. Larger than 4,000 square feet, you can look to have someone come in and hydroseed it.
TOM: Good tips. Roger Cook from TV’s This Old House, thanks so much for stopping by The Money Pit.
And there are more tips just like that when you visit ThisOldHouse.com.
LESLIE: And you can watch Roger and the entire This Old House team on This Old House and Ask This Old House on your local PBS station.
TOM: And This Old House, as well as Ask This Old House, are brought to you by GMC. GMC, we are professional grade.