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Sod vs Seed

Which Produces the Green the Best?

KEITH ROBERTS | Landscape
Have you ever heard of that psychiatric mental/visual association technique that involves a person saying a word and you respond with the first image that comes to mind? For example, if I say dog, the first thing that may pop up in your mind is ?fleas.? When someone says landscaping, the first thing that pops up most people minds is an image of a lawn.

Beautiful and environmentally beneficial, lawns really do make a landscape sparkle. For something so small, it is amazing what grass can do. A section of grass 50 feet by 50 feet creates enough oxygen to meet the needs of a family of four. One acre of grass absorbs hundreds of pounds of sulfur dioxide from fossil fuels a year.

It is one of the few common denominators that virtually all homeowners have, and what a difference the quality of that lawn makes! A front yard that may have beautiful shrubs and elegant flowerbeds lining the house is tainted with a patchy, sickly, yellow, poorly maintained lawn. Perhaps even harder on the eyes is a home that is waiting for a lawn, and is presently sitting in a boring, dusty brown expanse of dirt.

And that leads us to the present, as you have been asked to replace this awful (but useful) area of dirt, and transform it into a gorgeous lawn that will thrill the client. Not only that, but when that client has guests visiting who will marvel over that beautiful lawn, wouldn?t you like your company?s name to come up in the conversation? Establish that lawn right, and it will.

There are two main ways of doing this: the first by laying down sod, and the other is through seed. Both have challenges and advantages, and your education on the two methods will transfer over to your client. The proper maintenance of a lawn, whether it?s seed or sod, will ultimately depend on him. But if the project goes south and the lawn turns out terrible because of ignorance on the part of the client, guess whose name will be mud? It?s not fair, but you?ll get blamed on behalf of a client?s mistakes.

The least expensive method in material costs is quickly seed. Often at a fraction of the price of sod, seed is far cheaper to lie down per square foot. Seeded lawns have the capability, of course, to provide wonderful lush lawns, but it is much more of an exercise in patience. A client must understand, and be willing to cooperate, with a lawn that will take a minimum of one year to even be considered mature.

Purdue University, in Indiana, says that during the initial period of germination, which should take about a week with good conditions, walking on the seeded area should be avoided. Clients should also be informed about the possibility of seeing patches of bare soil in the early stages of germination. Reassure them that this is normal. Otherwise, they are liable to claim you ?missed a spot.?

A very important consideration when using seed for lawns is the proper irrigation. Too little, and the seed will not germinate properly. Too much, and you might wash it away. ?Seed has a few issues with irrigation. If you have more irrigation in one area than another, you could wash seed away, but if you have good irrigation, you won?t have any problem,? said Steve Knutson, CEO of Stover Seed Company. Purdue expands on this, stating that ?the new seed should be watered 2-3 times daily during daylight hours for brief periods. The idea is to keep the soil moist (not wet) to encourage germination.?

Applying mulch can help retain moisture. Seed must also be fertilized often since it doesn?t have a developed root structure at first, and won?t be efficient at absorbing nutrients from the soil.

?If you have a lapse in irrigation, you run the risk of losing the whole yard because the young seedlings have little root structure at first,? said Ben Copeland, president of Patten Seed Company in Lakeland, Georgia. The customer should be warned about this as well. Diligent watering obviously plays a huge role in the developing stages of the lawn.

Seed is advantageous for being able to lay down any combination of grass seeds to better accommodate a client?s aesthetic taste, traffic needs, and environment of the area. Seed may also prove to be resistant to problems, as it has been adjusted to the present soil and never had to undergo ?shock.? ?Some people say a seeded lawn has better root structures and will hold up better in the long run because it?s heartier from beginning its growth in the present soil,? says Knutson.

Floyd Perry, president of Grounds Maintenance Services in Orlando Florida, uses seed in athletic applications. ?For every up side, there?s a down side, but the money saved by using seed is substantial,? Perry says. ?The seed industry has come a long way. The Bermuda and rye seed industry have made tremendous strides in germination ability, strength and holding power. They have come very close to hybrid sod. I couldn?t tell the difference between hybrid sod and princess seed at a presentation.?

A soil test is recommended before seeding, and the ph level and nutrient balances should all be in order. Jill Taber, territory manager of Barenbrug USA Seed Company, suggests that ?all old vegetation should be removed, and soil should be cultivated to a depth of four to six inches. A good organic amendment should be added to promote good development, and a good root system with dense growth. Level the lawn area to be seeded by raking away from the slope or the house. And always follow the seeding rates.?

In general, seeding is great when you have a client who is not the ?instant gratification? type. They need to understand that it is not going to be an instant lawn, and it will take time to grow. It may be beneficial to make a list for the clients on what to expect from a seeded lawn and how to take care of it; a checklist of sorts. If the client is willing to work with you for the benefit of the specific needs of a seeded lawn, there is no reason why a seeded lawn can?t be as lush as a sod lawn. After all, let?s remember how sod is made. It all begins with seeding.

?There are two big factors to consider when seeding,? says Copeland. ?The first one is moisture, the other is patience. Most people want to seed the lawn one day and mow the next. Sod is now, seed is later. If you are willing to wait and grow that seeded lawn, you can save a lot of money.?

Weeds can be minimized if the area is prepared before seeding. ?The more you put into preparing the soil, the better it?s going to be,? says Taber. ?You reap what you sow.?

She recommends watering the soil after it is prepared for seed for two to three weeks.

This will make all the weeds that were brought to the surface after the soil was tilled germinate, and once they sprout you can take care of them with an herbicide glyphosate, such as ?Round Up?. Wait another week after application, and you?re ready to seed without the worry of a huge amount of weeds.

In a society that demands high-speed internet, fast cars, and everything to be done right now, right away: sod is instant gratification at its finest. The client can go to work in the morning, and come home in the evening to a beautiful lawn that looks like it was always there. Although more expensive than seed, many in the field say you get what you pay for.

But it isn?t as simple as rolling out a carpet of grass and taking off. Soil preparation is as important and similar to seeding. Purdue University recommends a few important steps before applying sod. First, rough grade the area so that contours ensure proper surface drainage away from buildings without low spots that could result in puddling. A soil sample should be taken from the site and tested for pH levels and nutrient levels; the same process that is needed for seeding. The site should then be amended according to the results of the soil test before being allowed to settle. The area should be raked just before laying down the sod. A starter fertilizer needs to be applied to encourage root development, but avoid those with herbicides. The herbicide will restrict root development of new sod.

Irrigation, vital with seed, is also vital to sod. During the first two weeks, the sod must be watered daily. When top growth develops, Purdue recommends mowing, but the traffic level should be kept to a minimum. No more than 1/3 of the grass should be removed at any one mowing.

The ?instant lawn? is a big catch for clients who won?t have many anxieties of whether ?it will actually work? or not. Weed infestations are also at a minimum with sod, as the grass in the sod is already established and has a dominant edge in competing with weed seeds present in underlying soil. Just the act of laying down the sod helps prevent weeds by blocking their sunlight.

?Many homeowners prefer to seed the backyard and lay sod in the front yard,? Copeland said. Usually, it all boils down to economy.?

Dirt getting tracked into the house is not as much of a problem with sod. It is also not as vulnerable to the dangers of a heavy rain or over-watering, which can wash away patches of turf. Arguably, there is also less risk for a client to mess something up. Sod could save you a lot of headaches and hassles with panicky clients who don?t seem to ever remember what you told them about the time required for lawn establishment from seeds. You?re also cutting them from the responsibility of taking special care of an unestablished lawn.

?Sod is fast, easy, and dependable,? said Jeff Barber, a marketer for Pacific Sod. ?With sod, you have an instant lawn to enjoy without worry or work beyond normal maintenance.?


It?s hard to deny the attraction of sod and the hassles it takes away. Besides general maintenance, which more or less just involves the client watering (ideally, they should have an irrigation system which reduces human error even more), there is not very much that can go wrong. Add to that the appeal of being able to walk on the lawn relatively soon, and the immediate aesthetic appeal it creates for a home; the value of sod is enormous despite its expense. ?From the standpoint of playability, you can get rug-rolled sod, and play on it in 10-15 days,? said Perry.


In a perfect world where everything is free, the use of sod would probably be the ?only way to go.? But in reality, small budget projects exist where the expense of sod is not an option, and seed must be used. Even then, there is no reason why seed can?t be as lush and beautiful as sod if the proper preparation, seeding, and maintenance of the area is considered. The choice between the two boils down to economy and patience; and of course, the will and ability to lay down sod or seed the right way, the first time.

May, 2004





 
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