Seed or Sod? Building a New Lawn From Scratch

There's plenty to consider when starting fresh with your front or back yard.
From: DK Books - Learn to Garden
Formal Front

Formal Front

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

For the perfect green lawn to set off the garden you'll need a high proportion of fine grasses. Paths and summer watering are essential.

If you want a new lawn, you have the choice of laying sod or sowing seed. Whichever method you choose, the site must be well drained, level, and cleared of weeds. This means preparing the soil thoroughly, at least five weeks and ideally several months in advance, to give it time to settle. 

Creating the Right Environment 

  • Kill or clear all perennial weeds, plus the old grass if you are replacing a badly neglected lawn. The easiest way is to use a glyphosate weedkiller, although more than one application may be needed. 
  • Cultivate the soil, first skimming off any existing sod. If you prefer not to use a weedkiller, you can dig out weeds by hand during cultivation. 
  • A good lawn requires 8–12 in (20–30 cm) of well-drained topsoil; the subsoil should also drain well. With these conditions the grass will root deeply, reducing the need for watering. Where the depth of topsoil is irregular, the lawn will dry out more quickly in shallow areas and develop brown patches. If your topsoil is shallow, it is worth buying enough to achieve an even depth. 

Seed or Sod? 

  • Seed costs less than sod, and the wide choice of grasses means you can satisfy your requirements more exactly, but it will be up to a year before the lawn can take heavy use. 
  • Sod gives you an instant lawn, usable in about eight weeks, when the sod has taken root. However, good-quality sod, like good-quality carpet, is not cheap. Buy sod from a reputable specialist. Sod from good suppliers is specially grown in fields and lifted to order. If you can inspect the sod to check the quality, so much the better. Usually there is a choice between high-quality ornamental sod, containing only fine grasses, and utility grade, which has a proportion of hard-wearing rye grasses. Some suppliers will grow special sod to order, but this is more expensive and takes about 18 months.

Next Up

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Use this step-by-step guide to sow seed in your yard in early fall –– the best time for warm, moist soil conditions. 

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The best time to seed a lawn is in early fall when the soil is warm and moist. 

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