The goal is always the same: a lush, green lawn. There are a number of ways to achieve that goal. Factors such as cost, climate, slope and time frame all play a role in the decision to seed, hydroseed or sod a new lawn.
“The number one thing we do is sod,” says James Schneider with JB Instant Lawn, Inc., based in Salem, Oregon. The company grows sod and also offers seed and hydroseed services, but Schneider says, “sod is instantaneous gratification. The product is there and ready to go.” That’s a big appeal for most customers.
Another factor that favors sod is that many of the yards JB Instant Lawn services aren’t that large. “So, there’s not a huge dollar difference to just do it right the first time in sod,” explains Schneider. “A lot of customers choose to just spend the extra few hundred dollars to go with sod rather than try to germinate it and grow it in themselves.”
Across the country in Pennsylvania, Jay King with Jay’s Lawn and Landscaping sees the same thing. “Homeowners, when you do landscaping, especially with lawns around pools and those types of features, generally want sod. They’re an instant lawn,” he explains. “With seeding, it can take up to five years to get a lawn the way they want it versus instant results with sod.”
King also offers hydroseeding and seeding services. Homebuilders, concerned more about costs, are one group that tends to prefer those options, he says. “Then, it’s usually just fine-grade, seed, straw and fertilize and tack.”
King explains, “Hydroseeding is good for hard-to-mow banks, and soaking everything a day ahead of time helps with germination.” It’s also relatively fast, and there’s no need to mess around with straw, he points out. King owns his own hydroseeding equipment and says the cost of that service can be slightly less than the cost of traditional seeding.
Regardless of the method chosen, success depends on prep work. “Sodding is just a matter of laying it down correctly and breaking your joints up. And, anyone can walk along and seed a lawn after it’s been fine-graded and all prepared, the real work is in the preparation,” says King.
Schneider echoes that sentiment. “Lawn site preparation is really the same no matter how you’re establishing the lawn,” he explains. “A lot of people think all you have to do is put down a great quality seed or sod and you’re all set, but so much of it comes down to preparation. First, you want to kill the lawn out, and then I like to give it a rest period for a week or so. Maybe water it and see what germinates through.” By following proper protocol and rototilling and amending the top 4 to 6 inches, many weed seeds are stirred up and come to the surface. Giving them a chance to germinate, and then killing them with Roundup or a similar product will provide the most weed-free site possible when you actually install the lawn, says Schneider.
Prior to installing the seed, hydroseed or sod is also the best time to amend soils. “You’re so much better off to make sure your pH is right and you put your compost down and amend the soil structure then, because you won’t disturb the new lawn,” says Schneider. “And really, truly, what’s underneath will determine the success.”
Post-installation care is critical, as well. Sod or seed are both shallow-rooted right after installation, but the roots are going to be much more developed with sod, points out Schneider. “With sod, you really just need to keep it moist. I think seed takes a little more diligence to grow in; you might want to cover it with mulch or put some fertilizer down with it. And, you’re going to want to make sure you keep it moist at all times. You really have to watch it a bit more carefully during the establishment period,” he says.
In many parts of the country, the time of installation also can determine whether it’s better to go with seed or sod. “In our part of the country, sod can be put down pretty much year-round,” says Schneider. “With seed, there’s really a good period in the spring and a nice period in the fall. You can grow it in the summer if you have a good irrigation system, but in the winter you’re not going to want to plant it because it won’t germinate in for you. Sodding really expands your window while giving you the results you expect to see.”
When it comes to seed, Schneider says it’s particularly important to know and trust the source you’re purchasing from. That means checking the bag to see the grass seed versus weed content. “A really good seed should be 99.99 percent or better; a lot of bags are 10 percent higher than that-they’re 99.9 percent,” he explains. Again, he emphasizes that preparation plays a critical role in installing a lawn with as few weeds as possible. “Who cares if you have 99.99 percent weed-free seed if 30 percent of the site is weeds. You need proper preparation and a good quality seed with low weed content.”
Sometimes lawns are installed using a combination of methods. For example, in Alabama, Twin Oaks Environmental is often called in to hydroseed less visible yard areas surrounding newly constructed homes. “In housing developments, to help save costs, the builders are sometimes putting sod on the front yard and side yard, and then we’ll hydroseed the backyard and parts of the side yard,” explains Jobie Watson with Twin Oaks Environmental. “It’s been turning out very well. We’re usually about one-fifth or one-sixth the cost of laying sod, and it’s a lot faster, too.”
Watson says he usually does the hydroseeding work after the sod crews have completed their job, because it’s difficult to estimate exactly how far the allotted pallets of sod can be spread. He also works to match the seed type he’s using to the sod that’s been installed. “Here in Alabama, about 75 percent of it is common bermudagrass and the rest is Centipede, and both of those are easy to get,” Watson explains. He adds that Centipede is a little more difficult to hydroseed, because it is so slow to germinate, but it is still successful, “and the bermuda, wow, that really comes in well. I was a little skeptical at first just using plain bermuda seed, but it turns out great.”
The best window for hydroseeding in that area is from March to September. “If you start getting later than that, you worry about the seed just sitting there dormant,” says Watson. In residential lawn applications, Twin Oaks Environmental uses about 300 pounds of triple-13 fertilizer on its hydroseeding jobs, along with Fiber Mat or Flex Guard (depending on the slope), which are from Mat, Inc. Watson uses a 2,000-gallon Easy Lawn hydroseeding machine on the back of a large International truck. He provides instruction on the importance of keeping the newly installed lawn moist, and offers a watering service using the same truck for those customers who choose to go that route.
In addition to seed, sod or hydroseed, a number of lawn installation professionals choose to use Terraseeding, an exclusive trademarked process from Express Blower. “We have an option that we can put on our trucks called the Supplemental Injection System, and that allows seed, or any other granular product, to be injected into the blow stream,” explains Carla Severe with Express Blower. That injection (which can be added to any Express Blower truck) is calibrated, an advantage in terms of performance and cost. “Some seed is very expensive,” she points out, “so you want to make sure you’re applying it in a quantity that gets you all the way through the project you’re working on. So, you can regulate that to avoid using your seed up all in one area.”
This makes it easier for the crews running the equipment to get better, more uniform coverage. “Also, germination is generally quicker because the seed is actually planted when you blow it on with compost, rather than just laying on the top,” Severe explains. Of course, the quality of the compost, warmth and moisture play a role, as well. On some existing lawn replacement projects, the old lawn can be treated with Roundup and mowed short, with the new lawn blown right over the top without the need to completely strip away the former turf. Depending on the project, as little as a half-inch of material is blown on with the seed or as much as 3 or 4 inches.
There’s another benefit to the Terraseeding system, adds Severe. “The biggest difference between this and hydroseeding is that with Terraseeding you’re actually injecting seed into soil or compost blends, so you have that growing medium to work with. You’re blowing on soils or compost or mulch; it works very well for seeding lawns.” Applying a soil medium, fertilizer and grass seed in one application also speeds the process for operators working in the field. While it’s popular for lawn applications, Terraseeding is also frequently used in erosion control, because operators are able to inject seed for permanent erosion control blankets and berms and those types of applications, says Severe. Green roofs are another increasingly popular application for Express Blower’s equipment.
Read more: The Profitability of Hydroseeding