Should You Sod, Seed, or Hydroseed?

close-up of a roll of sod

Thanks to the family badminton tournament that tore up your turf, your yard is in dire need of some new grass. But should you sod, seed, or hydroseed? 

Several factors will influence which grass-growing method suits your needs best, such as budget, yard size, and how fast you want your new lawn. Let’s take a closer look at how sod, seed, and hydroseed compare and discover which is right for your yard. 

Sod

If you have a high budget and need a brand new lawn overnight, installing sod may be a great solution. 

Sod is a thick layer of grass growing on a 1- to 2-inch thick layer of soil that’s been cut from the ground. Sod is typically delivered as rectangular slices that you or a professional roll out over prepared soil to take root. 

Sod is typically sold by the pallet. A pallet of sod usually contains 450 square feet of sod, but it can contain as much as 650 square feet. When buying sod from a supplier, remember to ask how many square feet of sod comes with their pallets.  

How long does a sod lawn take to grow?

Visually, you have a brand new lawn as soon as the sod is in place, but it will take a couple of weeks before you can walk or play on the lawn. 

When is the best time to lay sod?

You can lay sod at any time of year as long as the ground isn’t frozen. But that doesn’t mean installing sod at your earliest convenience is always a good idea. 

If you want the most success for your new lawn, the best time to lay the sod is during the turf’s active growing season. 

If you’re growing warm-season turfgrass, the best time to install sod is mid to late spring. If you’re growing cool-season turfgrass, the best time to lay sod is early fall (the second-best time is early spring). 

How do you establish a lawn with sod?

Ready to roll out the green carpet? Hiring a professional to lay the sod for you ensures quality results (and no tired muscles). On the other hand, installing the sod yourself can save you a bit of cash. 

If you’re not experienced with DIY projects, hiring a professional may be your best option. Laying sod isn’t always so simple, and it’s a large enough investment where you don’t want to make mistakes. 

If you’re confident in your DIY skills and determined to save some cash, follow these 13 steps on how to lay sod:

Step 1: Delay your sod order

When establishing a sod lawn, don’t order your sod right away. Sod doesn’t have a long shelf life, and there are several steps you need to take before your lawn is ready for sod installation. 

Step 2: Test your soil

Submit a soil sample to your local cooperative extension. Before you lay down your sod, it’s important to know what nutrients your soil is missing and how you can make the necessary amendments. 

At-home soil testing kits are available, but they generally do not provide detailed information on how to amend the soil. 

Step 3: Remove existing grass

Laying sod over an existing lawn isn’t a wise idea. Your sod will need full access to the soil if it’s going to take root successfully. 

  • For small areas of the yard, you can strip off the existing grass using a grub hoe or shovel. You don’t need to dig deep into the soil to remove the turf –– simply scrape the blade along the soil’s surface. For larger areas, use a sod cutter to remove the turf and its roots. 
  • You also can kill the existing grass by covering the lawn with newspaper or cardboard. The grass won’t have access to sunlight and will eventually die. It can take several months for the grass to die, so this method is not ideal if you want a new lawn right away. 
  • Another removal option is to kill the turf with a broad-spectrum herbicide and then till the soil. When applying herbicide, always follow the product’s instructions.

A word of caution: Herbicides are not an environmentally-friendly option and are potentially hazardous to human health. You’ll need to wait a few weeks after treatment before you can lay sod, depending on the product. (If you’re planting grass seed, you may need to wait a few months after treatment). 

Step 4: Till the soil

Sod will struggle to grow on compact soil. Loosen the top 6 to 8 inches of soil with a rototiller. If you don’t have a rototiller in your garage, check out your local home improvement stores for rentals. 

Step 5: Add organic matter

Give your soil a healthy nutrient boost with a 2-inch layer of compost. Spread the compost evenly across the yard with a garden rake and then till the lawn a second time to mix the soil and compost. 

Step 6: Grade the soil

After removing the old turf and tilling the soil, your lawn may have sunken areas or small soil hills. Even out the ground with your garden rake and maintain a gentle slope leading away from any structures. The gentle slope encourages good drainage. 

You’ll also need to level the soil an inch below any sidewalks, driveways, or other impervious surfaces. Otherwise, the sod will dry out and die. 

Step 7: Add amendments

Now is the time to add any necessary amendments to the soil, such as lime or fertilizer. Refer to the soil test results to determine what amendments your soil needs. 

Step 8: Water the soil

Lightly water the soil 48 hours before installation so that it’s moist when you lay the sod. 

Step 9: Order your sod

Now that you’ve prepared your soil, you can finally make your sod order. Install your sod the same day it arrives. 

Step 10: Lay down the sod

When laying down your sod, it’s always helpful to begin at a straight edge and lay one row at a time. As you lay out the sod, tuck the seams together so that the grass doesn’t dry out. Pat down each sod piece with your hands to help eliminate air pockets. 

Pro Tip: The secret to establishing a strong sod lawn is to stagger the sod joints as you would when laying bricks. To achieve the staggered pattern, you’ll need to cut a few end pieces with a sharp utility knife. 

Step 11: Push down the sod

Roll a lawn roller across the yard to push sod roots down into the soil. 

Step 12: Water your sod

Water your lawn as soon as you finish installing the sod. Even better, have someone water the grass as you lay the sod. 

For the first few weeks, you’ll need to strike a balance. Water the lawn as often as necessary to maintain moist soil conditions but don’t water so much that the soil begins to ooze puddles. Do not let the sod dry out. 

The University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources recommends a deep irrigation every second or third day to ensure that the soil beneath the sod is moist to a 6-inch depth. You can check the soil’s moisture depth by inserting a 6-inch screwdriver into the ground. If the soil is dry, the screwdriver won’t budge. 

Once your sod has taken root, water the turf as you would an established lawn, about 1 inch of water per week. The trick is to water infrequently and for long periods, rather than too often and for short periods. This technique helps to encourage a deep root system. 

Step 13: Enjoy your lawn

After working a few hours in the sun, you’ll have a new beautiful lawn to enjoy. You’ll have to wait two weeks before you can walk on it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the view. 

How much does sod cost?

Sod is the most expensive grass option. Most homeowners can expect to spend between $0.78 and $1.94 per square foot of professionally installed sod. To install sod on a 2,000-square-foot lawn, the total cost of labor and materials may range between $1,560 and $3,880

If you decide to install the sod yourself without professional help, the sod alone ranges between $0.27 and $0.91 per square foot. To cover a 2,000-square-foot lawn, expect to pay between $540 and $1,820 for the sod. 

What are the pros and cons of sod?

Pros:

✓ Sod provides you with an instant lawn. (But remember, you must wait for the sod to take root before you can allow foot traffic).  
✓ Sod is reliable –– you don’t have to worry about grass seed washing away and bare patches developing in your lawn. 
✓ Sod provides immediate erosion control. 
✓ Sod has flexible planting times. You can plant sod at any time of year as long as the ground isn’t frozen.
Weeds have difficulty competing with sod. 

Cons:

✗ Sod is more expensive than broadcast seeding and professional hydroseeding.
✗ Sod lawns often have visible lines after installation, but these go away after a few weeks. 
✗ Installing sod is a labor-intensive DIY project.
✗ Sod has limited grass-type options.
✗ Some areas of the sod might not develop roots.

Seeding

Growing your grass from seed is an excellent option if you are on a tight budget and have the patience to watch paint dry (or grass grow). You won’t get an instant lawn like you will with sod, but you’ll likely have a greener wallet. 

How long does a seeded lawn take to grow?

It can take seven to 30 days for grass seed to germinate. Although a seeded lawn will be ready for its first mow about two months after seeding, it can take as long as a year for a full, dense lawn to establish. 

When do you want to seed a lawn?

Unlike sod, which you can install any time of year, the planting window for grass seed is significantly smaller. The best time of year to plant cool-season grass seed is in fall. The optimal season to plant warm-season grass seed is spring

How do you establish a lawn with seed?

Spreading grass seed (also known as broadcasting seeding) is a simple DIY project if you’re willing to spend a few hours in the sun. The soil preparation steps are similar to preparing sod, but spreading the seed isn’t as physically demanding. 

Broadcast seeding is also less likely to result in mistakes. Sod might guarantee a lush lawn, but if some pieces die, then you’ll need to reorder sod and install it again. And if you make a serious mistake, such as staggering the sod incorrectly or not pressing the roots down into the soil, then that could be thousands of dollars down the drain. 

Seeded lawns might be prone to a few bare patches, but you can quickly remedy that with a sprinkle of new grass seed. You’re also less likely to experience a significant financial loss when you broadcast seed yourself.

Does broadcast seeding sound like a DIY project you want to take on? Here are the steps to establishing a lawn with seed: 

Step 1: Prepare the soil

You need to prepare the soil the same way you would for sod. Remember to: 

  • Remove existing grass.
  • Test the soil.
  • Till the soil.
  • Add organic matter to the soil, such as compost.
  • Till the soil again.
  • Grade the soil.
  • Add your lime or fertilizer to the soil.

Step 2: Firm up the seedbed

After preparing the soil, the planting bed might be too loose for the seed. Firm up the planting bed with a heavy lawn roller or water the soil thoroughly and allow it to settle. 

Step 3: Spread the grass seed

Broadcast seeding doesn’t mean throwing handfuls of grass seed on the lawn –– broadcast seeding is an art form, and there’s a right way to do it. 

First, you’ll need to decide which method to use. Your options include: 

  • Broadcast spreader: Also known as a rotary spreader, the spreader distributes the seed over a wide area in a fan-like pattern. 
  • Drop spreader: Instead of spitting the seeds out in all directions, a drop spreader drops the seeds directly on the ground underneath. 
  • Handheld spreader: Unlike broadcast and drop spreaders, which are wheeled tools that you push like a mower, a handheld spreader fits right in your hands. You typically have to crank a handle to disperse the seeds. This model is ideal for small areas of the yard that a wheeled spreader cannot access. 

Operating a spreader ensures a uniform application of grass seed. Although spreading grass seed by hand is an option, it will often result in uneven patches of grass, or worse –– noticeable green streaks of turf mimicking your throws. 

Once you’ve decided which tool to use, you’ll need to spread the seed by walking in two different directions. If you go east to west for the first layer, go north to south for the second layer. Covering your lawn in two layers and opposite directions helps ensure you don’t miss a spot. 

Step 4: Cover and tamp the seeds

Grab your garden rake and gently cover the seeds with soil. Next, tamp down the seeds with a light lawn roller (about 50 to 75 pounds). 

Step 5: Apply mulch

Protect your seeds from erosion and help them retain moisture by applying a light layer of wheat, barley, or oat straw.  

Step 6: Water the lawn

Now that you’ve tucked in your seeds, it’s time to give them a thorough watering. The key is to keep the soil consistently moist –– you don’t want your seeds to dry out. That might mean water as much as four times a day, especially on hot days. 

After one week, decrease how often you water the lawn but increase the amount of water it receives each time. Watering less often but for longer periods encourages your grass to develop a deep root system. 

Most seeded lawns are ready for their first mow after two months. After the first mow, begin to water the grass as you would an established lawn (about one inch of water per week). 

How much does broadcast seeding cost?

If you turn broadcast seeding into a DIY project, you’re looking at significant cost savings. A bag of grass seed typically costs between $1.35 and $7.04 per pound. For a 10-pound bag of grass seed, you may spend somewhere between $13.50 and $70.40

The cost to hire a professional for broadcast seeding costs most homeowners around $600 (keep in mind this price varies depending on the yard’s size and whether the soil needs preparation). 

What are the pros and cons of seeding?

Pros:

✓ Least expensive option when you do it yourself.
✓ Easy DIY project, as long as you feel comfortable preparing the soil.
✓ Growing grass from seed provides you with more grass-type options than sod.
✓ Mistakes are easy to patch up and reseed.
✓ Compared to sod, there is a lower financial risk if you misapply the seeds.
✓ Grass seed has a greater chance of developing its roots than sod (sometimes sod won’t take root).

Cons: 

✗ Sod provides you with an instant lawn, whereas you’ll need to wait about two months before
✗ Grass seeds are vulnerable to competitive weeds.
✗ Rain and wind may wipe away seeds in certain areas, creating patches of no growth. 
✗ Traditional seeding has a smaller planting window than sod. 

Hydroseeding

If you need to grow grass on a steep slope or large piece of land, hydroseeding is an option you may want to consider. But what exactly is hydroseeding, and what makes it different from broadcast seeding?

Hydroseeding is a grass seed application process where the seed is added to a mixture called slurry. The slurry contains mulch, fertilizer, seeds, water, binding agents, and soil amendments and is often tinted with green dye. The fertilizer encourages healthy growth, and the mulch and binding agents secure the seeds to the soil so that wind and rain can’t erode them away. 

Hydroseed is applied using a large piece of specialized equipment called a hydroseeder. Like a hose, the hydroseeder sprays the slurry mixture over a large area in a short amount of time. 

Are hydroseeding and hydromulching the same thing?

Hydroseeding and hydromulching are two terms that people often use interchangeably, despite meaning different things. 

The term hydroseeding is often used to describe the process of hydromulching. When your lawn care professional references the term hydroseeding, they most likely mean hydromulching. Since hydroseeding is widely understood to mean hydromulching, we will use the term hydroseeding to describe hydromulching in this article. 

OK, so what’s the actual definition of hydroseeding? Hydroseeding is the process of spraying a slurry that contains fertilizer, water, and seed. Traditional hydroseed slurry does not contain wood fibers (mulch) or binding agents. 

Hydromulch slurry contains water, seed, mulch, fertilizer, and a binding agent known as tackifier. The mulch and binding agent help prevent soil erosion and protect the grass seed from wind and rain. Traditional hydroseed would not help control erosion because it does not have mulch or the binding agent.  

Remember: When you request a lawn care professional to apply hydroseed to your lawn, the slurry most likely contains mulch and tackifier. However, because the terms are often used interchangeably, it’s essential to clarify what you expect the slurry to contain with your lawn care professional. 

How long does a hydroseeded lawn take to grow?

Hydroseeded lawns begin to sprout in five to seven days and will typically be ready for their first mow after 30 days. 

Hydroseeded lawns grow faster than traditionally seeded lawns, thanks to the fertilizer in the slurry mixture. But similar to a traditionally seeded lawn, it can take about one year for the lawn to become thick and dense. 

When do you want to hydroseed a lawn?

If you want to grow warm-season grass, the best time to hydroseed is in spring. Hydroseed the lawn in fall if you are growing cool-season grass

How do you establish a lawn with hydroseed?

Unlike broadcast seeding and installing sod, hydroseeding is not an ideal DIY project. If you want to establish a lawn with hydroseeding, you’ll need to call in the pros. Here’s why: 

  • You must apply hydroseed with a hydroseeder. Finding a rental may prove difficult, and buying one can cost between $1,700 and $30,000 or more
  • Calculating the correct amount of slurry needed for a piece of land is complex and requires particular calculations. 
  • Slopes will affect how much hydroseed mixture is required for the job. Slopes will need to be measured, and the slurry amount will need to be calculated accordingly. 

Because professionals have the skills to make the necessary calculations for hydroseeding, you will save a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money if you rely on the pros. 

How much does hydroseeding cost?

Hydroseeding typically costs between $0.07 and $0.22 per square foot. Most homeowners will spend between $140 and $440 to hydroseed a 2,000-square-foot lawn

Need to hydroseed a few acres of land? Many hydroseeding companies offer discounted rates when you hydroseed by the acre. 

What are the pros and cons of hydroseeding?

Pros:

✓ It has a shorter germination period than a seeded lawn.
✓ The slurry mixture helps block weed growth.
✓ Ideal for slopes where regular seeds would be susceptible to wind and rain.
✓ Cost-effective solution for large yards. 
✓ Less likely to develop patchiness compared to conventional seeding.
✓ You can combine various grass seed types to create a healthy lawn that best suits your land.
✓ A hydroseeder can access hard-to-reach places. 
✓ It helps control soil erosion.

Cons:

✗ Hydroseeding won’t provide an instant lawn.
✗ Not an ideal DIY project. 
✗ The hydroseeding process requires lots of water, which isn’t suitable for areas with a short water supply. 
✗ Hydroseed has a smaller planting window than sod. 

What is the best way to establish your lawn?

If you’re still unsure which grass option is the right one for your yard, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you have a large yard or field where you need to grow grass? If yes, then hydroseeding offers the most cost-effective solution. 
  • Are you on a tight budget? Sod is expensive and might not be ideal if you’re on a budget. Hydroseeding and broadcast seeding are less expensive, with DIY broadcast seeding being the most affordable option. 
  • Does your lawn have problematic erosion or steep slopes? Hydroseeding and sod offer excellent erosion control. 
  • Do you want a new lawn right away? Sod is the only option that can provide you with a full, dense lawn overnight. 

We put these questions in a flow chart to help you determine which option is right for you. This tool is meant to be a helpful guide and may not apply to your specific situation. 

flow chart of "Should you sod, seed, or hydroseed?"

We’ll also list their basic facts one more time so you can make the best choice for your home: 

Sod vs. seed vs. hydroseed

Sodding snapshot

Grass species available: Most grass species
Cost: Expensive
When to lay sod: Any time of year (as long as the ground isn’t frozen)
How long until lawn is established: Instant dense lawn, but you
must wait two weeks before you can walk on it
Advantages: Instant lawn, provides excellent erosion control

Seeding snapshot

Grass species available: All grass species
Cost: Cheapest DIY option
When to plant seed: Warm-season grass in spring, cool-season grass in fall
How long until lawn is established: First mow in two months, but it can take a full year for a mature seeded lawn to be established.
Advantages: Affordable, DIY friendly

Hydroseeding snapshot

Grass species available: All grass species
Cost: Less expensive than sod
When to plant seed: Warm-season grass in spring, cool-season grass in fall
How long until lawn is established: First mow in one month, but it can take a full year for a mature seeded lawn to be established.
Advantages: Cost-effective for large plots of land and provides excellent erosion control

When to hire a professional green thumb

Preparing your soil for sod, grass seed, and hydroseed can be physically exhausting. Why not call in a local lawn care professional to till and amend the soil for you? 

You’ll save time and energy when you hire a pro, and you can rest easy knowing your grass is growing on professionally prepared soil. Let deciding between sod, seed, or hydroseed be your only assignment for this outdoor project. 

Main Photo Credit: slgckgc | Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Jane Purnell

Jane Purnell is a freelance writer and actor in New York City. She earned her B.A. from the University of Virginia and enjoys a warm cup of French press coffee.