4 easy cues to remember for great grass and a green lawn
Each spring and fall we get calls to “fix my lawn!” Customers often have an idea of what they want: sod (I want it now) or seed (I want low cost). As horticultural professionals who want to provide the most sustainable solution and the best value over time, here are our “cues” when recommending seed, sod, our something else entirely:
1. Cost – While grass seed is less expensive than installing new sod, keep in mind that much of the cost of a good lawn installation is in preparing the soil. Adding compost and correcting pH and nutrient deficiencies account for most of the cost of an organic lawn installation. If the budget is tight, consider improving the lawn over time by aerating, adding compost, fertilizing with compost tea and overseeding.
2. Use - Do you want a new lawn as a play area, because you like the calming look of a big expanse of green, or because turf is the default landscape use in our country? Lawns are great if you have kids and/or dogs and full sun. Sun is important to help the grass survive the stress of constant foot traffic. If this is not your situation, consider other options.
Could you substitute a patio, planting bed, or groundcover for turf? For a high-traffic area, wood chips, pea gravel, artificial turf, or commercial playground surfacing may also be appropriate options. A lawn alternative will be lower maintenance and provide greater aesthetic and environmental benefit than lawn.
3. Establishment – For most parts of the country, the best time to start seed lawns is late August-September. Weed seeds germinate and establish faster than grass in spring and early summer, so wait until fall to seed if you don’t want a weedy new lawn!
If you have the conditions and budget for sod, you can install any time from April to October. In either case, be prepared to keep your new lawn properly watered according to your contractor's instructions. Seed must be kept consistently and evenly moist, while sod needs a daily soaking until the roots take hold.
4. Sun – Sod is composed mostly of Kentucky Blue Grass, which spreads by runners and holds together well as rolls of sod. Unfortunately, blue grass needs full sun (6+ hrs) to do well. If you bought a home with a shady lawn where they threw in sod to make the sale, you know what I mean.
Starting from seed allows us to choose a more shade-tolerant grass blend in areas that get 4-6 hours of sun, or dappled shade. Some of these blends that include fescues can even be "low-mow", meaning they only need maintenance about once a month! If your proposed lawn area gets less than 4 hours of sun, it’s likely to be an uphill battle to keep grass growing. Your landscape professional can offer other possibilities.
Before you sign up for a new lawn this spring, remember to ask answer the C.U.E.S. questions: cost, use, establishment, and sun. Knowing your needs and options up front will save you money and let you choose a lawn or lawn-alternative that exceeds your expectations.