How to lay sod and sow seed in the Midwest

How to lay sod and sow seed in the Midwest

Throughout the Midwest, from Minneapolis to Cincinnati, lawns have weathered at least two summers of excessive heat and drought. Let’s just say, a lot of lawns look fried. If your grass hasn’t started to green up by now, you’re likely trying to choose which way to go for the lawn renovation: sod, seed or overseeding?

You’d think knowing how to lay sod would be easy. Just lay it down and you’re done. But just like any good planting, laying sod (or sowing seed) requires good soil preparation, says Jim Sutterer, owner of highly rated Kirkwood Landscaping, a three-time Super Service Award winner in Kirkwood, Mo. “Improving the soil is key,” he says. “Not every lawn will have the same issues, which is why it’s important to have the soil tested.”

A soil test determines the organic and mineral content of the soil and its pH — whether it’s acidic or alkaline. This information helps determine which kind of seed or sod would be best and the nutrients it needs.

Good, black prairie dirt is common in the upper Midwest. 
But soil in the lower Midwest tends to have a heavy clay content, which inhibits grass root development, whether from sod or seed. Applying a couple of inches of compost or high quality topsoil will go a long way toward improving the soil and creating a receptive environment for grass roots, Sutterer says.

Another consideration when choosing between seed or sod is sunlight, says Debbie Petschl, owner of highly rated Twin City Landscape in Minneapolis. “Sod grows in the sun,” she says. “If it’s used in the shade, it will not take well.” Petschl says she tries to use sod whenever possible because it’s easier for the customer to manage. “Once the job is finished, all they have to do is water.”

In fact, watering sod is probably more critical than watering grass seed. Sod has to be kept consistently moist for three weeks or more, depending on the weather. If it dries out, the sod shrinks, leaving lines in the lawn and brown patches.

Sod makes sense as an instant fix for bare ground, such as new home construction. The quick ground cover that sod gives also reduces opportunistic weeds, mud tracked through the house and soil erosion.

If you just have a few bare spots or a thin lawn, overseeding or slit seeding provides a quick fix. 
Soil prep is still necessary for both applications, such as light raking or sprinkling with topsoil. A slit seeding slices the soil and deposits grass seed in an even pattern. A few bare spots can be seeded by hand. Another consideration may be price: Sod runs 50 cents to $1 a square foot, plus installation. Seed is about 1 cent to 3 cents a square foot, plus installation.

A highly rated lawn contractor will be able to help determine what kind of grass should be sodded or sown and the care and maintenance involved for your area. In general, fescue works well in high traffic and shadier areas and Kentucky bluegrass is preferred in full sun lawns. Always buy the best, highest quality grass seed you can afford. Make sure it has zero weed content and a germination rate of about 85 percent.


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