Choosing between sod, seed or hydroseed

January 29, 2016 -  By

When renovating or installing new turf, choosing whether to sod, seed or hydroseed is a case-by-case decision. Below, we break down a few considerations, but the most important one should always be what’s best for the lawn, experts say. “Whenever we’re making a recommendation we give (the client) what fixes the lawn the best because the last thing you want to do is have a customer aggravated for a number of years,” says Chad Diller, a certified turfgrass professional and the marketing coordinator at Tomlinson Bomberger Lawn Care, Landscape & Pest Control in Lancaster, Pa. “We would rather make the right recommendation, knowing we might not get the job, than give them a half measure.”

  1. Dollars and cents
    Prices vary greatly depending on size of the job and equipment and material prices and availability. Typically, sod is the most expensive option, costing customers between $6,000 and $10,000 for about an acre, due to high material and labor costs. The middle-ground option is hydroseed, and depending on the contents of the mix, it can run a customer about $2,500 to $6,500 an acre. The application isn’t as labor intensive as sod, but hidden costs like finding skilled or licensed hydroseed technicians may drive up the bill. Seed is typically cheapest, costing a customer from $1,000 to $5,000 per acre.
  2. Turf tools
    Machinery is another major factor. Do you own or would you need to rent the equipment for the various installation methods? If you’re laying sod by hand, transporting sod pallets requires a skid-steer or at least a mini compact utility loader. Laying “big rolls” of sod mechanically is often the most efficient method, though it requires a “big roll” attachment on a tractor or skid-steer. “If it’s easily done or it can be done, we’ll ask a customer if we can take out a fence, just so we can get a machine back there and use ‘big rolls,’” says Adam Linnemann, president of Columbia, Ill.-based Linnemann Lawn Care & Landscaping. Hydroseeding requires specific equipment, including a retrofitted truck. Most companies revert to renting it or subcontracting the service. Seeding requires the least equipment—as little as a spreader, although specialized equipment like a slit seeder may be beneficial.
  3. Got time?
    Contractors call sod “instant green” because it looks great the day it’s laid. Its fast-fix nature makes it perfect for commercial customers, like campus or property managers, with money to spend. Seed can take four to five weeks before it begins to sprout. Though some cite long-term success with sod, many contractors prefer seed for longevity, suggesting it for homeowners who are less concerned with immediacy and want long-term results. Hydroseed typically takes as long to sprout as seed, contractors say. However, its quick, efficient application suits it for large-scale properties, like fields or roadside turf, but it may be overkill in a backyard.
  4. The choice is yours
    Seed and hydroseed reign supreme in terms of options and availability, experts say. Contractors typically can get their hands on specific seed types easily and affordably, and those options carry over to hydroseed, which also comes with a choice of fertilizer, adhesive and other components in the hydroseed mix. With sod, however, options are limited to a handful of regional suppliers. “Sod never looks as good as the day it’s laid,” says Phil Harwood, landscape industry consultant. “Seed looks terrible when you first put it down, but two or three years later, a seeded lawn is going to look wonderful and a sodded lawn is typically going to look pretty marginal.”

Vital to success

Regardless of the installation method, soil and water determine the success of a lawn. Prior to planting, it’s important to do a soil test. Lack of quality soil is often a detriment to new homes’ lawns, which may see a large amount of clay and debris from the construction site. The test reveals whether a quick fix, like adding lime or other nutrients to improve pH, or a more expensive option is necessary. “We bring in some compost and rototill it in with the existing soil,” says Joe Machcinski, owner of Olalla, Wash.-based Pangea Gardenscapes, which uses an organic approach. Other companies excavate the existing soil or add topsoil. Nutrient-rich soil is vital because it retains water better, and moisture is the most important factor to making sure the sod, seed or hydroseed takes root. Hydroseed, though it’s made not to dry out, should still be watered at least once a day. New seed or sod should be watered two times a day for four to six weeks until the seed germinates. “Our sod provider here in our market area has always told us once you get the sod down, water it so much to where you almost can’t walk on it because it’s so squishy,” says Linnemann. “If it does fail, it’s just not watered enough. That’s the No. 1 fault of our homeowners.”

This article is tagged with and posted in Featured, January 2016

About the Author:

Dillon Stewart graduated from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, earning a Bachelor of Science in Online Journalism with specializations in business and political science. Stewart is a former associate editor of LM.

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