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Gardening: Sod vs. seed: Planting turf grass in your yard

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Zoysia sod (left) is shown next to St. Augustine. Christopher Burtt/Provided

With the coming of spring, one of the main projects many homeowners are looking to complete is reinvigorating their lawns.

One of the first questions most have is how to do so without breaking the bank. With many having experience with cool season turf grasses, which are propagated mostly through seed, they face special challenges regarding sod or seed and the advantages of each. Then comes the question of how best to plant each.

Turf grasses are generally separated into two main categories, cool season grasses and warm season grasses. The four main warm season turf grasses are Bermuda grass, Centipede grass, St. Augustine grass and Zoysia grass. For the Lowcountry, warm season grasses are the best bet as they are much better adapted to the summer heat and the overall poorer quality soils.


This image shows the thickness of a piece of sod. Christopher Burtt/Provided

There are many who will plant rye grass in the fall for a green lawn through the winter months while the main turf is dormant, but this is short lived once the weather warms in the spring and the rye grass stresses and eventually dies. Though there are perennial versions, it either becomes sparse and unsightly or can become a nuisance in its spread.

Each species of warm season grasses has its own advantages and disadvantages, but each is significant in the way it is propagated. While Bermuda grass can be grown by seed if the conditions are right, it is not right for all areas since it needs lots of sun.

Centipede grass can be planted with seed as well, but this is a long, arduous process due to the length of time required for establishment, which can take up to two years.

St. Augustine grass and most cultivars of Zoysia grass are only available in sod forms as they are usually sterile hybrids. As St. Augustine grass and Zoysia grass are grasses that have better shade tolerance, this can pose some issues.


A seed label for Bermuda grass shows its other ingredients. Christopher Burtt/Provided

The main advantage of seed over sodding is the cost. Seed is much less expensive, which can be enticing for many homeowners hoping to replenish a lawn on a budget. The disadvantage is the amount of work it takes to establish the grass itself.

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Even the cultivars of Zoysia grass, if grown from seed, tend to have a much thinner and patch look then if they are planted through sod.

Even Bermuda grass, when planted from seed, does not have the same look and feel as the sodded forms. And, of course, as with many lawns around older homes, there is quite a bit of shade that will limit the growth of these three turf grasses.-


This seed mix packet is labeled for shade and does not grow well in the Lowcountry. Christopher Burtt/Provided

St. Augustine grass is supposed to be the most shade-tolerant warm season grass available. As most cultivars that are grown for the Lowcountry are sterile hybrids, they are only available through vegetative propagation or sod.

Whether you are planting sod or seed, it is imperative to properly prepare the area before planting. This requires the area to be free of any vegetation. This is especially important with sod as you want as much contact with soil as possible as to allow for rooting to occur.

Even when seeding, it is best to avoid competition from weeds that take away nutrients and water to the immature turf grass.

One of the biggest issues when establishing turf grass is overwatering. It is usually the first instinct to make sure the turf is receiving plenty of water and often, but this leads to poor root development and disease.

Whether it is established or newly planted, turf only needs about an inch of water a week. During normal growing seasons with plenty of water, established turf does not need any water at all as the weekly rainfall is enough. If irrigating, it is critical that this is done all at once and not spread out. Fifteen minutes of irrigation does not actually water the grass itself, just the surface foliage, while a deep irrigation will push the roots deeper and allow for better drought resistance.

Whether planting seed or laying sod, it is necessary to do the preparation and research no matter the type of grass.

For more information regarding turf renovation or planting, visit or contact a local extension office.

Christopher Burtt is the Urban Horticulture Extension Agent and Master Gardener Coordinator for Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties. He graduated from Clemson University and his main area of expertise is consumer horticulture with experience in research agriculture. He can be reached by email,

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