Growing grass is challenging, time consuming and rewarding if you do it right. So should you plant seeds or lay down sod? It all depends on your budget and timetable for results. Planting seed is cheaper, but it takes time for the new grass to grow. Sod gets quick results, but it's pricey.
If you decide to plant seeds, know that you have to do a lot of prep work before you can spread the seed.
"It's prepping the lawn area that takes time, and that comes down to how bad the existing surface is," says David Marciniak, owner and lead designer at Revolutionary Gardens in McLean, Va.
According to Scotts Miracle-Gro, a company that makes lawn, garden and outdoor living products, you need to rake the lawn to "rough up" the soil before applying seed so that the seedlings take root. Make sure the area is clean and free of debris and rocks.
The best time to plant grass is mid- to late-fall in temperate climates, says Marciniak, noting this timeframe gives seed "time to germinate and get established before entering winter dormancy."
The next best timeframe is early spring, but you have to consider the cold weather in a late winter or early heat in a warm spring.
"Weather is probably the biggest challenge," says Marciniak. "Rain can wash away the seed, heat can dry it out, and cold will prevent germination."
How much seed will you need? Check out online seed calculators on home improvement sites.
Once you have the seed, decide how you're going to spread it. Using a wheeled spreader to distribute the seed works best for large areas. But it's not the only option.
"When I'm doing a small patch, for example, a narrow strip along the edge of a new walkway, I'll scatter seed by hand," says Marciniak. "For a slightly larger area, they make hoppers where you hold it with one hand and crank it with the other. It gives more even coverage than hand seeding."
No matter how you do the seeding, don't overdo it. Scotts Miracle-Gro encourages adjusting the spreader settings so the seed will be evenly and adequately dispersed. Too much seed often results in poor grass growth.
While it might be tempting to drench the new grass with water, it's a better idea to "water gently but not deeply" until the grass is about two inches tall, says Scotts Miracle-Gro. Water consistently, about two times daily, to keep the soil moist.
New grass typically starts germinating within a week or two and grows well by weeks three and four.
Once your grass starts growing, don't cut it too short. Doing so could mean your new lawn won't be able to develop deep roots.
When choosing to lay sod, you're working with the same timeframe as planting seeds. Optimal times are mid- to late-fall and again in spring. Prep the space the same as you would for planting seeds. Rake the area to make sure it's free of leaves, clumps and debris.
The Home Depot Garden Club recommends laying sod on moist soil, says spokeswoman Margaret Watters. Start the job as soon as the sod arrives (usually it's delivered on pallets).
Then lay the sod in rows perpendicular to the yard's slope, starting against a straight edge like a sidewalk. By doing this, you'll ensure the first row is straight, which will make it easier to keep all of the other pieces of sod in line.
Next up, roll out the sod and "butt it up tightly to the next piece, being very careful not to overlap pieces," says Marciniak. "When going around obstacles or beds, lay a piece bigger than you need and trim to fit."
Use this piece of advice from Marciniak: Don't use sod that's smaller than one third of a full piece, because it tends to dry out fast.
The Home Depot advises using a roller to lightly compress the sod, which will help the roots make contact with the soil. Be sure to water the sod within a half-hour of installation. That'll keep the new grass from drying out.
"Sod is more forgiving of the weather, as it's already germinated, but keeping it moist until it can root in is the biggest challenge," says Marciniak.
Water the sod up to three times a day, but don't let grass stay wet at night, when it's more susceptible to disease. After a few weeks, mow the lawn, but not too short. Fertilize it after six weeks.