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The decision to sod or seed depends on how quickly you need a lawn. Seeding is always cheaper by far, but it takes a long time, and if soil erosion is an issue, you don't have time to wait. Some seed lawns can take one to two years before they become established, and in the meantime, they are very susceptible to damage, disease, and pests. If you want to enjoy your new lawn as quickly as possible, sod is the only way to go.
Sod, sometimes called turf, consists of 1 to 2 inches of soil and the matured grass growing on it. It is often sold by rolls or pallets and is generally used where soil erosion would hamper the healthy growth of grass seed, or where a mature lawn is needed quickly for foot traffic or simply for aesthetics.
Average Sod Prices
Sod prices depend largely on the species of grass you want as well as what's available in your area. The national average sod prices are around $210, with most homeowners spending between $170 and $380. This data is based on research provided by HomeAdvisor. Most sod doesn't ship long distances very well, so if you order your sod online, be sure to see if they ship that particular type to your area. Sod is grown on sod farms and is sold by the linear foot and by the pallet.
A single roll of sod covers normally about 10 square feet in a 2'x5' roll. If bought by the pallet, the amount on the pallet normally covers 450 square feet. When you buy sod, make sure you understand the quantity by price. Some retailers list their prices according to certain number of pallets. For example, a price might show "$800 dollars/pallet", but as you read more details, you might see "Quantity of 1-2 pallets delivered to customer". The description should tell you the total square footage or yardage that the entire purchase will cover.
If buying by the roll, take note of the dimensions. While sod is normally sold in 2x5 rolls, some suppliers cut rolls in different dimensions with some measuring 15' wide and 30' to 40' long. If you go straight to a supplier, you can usually get your sod wholesale. However, they will probably have a minimum purchase requirement. If you're only doing a small project, you may have to pay retail prices.
On average, $.50 per square foot is what you should expect to pay for decent quality sod. The average price nationwide is difficult to calculate. There is no central location from which to get sod because it doesn't ship very well over long distances. Some major companies are working to consolidate their services with local sod farms, however. The goal is to provide the customer with a reliable level of quality across all products required for sod, lawn, and lawn care products.
However, here are some averages for the four most common types of sod used in residential settings based on their grade, with coverage of 450 square feet plus the recommended extra amount:
Economy Grade: $169
High Grade: $370
Economy Grade: $146
High Grade: $320
Economy Grade: $170
High Grade: $375
Economy Grade: $132
High Grade: $300
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the average size of a lawn is 0.225 acres or 9,801 square feet. Naturally, some developments and neighborhoods will have different average sizes. Many Victorian homes have very small front yards but have backyards that were originally designed with clotheslines and fruit trees in mind. Mid-century homes often show a nice balance between the house and the yard, while new homes are often large (over 2,000 square feet) but sit on tiny lots. Row houses often have very small yards both front and back.
Price: Prices on the eastern seaboard are cheaper than those in the west. Even in states with multiple climate zones, such as California, the price can vary. Buying as locally as possible is usually your best bet.
Grade: Economy grade sod is sometimes an inferior variation on mid- and high-grade sods and may not have the same guarantee. It may not do as well in shade or may not be as tolerant to traffic or pests and diseases.
Pro vs. DIY: You can save money by preparing the yard yourself. Otherwise the contractor will charge extra. If you DIY, the rental or purchase of tools will add to your cost.
Wholesale vs. Retail: Buying your sod from a retailer will cost more than buying wholesale, but sod farms often have minimum purchase requirements. If you don't need that much, maybe buy at the retail price.
Delivery: Sometimes you pay for sod delivery. Depending on the amount though, some suppliers offer free delivery.
Yard Shape: If your yard is not a standard shape, this requires special effort on the contractor's part to install the sod and will cost more.
If the "grass is always greener on the other side of the fence", it probably has to do with the type of grass your neighbor is using. Different grasses have different qualities from color to blade size and durability. Here are four of the more commonly purchased types of grass:
Zoysia (Southern United States, temperate to warm)
Zoysia grass is often touted as a "cure-all" for lawn cares. It is very tolerant to wide variations of sunlight and water. It is frequently used on golf courses for teeing areas and for fairways. It has a fine blade and a soft feel, and forms dense mats that can grow over low features. It is also resistant to many destructive insects. Other characteristics of zoysia include:
It's best used in temperate climates. Some landscapers say that it will turn brown at the first sign of cold weather. Many people buy zoysia in plugs because it is very invasive and will spread quickly. This can be a good thing or a bad thing, as it will also quickly spread into flower beds and adjacent yards.
It's slow-growing. You won't have to mow it as often. However, the dense mat that it forms means that thatching will be more labor-intensive. Slow-growing has a downside as well; it won't bounce back from damage as quickly as other species.
It loves wide-open spaces. If you have shaded areas of your yard, you can still use zoysia, but the shaded areas won't hold up as well to foot traffic. Consider a stone walkway if you anticipate foot traffic in that area. Also remember to cut the shaded area about an inch longer than the part growing in full sunlight.
Zoysia is native to Japan and the Philippines and the Far East in general, so regions that naturally replicate those climates are especially good for zoysia. New breeds of zoysia are being grown a little further north and now include a region that spans from the southern half of California (where it isn't desert) to the Mid-Atlantic states. As long as it gets 6 to 8 hours of sunlight and consistent watering, this colder region has been friendly to zoysia. In the warmer, more southern regions, zoysia tends to stay green for more than half the year.
St. Augustine is native to the US, the Caribbean, and parts of Africa. A coarse, wide-bladed grass, it was in demand early on as pasture grass. As communities spread inland, it quickly became popular for lawns as well. Today it's found from the Carolinas to most of Texas, and has adapted quite well to Central California. Some aspects of St. Augustine are:
It adapts well to heat, drought and saltiness. However, during extended hot periods or in hot and windy areas, extra watering may be needed. It also does well at overpowering weeds and at resisting pest invasion. If weeds do become a problem, St. Augustine is sensitive to certain herbicides. Be sure to check before buying weed control chemicals.
It doesn't handle heavy foot traffic. It doesn't hold up well to it. It is a fast-growing grass that will need fairly frequent mowing, and it shouldn't be cut low. It does well in shade but doesn't tolerate temperatures that get below 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Its natural nemesis is the chinch bug. A sign of this pest is yellow spots on your lawn. Gray leaf spot is a disease that a stressed lawn is susceptible to and can have a negative effect on your lawn's aesthetics. The best defense against these is to make sure your lawn stays healthy and stress-free.
Bermuda (Southwest and Southern United States, California below 3,000 ft)
Bermuda grass is either a grass or a weed, depending on whether you want it growing or not. This very invasive grass will quickly crowd out other grasses and can spread into beds if not maintained. In spite of its name, Bermuda grass doesn't come from Bermuda. It comes from the Mideast. Some more information on Bermuda is:
It's fast-growing and tolerant to hot, dry climates, droughts and fires. The root system can reach 2 meters (approx. 6.5 feet) down, with the bulk of the roots around 60 centimeters (approx. 2 feet) deep. While this helps the grass maintain its drought-resistance, it can also make this very invasive grass tough to get rid of if you decide you don't want it.
It's popular for heavy foot traffic areas including football fields. It recovers and repairs itself quickly and can grow in almost any type of soil. If not mowed seed heads can sprout up to a foot or so in height which helps it spread quite readily.
It resists many herbicides. This can make weed control easier than most grasses. It can, however, cause allergy-like symptoms, such as a stuffy nose, in some people.
Fescue (most of the United States into Canada, cool weather)
Fescue is a cool climate grass that does very well everywhere the previous three don't. Fescue contains many sub-types, 400 to 500 at one count. One in particular, Kentucky 31, is famous for its role in reclaiming land left devastated by the Dust Bowl of the 1930's. Some interesting facts about Fescue include:
It's found on every continent except Antarctica. It is commonly used as an ornamental and as turf grass. It can grow to heights of 10 to 200 centimeters (4 to 79 inches) depending on the type and is often found on golf courses in the rough. It is also often used in soil erosion control.
It's most commonly used for lawns. It germinates quickly but can be slow to establish itself. This makes it an excellent choice for keeping the lawn out of your flower beds. It does very well at high elevations and tolerates poor soil conditions. It is drought resistant but will go dormant in temperatures around 90 degrees Fahrenheit. It handles shade well and cold temperatures very well. However, it doesn't recover well from heavy foot traffic.
Tall fescue does tolerate high foot traffic and can stay green all year round. Like fine fescue, it handles shade extremely well and is considered "low maintenance". One of its best qualities is that clippings can be left on the lawn as they will serve as nutrients for the grass. Finally, fescue in general does well with wildflowers, existing alongside without taking over the bed.
You can save a bit of money, combining DIY with a contractor, by prepping your yard yourself and letting the contractor do the installation. While this may affect any guarantee they may offer on their work, it will save you on labor costs especially if there are shrubs, small trees, or other things that need to be removed. Difficult yards can cause labor costs go over $1,000. The first thing you need to do is determine how much sod you'll need. Look for your basic yard shape and apply the proper formula:
Rectangle (including square): length x width
Circle: radius x radius x 3.14 (that old "pi r squared" formula). To find the radius, measure the diameter (the distance across) and divide by 2.
Triangle: base (the long side) x height (from the peak straight to the base) divided by 2.
Right Triangle (a triangle with one squared corner): base divided by 2 then multiplied by the height.
Freeform: Oddly-shaped lawns are harder to measure. Get their dimensions in as close to standard shapes as you can get. You might be able to get a rough square out of one part and a circle out of another. Calculate the area as you would for those shapes and add another 10% to the amount of sod you purchase to account for any special shaping you have to do.
Then you need to prepare the area for the sod. The steps are as follows:
Remove the old grass (if any). Small plots can have this done cheaply through the use of a shovel. Larger areas are best handled with a sod-cutter, a powerful machine that cuts beneath your lawn, bringing it up in strips.
Remove weeds. If you don't, they will most likely use the sod as a handy food source and spring up through your new yard.
Rototill your yard. Sod roots will not penetrate packed soil very well. The tilling depth should generally be between 4 and 6 inches. Break up any large clods that are left behind. If you're only doing a small area, a hand tiller will be easier to use as a rototiller needs maneuvering room.
Apply any fertilizers or composts. Work them in with a rake and then smooth the area. The prepared bed should slope away from buildings and other structures to keep drainage from pooling up against foundations.
Water down the area 2-3 times before sodding. If any sunken areas or holes appear, fill them in and smooth them out. This way your sod can be laid down over a smooth surface.
Installing your own sod is possible, but it is very time-consuming. Decisions will have to be made such as what kind of grass you want. Some does better in hotter climes while others may put up with shade or foot traffic better. You'll also need to research suppliers to find a good, reputable source. Finally, installing sod requires certain tools that you will have to rent or purchase. Hiring a professional eliminates much of the leg-work and brain-work. It also reduces costs in some areas as you won't have to buy or rent any tools or equipment. However, after labor and materials are added up, it can cost you twice as much, and you'll still have to research contractors to make sure you're hiring a good one. If you choose to install your own sod you will need the following:
Spade or shovel for sod removal = $10 - $20
Sod cutter may be useful for larger areas = $80/day to rent + $150 deposit = $230
Rototiller to loosen up dirt = $130 - $350 or rent $50/ half-day, $80/full day + $125 deposit = $175 - $205
Soil test kit = $12 - $15
Hand tamper to smooth the surface = $35
Sod-cutting knife = $4 - $20
Total: about $421 - $670
If you hire a professional be sure to follow these basic guidelines for screening:
Get three to five quotes, making sure they come out to see the job site before giving you a price.
Look at work they've done one or two years ago. Sod will usually look fantastic when it's fresh. What's key is seeing how well it's lasted.
Get quotes for both a prepared and an unprepared yard.
Hiring a professional can cost twice what you'd pay if you did it yourself, but you also get the peace of mind of knowing the job was done right as well as the relaxation of not spending a day on the prep-work alone. If you're pressed for time or just want a nice lawn quickly, the price is worth it!
Hiring a professional usually includes the following:
Labor: $300-$500 depending on workload, job site, and seasonal labor rates.
Labor includes rototilling, grading, and the other aspects of yard preparation as well as installation.
Sod: Depending on grade, type, and quantity, $132 to $375 for 450 square feet. Remember that some contractors can get lower rates for having multiple projects going on, and that most contractors know who the good suppliers are.
Higher priced sod often has certain desirable characteristics such as high resistance to diseases and pests, the ability to handle heavy foot traffic, a denser, more drought resistant root system, or lower water and maintenance requirements.
Delivery of the sod if the contractor supplies it: This cost can vary according to many factors, the biggest being your location. Some suppliers can charge from $90 to $350 depending on how far out you are on their delivery zones.
Some sod suppliers also do preparation and installation. On average, for a 2,000 square foot yard you can expect to pay between $2,200 and $4,000. Note that some installers do not haul away the old lawn. Be sure to ask about his before agreeing to the job.
A seeded lawn has no great advantage over installed sod except for price and relatively low labor needed. The end result, in fact, is often better with an installed lawn as the lawn has been allowed to mature in controlled conditions, tended by professionals. A seeded lawn must wait sometimes for a year before it can be used while an installed lawn can be used in a matter of weeks. Sod establishes itself much faster and is less prone to erosion from rain and other weather effects. This is one case where quality is not sacrificed for convenience!