Should I seed or turf my new lawn?

By | 05/05/2020
Exeter Lawn Regeneration - September 2018

Seed or turf your lawn? – Page contents:

This is my summary of the differences between sowing seed or laying turf for creating a new grass lawn in the UK.

What do you mean seed or turf?

Seeding a new lawn means preparing the soil, levelling the lawn and then sowing fresh grass seed. The grass then germinates and grows. Over time, and with mowing, this new grass thickens and grows into a beautiful new lawn.

Turf consists of pre-grown grass plants matted together as a roll. These rolls are laid out on the soil to form your lawn. After pressing in and watering, a new lawn should establish quickly.

In america, turf is called “sod“. This is one of the ways you can tell where the Website giving the advice is based.

Should you seed or turf your lawn? This is a beautiful seeded lawn in Exeter
A lawn which was sown from seed in Exeter.

Soil preparation

Before you consider laying any lawn, good soil preparation is the key to success long term. Turf laid on a compacted soil will quickly thin and die. Seed will dry out and not germinate. The more time you dedicate to good soil preparation, the better your lawn will be for years to come.

For best results turn over the soil, break up any clumps and incorporate some organic matter to bring some life back into the soil. Then rake flat and level. Leaving this new surface for a couple of weeks to settle would be ideal, but this can not always possible. Once the top has been raked to a fine tilthe, you are ready to lay your new lawn.

Should I seed or turf my new lawn?

Here I will take a look at each of the factors you should consider when deciding how to achieve that lovely new lawn.


Cost

Buy purchasing turf you are buying time. Grass needs time to grow to become a lawn. Grass seed grows at your house. Turf grows at the turf farm and you are effectively ‘renting’ the farm space to grow your lawn. The cost of renting this farm space passes to you when you buy the turf rolls.

Rolls of turf on a pallet
Rolls of turf on a pallet. Image by Mike Mozart on Flickr. CC 2.0.

Turf is also considerably more expensive to deliver as it has lots of heavy soil attached to it. It is also a time sensitive product. This makes it a much more expensive option. Over ten times more if you include preparation, labour and delivery costs.

Winner: SEED!
A new turf lawn can cost up to 10 times more!


Speed to a new lawn

If you need a new lawn quickly, laying turf is easily the best solution. You can achieve a lovely looking lawn in the same day, which can be ready to use a few weeks afterwards. This is why many new home developers use turf. It looks great, quickly. Grass seed takes a lot longer, but often not as long as you think.

New grass growing on a town house lawn
New grass growing on a town house lawn in Exmouth

A seeded lawn with good preparation and ideal conditions can be usable in a couple of months, sometimes less. Many football clubs completely reseed their playing surfaces in the off season. They only have a short window to do this. They manage to go from bare soil to a completely new playing surface in just weeks. For pure speed turf wins, but not by as much as you think.

Winner: TURF!
Turf is the best way to achieve an instant lawn.


Time of year

The quality of the results you get from seeding a new lawn is very dependant on the temperature of the soil. Most grass seed needs a soil temperature of at least eight degrees Celsius to germinate. It will also struggle in the very hot and dry periods of the summer as new grass can dry out and die quickly from lack of water. Similar to scarifying, seeded lawns should be sown in spring or autumn for best results. This does restrict the time of year to create your new lawn.

Using an infra red soil thermometer to check soil temperature
Using an infra red thermometer to check soil temperature

However, modern grass varieties are improving in their cold weather germination. Some new dwarf rye grass varieties reliably germinate down to a soil temperature of five degrees Celsius. This extends seeding windows well into the winter.

Turf can be laid all year round, as long as the soil is not dry or frozen. This gives a much wider window for creating your new lawn than seeding. You can put your new lawn down when you want to, rather than wait for the weather to improve. However, the extra foot traffic and weight will cause problems if the soil is waterlogged when being installed.

Winner: TURF!
Turf can be laid nearly all year round.


Ease of installation

For both installing turf and sowing grass seed, the ground needs to be prepared well. Preferably dug over to at least 30cm deep. New topsoil brought in, levelled well and raked to a fine tilthe. To then sow the grass seed you just spread it over evenly and rake in. Turf needs to be laid like a carpet, cut properly and matted together well. Experience does help with turf laying as it is easy to make a mess of it. If you make a mess of sowing seed, you just fix it and sow some more!

Exeter Lawn Regeneration - September 2018
The lawn was killed, rotavated and cleaned. 23 tonnes of local topsoil was then spread over the ground and raked flat. Fresh grass seed was then sown and left to germinate.

Both seed and turf need watering in for a couple of weeks following laying. Grass seed will put down a nice deep root quickly. With turf you will have to be careful not to promote shallow roots and to allow it to bed in well.

Winner: SEED!
Sowing grass seed is much easier than turfing.


Choice of grass species

The main benefit of choosing grass seed over turf is that the range of grass species available is huge. You can tailor the exact mix of seed specifically for the location, colour and the use the lawn will experience. Turf, not so much. Over the years I have modified the different mixes of grass species am now gaining brilliant results from sowing modern seed varieties.

Grass seed
Different species of grass seeds can be mixed to produce the perfect lawn for your location and requirements.

You have no such choice with turf. It is rare that the varieties of grasses in your turf are even published!

Turf also has the added problem that the requirements from the grown grass are different. It is not grown to create a beautiful lawn. It is grown to handle being lifted quickly and the turf holding together. Turf growers favour grass varieties that grow fast, create shallow roots and high levels of thatch. This helps them to spend less time in the field and stay together when lifted. None of these traits are actually desirable in your lawn. Given the choice I chose modern grass seeds every time.

Winner: SEED!
The range of seed grass species is much wider than turf.


Acclimatising to your garden

Turf grasses are grown in sunny, open fields. This are ideal conditions for growing grass. If you then lift these and lay them in a semi-shaded environment with less than ideal soil conditions, the grass will struggle. Turf often thins out considerably in the months after laying. This is because many of the grass species in the mix may not like the environment they have been transplanted to. Owners find that the turf thins to just the rougher, thicker grasses and thins out.

A thin, compacted lawn
A thin, compacted turfed lawn which is in bad need of aerating.

Grass seed which is sowed in the garden establishes to it’s environment much better. It can put down a nice deep root system to be able to cope with the conditions it finds itself in. A suitable grass species can also be chosen specifically for the garden it is being sown in. You have a much better chance of success laying grass seed in more difficult areas.

Winner: SEED!
Turf in a location without ideal growing conditions can lead to disappointment.


Lawn consistency with seed or turf

One of the best things about a well laid lawn is the consistent look and even tone in the grass. Turfing your lawn can lead to problems especially if you run out of one type of turf part way through laying!

Should you seeed or turf your new lawn? Turf can lead to two different types of grass in a turf lawn
Two clearly different types of turf in a new lawn.

The main advantage with seeding your lawn is that, even years later, you know exactly what seed mix has been laid. You can then patch up or fix any areas and it will blend in seamlessly.

Winner: SEED!
Keeping a consistent lawn is much more difficult with turf.


Fungal diseases

Turf growers often select grass species which knit together so that they can be lifted after just a short time in the field. This often means grass species that create a lot of thatch are favoured. Pest and disease resistance is not generally considered to be top of the list. These thatchy grasses thatch are to be more susceptible to fungal diseases such as red thread and fusarium. This creates a conflict. Turf often arrives with fungal diseases already in place. The stress of being lifted, moved and then constant watering provides the ideal environment for these fungal diseases to thrive on your new lawn. I have seen new turf become so riddled with fungus that it needed to be replaced less than two years after laying.

Red thread on a turfed lawn
Red thread disease can easily infect turfed lawns and make them look very poorly.

Seeded lawns are much less prone to fungal infections. A deeper root system and better species selection for disease resistance can give you a much greener lawn which is easier to look after.

Winner: SEED!
Selecting disease resistant seed varieties of grass is much easier when seeding your lawn.


Pests in your lawn

All professional pesticides for turf growers were withdrawn in 2015. This means the mono culture environment of a turf farm are perfect locations for lawn pests to thrive. Chafer grubs and leatherjackets have been found in turf for sale in garden centres. Over the years trading as The Lawn Man, I have repaired countless lawns laid as new turf in the autumn, which were then eaten by the grubs through the winter. New turf can contain leatherjackets in the autumn and chafer grubs all year round. The only way to avoid bringing these pests into your garden is to seed your lawn.

Chafer grub in a brand new turf roll
I spotted this chafer grub in a roll of turf for sale in a garden centre.

New seed cannot contain insects so your new lawn will start off with a clean bill of health. Grass species can also be selected to keep thatch at a minimum, reducing the likelihood of future grub infestations.

Winner: SEED!
New turf can come with pests already in-situ. Seed your lawn to reduce the chances of insect attack.


Seed or turf for a slope?

One area where turf is best used is when grassing steep slopes. Sowing grass seed, and keeping it there, can be difficult on an incline. Rain readily washes it down the hill. It is also much more difficult to keep it watered if the weather is a little drier than ideal. Some folk cover the grass after sowing, but this can blow away and cause additional problems.

Grass on a slope
It was difficult to seed this grassy slope, but it worked out in the end.

Turf can be rolled down the slope like a carpet. The roots will quickly protect and stabilise the soil. It is also easy to water turf on a slope just using a hose or sprinkler, without risk of washing the grass or soil away.

It is much more difficult to maintain a fine lawn on a slope so grass species choice and height of cut is much less important.

Winner: TURF!
Turf is much easier to install on a steep slope.


Birds eating the seed

One of the main difficulties with sowing grass seed is the presence of hungry birds. An easy, tasty meal of nutritious grass seed is a welcome bonus for your local bird population. This is not an issue when turfing your lawn.

Wood Pigeon on a grass lawn
A Wood Pigeon on a lawn

If you are really worried about birds eating your grass seed, sow a lot more in the area. Some for the birds, some for the lawn!

Also, bury the seed under a dressing of compost or topsoil. This will encourage the seed to germinate more quickly and it will not be as visible to our avian friends.

As a final resort, spreading some netting or simple bird scarers will help discourage them. Be careful not to harm other wildlife such as hedgehogs though if putting out netting in your garden.

Once the seed has germinated, it will not be attractive as food and will be well on it’s way.

Winner: TURF!
Turf will not get eaten by birds.


Weeds growing in the new lawn

Many customers worry that their newly seeded lawn grows a lot of weeds. This looks a lot worse than it is.

This is because bare soil is a perfect medium for weed seeds to germinate. They will be up and away in a matter of days and will try to take up space as quickly as possible.

Weeds in a newly seeded lawn
Weeds in a new lawn

Many of these weeds will not survive mowing and will naturally reduce after the first couple of cuts. The rest that establish can either be hand picked out or treated with a lawn treatment once the grass is established.

Turf will arrive clean of weeds and the compact sward will keep weeds out for a while as the lawn establishes.

Overall though, a turfed lawn will still get weeds in the long term and weeds should be considered a major reason to seed or turf your new lawn.

Winner: TURF!
Turf tends to not get so many weeds initially.


Ease of lawn repairs

If you have seeded your lawn, you should know which species of grass you used. Making changes or repairing your lawn is easy as you can just reseed the same grass. Filling holes or extending the lawn becomes simple. The repair will flawlessly blend in to your existing grass.

Lawn patch repair - 8. Raking your lawn patch repair to flatten it
It is very easy to repair seeded lawns with the exactly the same species of grass.

It is very difficult to species match turf grasses. Not only will you have difficulty even finding out which grass was in your turf, sourcing that same species again maybe very difficult.

If you have an evolving garden, seed your lawn. It will make future changes to your lawn simple and flawless.

Winner: SEED!
Knowing the species of grass seed enables flawless lawn repairs.


Ecological differences between turf and seed

From an ecological standpoint, grass seed is much better for the environment. Grass seed is manufactured by growing single species fields of grass. These are left for two years for the plants to mature and are then harvested. These fields can be harvested for several years before turned over for another crop. These fields of seed grass can be wonderful habitats for wildlife and are great for the soil and surrounding area.

Grass going to seed on a grass seed farm.
Grass seed being grown

Fields growing turf are sown and cut regularly. The grass is rarely allowed to mature or go to seed. The soil is also exposed much more frequently. This all contributes to a baron ecological environment. This is far from ideal for the wider environment.

A turf farm
Image by Keith Laverack / Turf Cutting at Carberry Hall Farm / CC BY-SA 2.0

The grown turf also needs to be lifted and delivered. It is heavy and this massively increases the carbon footprint compared to a bag of grass seed. If you are environmentally conscious, sow seed for your new lawn.

Winner: SEED!
Sowing grass seed has a much lower carbon footprint than turfing your lawn.


Lawn quality in the long term

From over ten years of lawn care experience, the majority of new customers call asking me for help fixing their turfed lawns. The story is always similar. A new lawn is laid with turf and looks great. It then deteriorates over the following months and then I am called because the lawn looks dreadful. Unfortunately, fixing turf lawns is difficult and expensive. Even more so if it is netted. It is sometimes better to just lift or kill the whole lot and start again. Of course the company who originally installed it is nowhere to be found. This is so frustrating for me because a little patience at the start by seeding your lawn will have prevented this unnecessary work and expense.

Terrible turf which has dried out
A rather extreme example of a terrible turfed lawn.

A little bit more care and preparation taken at the start can make your lawn so much better in the long term. A lawn is a life-long addition to your garden. Give it the best start.

Winner: SEED!
Turfed lawns look best the day they are laid. They often deteriorate substantially after that.


Turf netting

One of the more recent, and worrying, developments in the turf growing industry is the use of plastic turf netting. This plastic netting is laid onto the field just after seeding. It is designed to shorten the time the grass is in the field by artificially holding the grass together when lifting. This “oxygrid” is marketed as “degradable” plastic. (Note this careful wording which is not the same as biodegradable). Users of this plastic turf netting have are very quiet when asked questions about the degradation of this plastic netting into microplastics.

Turf netting left over in the soil
Plastic netting left in the soil after the turf has deteriorated.

Worse still, end users are often not made aware that their new turf even contains plastic netting until years later. They find it when trying to make adjustments to the lawn or when it has worn away and comes to the surface, sometimes harming wildlife.

In my experience turf netting shows little sign of degrading years after being laid. It makes some lawn treatments such as aerating and scarifying very difficult, or even impossible.

The best way to completely avoid having plastic in your turf is to not use turf at all. Seed your lawn.

Winner: SEED!
Completely avoid burying plastic netting in your garden by growing your new lawn from seed.


Should I seed or turf my new lawn? – My conclusion

Here is a quick table summary of all my points above.

riteriaTurfSeed
Most cost effective
Time to established lawn
Laying all year round
Ease of installation
Choice of grass species
Grass establishment
Lawn consistency
Resistance to fungal diseases
Resistance to lawn pests
Use on slopes
Birds eating the seed
Weeds in the new lawn
Ease of future repairs
Industry ecological factors
Long term outlook
Use of plastic netting

If you need a nice looking lawn quickly (e.g. selling a house or fixing up a rental property) or you are grassing a slope, then buy turf. However, if you are planing your lawn for long term use and would like the best for your garden and the environment, sow your lawn with fresh grass seed.


Further reading about seeding or turfing your new lawn

The lawn man - Example lawn
The lawn man – Example lawn. This lawn was completely reseeded.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.