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Sod vs. Seed vs. Plugs

When it comes to purchasing grass for your lawn, homeowners tend to wonder what the difference is between sod, plugs and seed as well as when to use each. There’s even a newer addition to installation methods called sod pods, which are essentially the same as grass plugs although slightly larger in size. The answer to this common question is that it depends.

For example, if your lawn is totally damaged, a full sod installation may be the most practical choice. On the other hand, if you only have patches of damage and need to fill in certain areas, use plugs or sod pods. If you prioritize lower costs over slow establishment, you may be in a situation where you want to seed your lawn.

There are certain questions you should ask yourself and things to consider before making a purchase. Read the article below to get a better understanding of sod vs. seed vs. plugs.

How much grass do you need?

One of the most important things to take into consideration is how large of an area you need to cover. If you have a few damaged or bare spots in your yard due to shade, disease or maybe even insects, then plugs or overseeding may be a much more practical option. If you plan on replacing your entire front yard or need a much more significant amount of grass, sod or seed can both serve as practical options.

It should be noted that when installing grass with seed, you will likely endure a lot of weed pressure as the grass establishes. In comparison, sod is installed in pieces forming a solid layer of grass and leaving little space for weeds. Be sure to check out the Sod Solutions Area Calculator Tool to find out how many sq. ft. you need to cover.

What is your lawn care budget?

The choice between sod, plugs and seed will also greatly depend on the amount of money you want to spend on your lawn. If you are starting completely over with a new lawn, sod costs more. Plugs and grass seed are the cheaper options, but both result in having bare soil for an extended amount of time since plugs and seed have to grow in.

Sod, seed and plug prices will vary depending on the variety of grass you want in your lawn. Some varieties are more expensive than others.

What kind of grass do you want?

Choosing the right type of grass will depend on the growing zone you are located in. There are both warm season and cool season varieties of turfgrass. Cool season turfgrasses are usually established via seed whereas warm season turfgrass is usually established via sod or plugs. There are a few exceptions to this though—bluegrass and fescue can be established via sod while bermuda grass and centipede grass can be established with seed for example.

Plugs are also an awesome way to test out a type of grass you may be interested in without making the commitment to install sod or seed. Our How to Choose the Right Type of Sod article discusses the different characteristics between zoysia, St. Augustine, bermuda grass, Kentucky bluegrass and tall fescue. If you are interested in St. Augustine grass, it should be noted that there is no such thing as St. Augustine seed.

How much work do you want to put into your outdoor project?

This factor greatly depends on if you are paying someone to install your grass or if you are installing it yourself. If you are completing the installation on your own, you may be spending half of your day on the outdoor project. You will need to prepare for the amount of labor/people you will need to get the project finished in a timely manner.

Installing sod requires you to strategically lay out pieces of sod whereas installing grass plugs requires holes to be drilled into the soil for planting. Seeding your lawn is slightly less labor-intensive and will take just a few hours if you have a drop or broadcast spreader. It should also be noted that you will need different tools for each project. 

Time spent on each method depends on if the process is completed properly with the right tools and how much land you need to cover. In general, installing one pallet of sod will take about 1–1.5 hours, seeding will take about 2–4 hours, and installing plugs will take between 30 minutes and four hours.

When do you want to install your new grass?

The best time to install seed, sod or plugs differs because each method of installation establishes differently. It also depends on if you are using a warm season or cool season grass and where you live. Although different seasons have their own pros and cons, the best time to lay sod is usually between early and mid-fall. In general, the best time to install grass seed is when temperatures range from 50–80 degrees Fahrenheit and the best time to install grass plugs is in the spring.

Are you looking for instant gratification in your lawn?

If you want to see your lawn fully established as soon as possible, the better option is to install sod. Plugs can take a while to grow in—especially if you are plugging your entire lawn. St. Augustine and zoysia plugs will take about a year to fully grow in. Bermuda grass plugs grow in a little more quickly.

In comparison to plugs, it takes about 30 days for your sod to become fully established or for your seed to germinate. Sod is a full layer of grass that covers every sq. ft. of your yard from the beginning. You will have to wait a little while for the pieces of sod to connect and grow together, but this will still take significantly less time than waiting for plugs to grow in. If you want an instant lawn, sod is the best option for you.

Similarly to sod, seed takes about a month to germinate, but you will be looking at bare soil up until that point. If you really want to save money and you’re okay with looking at a few bare spots in your soil for a while, plugs may be the better option. Lawnifi®’s New Lawn Starter Box contains everything newly seeded, plugged or sodded lawns need to establish thick, healthy grass including two bottles of Grow for improved soil health and one bottle of Maintain to feed the lawn. This fertilizer box will give your grass the nutrients it needs during establishment.

To learn more about installing sod, be sure to visit our How to Properly Install Sod page. To learn more about installing plugs or seed, take a look at How to Properly Install Grass Plugs and How to Properly Plant Grass Seed.

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