Turf or Seed for a New Lawn?

Lawns have been a focal point for landscape gardening for centuries, whether they are neatly striped, billiard-table flat lawns behind a house or the rolling expanses of parkland made popular by Capability Brown and his followers in the eighteenth century.

Lawns Losing Popularity

If you are coming toward the end of a garden landscape project it’s highly unlikely that there won’t be a lawn in it somewhere, although the tide is beginning to turn slightly against them. This comes from two separate directions. Lawns require a lot of watering and cutting in a hot summer and global warming and scarce water supplies have combined to make them less socially acceptable in some quarters.

The other aspect is the high maintenance of a lawn. Tenants and busy professionals are less inclined to spend their weekends and summer evenings cutting grass, hence the popularity of low-maintenance gardens, featuring gravel and other hard landscaping rather than lawns.

Lawns look great though, and are better for the environment than a sweeping expanse of concrete. They provide a habitat for many insects and other small animals and provide better drainage than hard landscaping, both of which are important.

The Third Option: Sprigs

So if you have decided to put a lawn in you are largely faced with two choices, seed or turf. There is a third choice, but it’s very rarely used these days; planting sprigs. Sprigs are small grass plants which are planted around the lawn at intervals and over time grow together and join up.

Although the sprigs are less likely to be taken by birds (as with seed) it’s back breaking manual work and the gaps between are open to attack by weed seeds until they close together. Laying sprigs falls neatly between seed and turf in terms of labour and cost but as already noted, it’s a method that’s rarely used these days.

Costs Versus Your Time

And that fight between turf and seed is purely one of cost against time. Sowing seed costs less but takes longer than laying a turf lawn. “Which? Gardening” magazine ran a side-by-side test comparing the two laying methods in 2009 and found that there was no difference in the quality of the resulting lawn.

Ground preparation for the two methods is identical too, so in terms of putting the lawn in place the turf method is a clear winner on time. Turf comes in rolls and they are simply laid out and cut to fit. Then stay off the lawn for a week or so while it establishes itself, watering frequently. Job done.

However, turf costs a lot more than seed, between £100 to £200 for the average small to medium-sized garden, depending on the region and the type of grass chosen. Sowing seed costs around a tenth of that, but the other side of the coin is that the lawn will take nearly ten times longer to establish itself.

Labour Intensive Seed Lawn

After grass seeds have been sown keeping predators away from them is a constant headache. Netting is essential but it takes time to lay out and you have to keep on top of it, making sure it stays in place. More than once the sight of a cat streaking across the garden, square yards of netting and dozens of bamboo sticks in its wake, has livened up our day.

After six to eight weeks the lawn should have established itself but weeds have an easier time getting into a seed lawn than a turf one, so constant vigilance is required to pick the blighters out throughout that period. And when it’s finished you’ll almost certainly have to trim the edges and deal with bare patches here and there.

Make Your Choice

So that’s it, a straight fight between time and money. If you have the time and the inclination, save money with seed and if you don’t pay the extra to have turf, it’s that simple. More details on how to prepare ground and lay both seed and turf lawns can be found in other articles on this site.