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Which Is Better - Turf Or Seed?

( Originally Published 1906 )

Two methods of lawn making—Early advantages from turf—Why seed is preferred—Facts against turfing—A comparison of costs—When to sow—Thick or thin seeding ?—How to broadcast—Making terraces.

THERE are two methods by which a lawn may be established, by turf or by seed. As to which of these shall be adopted must be decided by the special circumstances in each case. By far the greater number of lawns are made from seed for the very good reason that the cost is so much less than when turf is used. In fact on a question of cost there is absolutely no room for comparison. The preliminary preparation of the ground in either case must be the same, and the few dollars that would purchase a sufficiency of seed for one acre would go a very small way in the purchase of turves, which may cost anywhere from ten to twenty-five cents a square foot.


The advantages of turf are these: that by securing turf from a lawn of known quality you can (provided your soil condition is right) reproduce a lawn of a given grass. Secondly —and this is by far the greater advantage—you get an immediate effect which is sometimes worth the extra expenditure of money, especially surrounding a house. For narrow borders of grass between the walks and flower beds turf is desirable. It is also the proper way of marking the boundaries of a newly laid out piece of ground before seeding. Turfing the edges assures a true line, and the seeding of the body can be done more thoroughly.

Sometimes it becomes desirable to make a lawn in the summer time, in which case it is far better to rely on laid sods. If cut and relaid with as little delay as possible on properly prepared ground—the surface being raked loosely so as to assure immediate con-tact with the roots—it will surely grow. Turf can be laid at any time when the ground can be worked, and is invaluable in that respect where cost is not a consideration. It is understood, however, that in all such cases, it must be watered persistently and a lawn made thus will need for the first twelve months of its existence a great deal more attention than one made from seed in the ordinary way.


Though turf will give immediate effect the seeded lawn will be every bit as satisfactory twelve months later, and in a great many cases it will be greatly superior. One great practical disadvantage to laid sod is the impossibility of making absolute unions between the turves. It is always necessary to fill in with good loam, sprinkling over it a little lawn grass mixture. When this germinates, there is a possibility of different grasses securing the early foot-hold, with a result that the entire surface of the lawn is marked out with a series of lines forming rectangular patterns.

It is difficult to obtain really good sod in any quantity. As a rule it is not for sale, but it can occasionally be secured as a consequence of the breaking up of some old estate. Even if in such a case you can get the sod for nothing, the expense of cutting, lifting, carting, and finally the relaying and beating down will be very great.

Where turf is laid on a heavy soil the effects of winter heaving are likely to be very marked; and if the lawn is laid in the spring and it is not abundantly watered all through the summer, it is certain that the drying out will result in gaping channels all over the surface. As a rule it will take two or three years before a laid lawn will assume the absolute uniformity of colour and texture that comes from thick seeding with a high grade lawn mixture and which is the ideal.

Sods are generally cut for convenience's sake three feet long and one foot wide, and in quantity can usually be bought at fifty cents, or less, a turf. I know of one man who has developed the regular business of growing sod for sale. His trade is in a city that is famous for its well kept gardens. He uses only the highest grade lawn mixture for raising his crop which is given careful attention from first to last and he gets thirty cents per square foot, thus realizing a profit of between five and six hundred dollars to the acre every three years. No turfs are cut and sold under that age. This is necessary, in fact, because the Kentucky blue grass will not have made a proper growth before this time. Turf raised thus, and sold locally, would make a better lawn than the average turf that is offered elsewhere, because the old and new soil conditions would be nearly identical, and the seeded-over portions would very quickly develop a very similar grass to that which was bought in the turf.

On well kept larger, private estates it is a common practice to grow turves in some out of the way corner so as to have a supply avail-able for patching up or repairing any worn places that occur on the lawn in close proximity to the residence.


The average workman can lay in a day and do it perfectly about five or six hundred square feet of sod, giving thorough attention to level-ling and making complete union. An expert can cover as much as eight hundred square feet or more. This is not work that can ordinarily be done by a common day labourer, and will generally cost ten dollars a day. The cost for laying an acre at this rate would therefore be in the neighbourhood of five hundred dollars. Compare this with the cost of seeding. To begin with lawn grass seed at four bushels to the acre which is the minimum quantity, will cost possibly fifty-dollars. The sowing can be done by one man in half a day at a cost of certainly not more than five dollars. Putting all these facts together, and bearing in mind that in two years there will not be anything to choose between the lawns, is it worth while to bother with sods? The cost of the preliminary preparations for seeding or sodding will not amount to less than fifteen dollars for one acre. Ploughing can be done by one man in one day, and a team should be pro-curable under ordinary conditions for ten dollars. Harrowing can be done in half a day. This figure is based upon the assumption that there is good land available. Sub-soiling will add another ten dollars and any extra work in the preparation, such as cleaning, the removal of tree stumps, rocks, etc., would have to be specially estimated.


Two men are necessary to handle turves, both in the cutting and in the laying, whereas one man can do the sowing. A large turf is superior to a small one because there will be fewer joints when dealing with the larger pieces. But it is not practicable to handle them in larger sizes than 3 x I feet. There is a special tool made for taking up the turves known as a turfing iron. This is essentially a long-shafted spade with a thin, flat blade which can be pushed under the turf, cutting the roots and leaving the flat sod ready to be rolled. Generally a common spade is used, two men working together, the one rolling the turf as it is cut by the other man.

When relaying on the new ground the turf is unrolled in position, any little unevenness of the ground or of the thickness of the turf being repaired as the work proceeds. It is not easy to make a perfectly level surface. A slight difference in the compactness of the roots of the grasses in the turf will lead to hollows and hummocks in the near future, which have to be filled up by additions of soil above or under the turf; or the hummocks have to be beaten down by means of a heavy piece of wood fixed to a handle at a suitable angle (like a broom), or the back of a spade is used. The latter is the more likely, not because it is the best but because it is the most handy.

After the turf is laid as evenly as possible, and the unions filled with fresh soil, there comes the very essential work of beating. This is really hard work. The turves must be beaten and pounded down to ensure intimate contact with the soil below. If this is not done the roots fail to take hold and the grasses die after a few days of dry, hot weather. Watering will help a great deal, and should be done all summer on a newly laid turf lawn.

On terraces and banks sods are better than seed, because they can be fixed in position by means of pegs eight or ten inches long driven into the ground. If there is not enough turf of the right kind to dress the bank completely, small pieces may be planted as "cuttings" and seed sown on the spaces between or around. Terraces are prone to dry out in summer and the turf method is calculated to overcome this tendency to loss.


In the greater part of the country where lawns are maintained, that is in the entire temperate zone, there are two periods of the year when new lawns may be successfully seeded—April to May, and again in September. There is no best date for sowing. In the Northern States September and November are generally preferred because the risk of sudden drying out by excessively hot weather after the seeds germinate is avoided. In the Southern States November sees the greatest amount of seeding: When seeding is done in the spring it is usually, according to location, sometime between February and May, the earlier date of course referring to the South. The point in spring seeding is to get it done as soon as possible after the ground is in workable condition. I have seen lawns successfully sown in June, July, and August; but in the majority of cases, and with the majority of people, failure would result. Success depends entirely on the weather conditions.

If it is inconvenient to sow the lawn in the fall it is a good practice to have the ground thoroughly prepared then and seed at any time during the winter. If the seed is scattered over the surface of the snow it will be washed into the earth when the thaws come and brought into such intimate contact with the soil that its early germination and perfect stand is a foregone conclusion. On very wet soils seeding in the summer time is advisable.

For summer seeding, oats at the rate of one quart to three hundred may be added to the regular lawn grass mixture. This grass germinates very quickly and endures the hot weather well. It will act as a "nurse" to the other grasses which will be thus encouraged to make a growth. The oats will not interfere with the lawn grasses and they are killed entirely by the cutting of the mower, which prevents their seeding. So marked is the nursing effect of oats that it is a valuable addition at any time when sowing a lawn mixture on banks or terraces. Its quick root development assists greatly in holding the soil until the permanent grasses come into possession. This is a practical method of obviating the necessity of turfing on terraces.


Lawn grass seed is sown broadcast. It must be evenly distributed over the entire surface of the ground, and at the rate of not less than four bushels to the acre. For smaller areas allow one quart of seed to three-hundred square feet.

Select a quiet day for the work of seeding. Don't be tempted to hurry, and, if the day selected should turn out to be windy, postpone the operation. The grass seed is so fine and so easily caught by the wind that an even distribution becomes impossible if the day be not quiet. A very slight wind will do no harm, but there must not be enough movement to carry the fine seed away from the area directly under the hand; otherwise the mixtures will be separated.

When sowing keep the hand low. Stoop down and taking a handful of seed with the fingers of the hands lightly bent and slightly separated let the arm swing freely in a semi-circle so as to scatter the seed well and evenly. A reference to Plate vI will enable the reader to form some idea of the correct and incorrect methods of seeding.


It is better to sow thickly than to be sparing of the seed for the simple reason that the weeds have less chance to take hold of the ground if it is abundantly occupied by the grass plants. Another advantage is that the crowding of the plants results in a finer leaf, which is often very desirable. Seed is far cheaper than the labour that would be involved in digging out the weeds later on. A more even distribution of seed is made by going over the ground twice, using one half the quantity each time, and making the tracks of the second seeding at right angles with those of the first. Broadcast the seed as you walk up and down the whole patch until it has been completely covered, making parallel tracks. Immediately after the seed is sown the whole area should be lightly harrowed or raked so as to just cover the seed. Then roll. Do this after each seeding and finish off with a heavy roller, weighing not less than three hundred pounds if possible, to make the surface compact and to insure a thorough contact of the seed and the soil. Firming of the soil means good germination of the seed.

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