Hydroseed vs. Sod vs. Grass Seed

hydroseed vs sod vs grass seed which is better? A person hydroseeds a patch of lawn using a Finn hydroseeder.

If you’re starting a lawn from scratch, you’ve probably come across the three common methods for seeding: sod, grass seed, and hydroseed. 

In order to determine the best choice for your yard, you may want to ask yourself a few questions before you get started, and familiarize yourself with each of the processes so you can make the right choice for your lawn project. 

What is hydroseed?

Hydroseed is a liquid mixture, or slurry, containing grass seeds, fertilizer and other additives to help the slurry adhere to soil that is sprayed over prepared ground. The seed mixture is combined and transported in the large tank of a hydroseeder, and then sprayed from a hose over the desired area. 

Hydroseed generally takes a week or more to germinate, depending on the climate. Typically, within a period of 3-4 weeks, grass will be tall enough to mow — roughly 3 inches — for the first time.  

Hydroseeding can be done professionally, or via rental equipment and some studying up on the machinery and mixing process. Hydroseeding in the spring or fall months when climate is milder, moister, and generally more conducive to seed germination, leads to better results when hydroseeding. 

What is sod?

Sod, sometimes called turf, is a mass of pre-grown grass attached to a thin layer of soil that can be used to establish a lawn almost instantly. It generally is rolled up in strips for transport, so arrives at a project as a truckload of rolls ready to be placed. 

Because sod arrives already fully grown, sodding looks like an established lawn, but requires roughly 2 weeks before the lawn is ready for foot traffic. Once sod roots adhere to the underlying soil, (in about 7-14 days) sod is ready for walking on and regular maintenance. 

Like hydroseeding, sod can be installed by a professional lawn care company, or with the DIY approach. Many people find DIY sodding more approachable than DIY hydroseeding, but with the right research and preparation, both can be accomplished on your own with great results. 

What is grass seed?

Grass seed are seeds used to grow different types of grass for residential and commercial purposes. Seeds can be hand spread across prepared soil to establish a new lawn from scratch, or to support an existing lawn that may have bare spots or patchiness. 

Grass seeds can be purchased at your local hardware or farm supply stores, and generally have a shelf life of a few years, if kept cool and dry. Grass seeds should be planted on even, well-draining soil that’s as free of weeds as possible. Seeds should sprout anywhere between 7-14 days after planting, though this will depend on the weather, and can sometimes take as many as 30 days before sprouts appear. Hydroseeded grass seeds often germinate faster because the hydroseed mixture includes tackifiers and mulch which keep the seeds in constant contact with the soil and retain moisture where the seeds need it, helping speed up the germination process. 

Grass seed is relatively easy to DIY, as it requires limited machinery and experience. As long as the soil is prepared well, seeds are well watered, and properly covered, like with a straw mulch, to keep them in place, results for DIY grass seed can be predictably decent. 

Hydroseed vs. Sod

Because sod is the quickest way to a lush, green lawn, it’s also generally the most expensive. 

Hydroseeding cost vs sod is generally more affordable. Expect to pay between 30 cents to a little over a dollar per square foot of sod, or $400-550 per pallet (500 square feet). Professional sodding can be upwards of $2 per square foot. By comparison, hydroseeding can be done for as little as 6 cents a square foot, though it can range up to 20 cents per square foot.  If you hire a professional, you can expect a 5,000 square foot lawn to cost between $1,000 and $2,000 for hydroseeding, and between $4,350 and $8,750 for sod. These prices vary significantly by region. 

Hydroseeding can also provide more flexibility in the type of seeds you choose for grass, with the ability to blend and mix seed types for a robust, healthy lawn. By contrast, sod is most often a single variety of grass, like Bermuda grass or Bluegrass, so choices are more limited for experimenting with the best seed types for your space. 

Hydroseed vs. Grass Seed

Traditional grass seeding is the most affordable method to achieve a new lawn, and, like hydroseeding, allows the homeowner choices for grass types that are ideal for their taste and climate. Grass seed has some limitations, however. 

For example, there’s generally a relatively short window of time – spring or fall – when seeds can be planted for the best results. It can also be more labor intensive than hydroseeding, as seeds need to be sown by hand or with a broadcast/drop spreader and then carefully tended to ensure germination. Seeds can easily wash away with heavy rain, heavy watering, or shift around to create patchiness and uneven growth without careful attention. 

Hydroseeding, while a little more costly, can provide more consistent, reliable results than conventional hand seeding. Because seeds are pre-mixed with mulch, fertilizers, and tackifiers, seed can be quickly applied to an area with even coverage. The green dye that is typically used in hydroseed helps demonstrate where seed has been applied, so all the intended lawn space is fully covered, and tackifiers and fertilizers help the seeds stay in place and germinate quickly.  Hydroseeding has the added advantage of growing quickly and uniformly, helping eliminate the potential for weed invasion while new grass is establishing. 

Takeaways

So is sod, hydroseed, or grass seed right for you? The answer lies in a few key considerations: 

  • Cost – how much can you budget for your lawn?
  • Speed – how quickly do you need established grass? 
  • Quality – how important is the result of an even, lush, green lawn? Each method for seeding can help accomplish this, but seeding and hydroseeding have the flexibility to combine seed varieties to get the best-looking lawn for your area and climate. 

When you’ve answered each of these questions, the best method for your project may become obvious. For example, if you’re hosting a special gathering at your house and need a well established lawn within two weeks, sod is the best choice if you have the budget. 
If you can wait a few more weeks for grass to establish, and have the time to care for it, hydroseed offers a great for your money.  To keep learning about sod, hydroseed, and grass seed, visit our additional resources for more details. To estimate the cost of hydroseeding for your project, use our free Hydroseeding Cost Calculator.

Ron Ciolfi

Ron has been in the green industry since 1999 and is a Certified Professional in Erosion & Sediment Control (CPESC). Prior to being employed by Finn, Ron worked at an equipment dealer that not only sold Finn equipment but also specialized in erosion control supplies and materials. During his more than 20 years in the industry, Ron has been able to learn different erosion control techniques from his colleagues and customers and enjoys sharing that wealth of knowledge to help make his customers successful.
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