Having sod installed can be a game-changer for your landscape. It is not uncommon for local homeowners to have beautiful landscaping with plants, beds, and flowers, but the lawn is filled with weeds and patchy. Why is it that so many homeowners have this struggle?

Well, for many, it simply comes down to affordability. While things like mulch, plants, and beds can be inexpensive and done in phases, sod is the opposite. Sod not only tends to be a larger upfront investment, but it is also rare to see someone only laying only half of their lawn with sod! This leaves homeowners with very limited options: lose the lawn, or try seeding Tall Fescue. But is it actually more affordable to do this?

The question I would like to ask today is this: Is it actually more affordable to seed your lawn instead of sodding in NC?

NOTE: I will be using the wordage “healthy Fescue” quite a bit during this post. It is important to say that many homeowners do not follow many of the steps I have listed below, but many of those homeowners also do not have what would normally be considered a healthy Fescue lawn. The purpose of this article is meant to compare a seeded Fescue lawn to a sodded warm-season grass lawn. For further information about this, please refer to the Tall Fescue Maintenance Calendar supplied by NC State.

Seeding Is Cheaper, But…

Let me start by saying, yes, spreading seed is cheaper. But that is just seed. Let’s not get caught acting like seeding is just a one-step process. To make things easier for the purpose of this study, let’s dive into what promoting a lawn through seeding actually entails:

  • Clearing your current of any weeds, existing grass, and any other material that might interfere with the germination of the seed.
  • Topdressing your lawn with a screened topsoil or other natural compost to ensure healthy root development.
  • Rototilling, aeration, or other methods of blending the new soil with the existing soil.
  • Seeding your lawn. It is best to not purchase your seed from your local department store and rather talk to your local landscape supply to ensure you are getting a blend of seeds that has minimal weed seed.
  • Now for the fun part. Water. It is advised to water enough to keep the seedbed moist at all times. This can lead to watering 2-3 times per day or more during the warmer months.
  • Once you begin to see your new grass germinating, you can gradually minimize your watering schedule until the lawn is fully established.

If you follow all these steps, you should have a fully established, beautiful Fescue lawn after about 3-6 months depending upon the season. Seeding a Fescue lawn most definitely requires dedication a fair share of dedication. But even still, it is cheaper than sod… right? Short answer? Yes. Long answer? Yes, but now you have to keep it that way.

The Cost of Maintenance

Maintaining Fescue is no easy task. It might sound straightforward at first and even hiring a professional is not too expensive, but the numbers add up. Yes, you need your pre-emergents, fertilizer, and aeration, and seeding once a year. The average treatment plan for an average-sized Fescue lawn will run between $600-$1000+ depending on the yard size.

Still, that is just to feed the grass, kill the weeds and fill in the thin/bare patches after Summer. Without getting too technical, let’s dive into what it takes to sustain a healthy Fescue lawn year-round.

  • Fertilizer. Like I said above, Fescue needs to be fed like any grass. A healthy Fescue lawn should be fertilized 2-3 times a year.
  • Weed Control. It is best to apply two rounds of pre-emergent at the beginning of the year for Crabgrass and post-emergent roughly every 6-8 weeks for broadleaf weeds for the best control.
  • Lime. Fescue prefers a neutral soil PH. Applying granular Limestone yearly will assist in balancing your soil PH especially for lawns surrounded by pine trees or clay soil.
  • Fungicide *. Fungicide is most definitely something that should be encouraged if you want to prevent disease during the summer months. They are not cheap, but the risk of disease in our humid Summer climate is high. It is highly recommended to have fungicides applied during the humid months if you want to avoid this.
  • Water. This is where things get interesting. Watering is hands down, the most important, the most difficult, and the most expensive part of owning a healthy Fescue lawn. It is encouraged to water Fescue 1 inch weekly to ensure your lawn stays healthy.

It is important to realize just how much this adds up. Even though the cost is spread out over a greater period of time, the cost of water alone is often not acknowledged when discussing the cost of Fescue. That said, I would like to break down the math of watering Fescue to give us a better idea of exactly what it takes to keep a healthy Fescue lawn.
* Fungicides are not required, but it is important to note that disease is a major concern during the Summer months.

The Cost of Water

It is advised to water at least 1 inch of water per week for Fescue throughout the year. 1 inch of water totals to 0.623 gallons of water per square foot. The average lawn size is between 4000-6000 square feet, meaning that in order to water a 4000 square foot Fescue lawn with 1 inch of water, you would need to use 2492 gallons of water weekly.

To break that math down, even more, that means watering your lawn would require between 100000-130000 gallons of water per year. How much will that cost? Based upon an average of the cost of water from the towns of Apex, Cary, Fuquay Varina, and Holly Springs, you can expect to spend about $6.77 per 1000 gallons of water. That is nearly $14.00/per week and $680.00-$880.0/per year.

Still not convinced? That is just the water. Most towns charge a separate fee for sewage that is still charged even for irrigation. You can install a second water meter to avoid these charges, but if you don’t do this, you could be spending double ($1300-1700 a year!) on your bill.

Finally, if you are not within city limits, those rates double again. Best case, you should still be spending $680.00-$880.00 a year to maintain a healthy, average-sized Fescue lawn. Worst case, you are spending upwards of $1500-$2500+ a year on water alone. Add the additional $600.00-$800.00 on your treatments and you are spending thousands yearly just to have a good-looking lawn depending on where you are located and the size of your lawn.

Consider The Alternative

So can you actually have a good-looking lawn without spending thousands of dollars every year? Yes. We can agree that sod is a high upfront investment, but, it is also far less expensive to maintain in the long run. Consider TifTuf Bermuda, the most drought tolerant grass available. Typically about $1.10-1.60 per sq ft installed, many TifTuf owners do not ever water their lawn and simply allow the rain to give their lawns the occasional watering. Similarly, with other Bermuda varieties and Zoysiagrasses, many homeowners do not water at all without having to worry about their lawn dying out every year.

Of course, it is still encouraged to water your warm-season grass to maintain a healthy color and promote growth, but even this can be greatly minimized compared to the typical Fescue regimen. Not to mention that warm-season grasses normally spend 4-5 months of the year dormant and do not require any watering.

Finally, warm-season grasses have a lower chance of disease and are able to recover more quickly from damage/stress than Fescue. It is still definitely encouraged to have a treatment plan in place to maintain weeds and fertilize your turf, but you no longer have to worry about yearly seeding as warm-season turf is able to recover from stress/damage naturally.

In Conclusion

With all of that said, is the upfront cost for sod more? Yes. But the cost of maintaining your Fescue can often pay for new sod after the fourth, third, or even second year depending on your lawn. That is if you are purely focused on the financial side. The maintenance alone is enough for many of our customers to reach out. That said, this is not across the board and it is fair to state that some of the more expensive varieties of Zoysia do require a greater expense than Bermuda, but even these are far less maintenance and the most aesthetically pleasing. They are luxury turfgrasses for a reason.

If the upfront cost is just still too much to justify all at once, please consider talking with a pro at Peak Sodding about payment plan options to make upgrading your lawn manageable for your budget. We are here and want to help. If you still have questions about finding the best grass for Apex, NC, let Peak Sodding help.

Our family-owned company understands the pride you take in your lawn and we’re excited to extend our knowledge and expertise to ensure that you are receiving the best grass for your needs. For more information on how we can serve you, visit us online. For more grass and sodding tips, be sure to check out our Lawn Sodding Q&A!

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