Sod vs Turf – Which is Right for You and Why?


Are you in need of a new lawn?

Are you trying to decide between sod vs turf? You’re in the right place.

I’m going to weigh up the pros and cons and help you to make an educated decision that is right for you and your garden.

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Key Points

  • Real grass comes with more maintenance requirements but can be the more environmentally friendly choice if you’re mindful about watering and synthetic fertilizer and herbicide use.
  • Artificial turf has a significant environmental cost but is well suited to small areas where low maintenance is a priority.

Sod Versus Turf

First up, what do we mean when we say sod vs turf?

When most people say turf in the context of turf vs sod, they are referring to artificial grass, known as artificial turf and then shortened to just ‘turf’, and comparing it to real grass, or sod.

man laying turf in backyard

But, in actual fact, the definition of both sod and turf is the same: grass and the surface layer of soil held together by its roots. And, strictly speaking, both refer to real grass.

Now that that’s out of the way, what are talking about in this article?

This article is comparing the pros and cons of real grass or sod vs artificial turf. So, to keep matters simple, I’m going to use the terms real grass and artificial grass.

Real Grass Versus Artificial Grass

Kind of like the difference between a real versus artificial Christmas tree, the argument over real grass versus artificial grass is really complicated if you look into it properly.

On the surface, you might think that artificial grass is better for the environment than real grass because it doesn’t need to be watered and doesn’t require any use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers to maintain it.

But, once you factor in the manufacturing process of artificial grass, the fact that it is essentially plastic (and when is plastic ever good?), the fact that is doesn’t support the local ecosystem in any way (think food for birds and pollinators), and what happens to it when you don’t want it anymore, the picture isn’t so pretty.

Which you choose comes down to your goals for the area that you want to turf.

Is it small or large? Will it be used for a picnic table, children’s play area, or just lawn for aesthetic purposes? Do you have time and access to plenty of water to maintain a real lawn?

landscape with natural fabric

Let’s get into the pros and cons of both.

Real Grass

Pros

  • You can’t really beat the smell of freshly cut grass, the feeling of walking on real grass barefoot or lying on the grass in the sun. It’s grounding, both literally and metaphorically. It makes you feel good!
  • Real grass is natural, and in this day and age, natural is almost always better. Real grass provides homes for insects, earthworms, and microbes. If you have different species growing in your lawn, you can even be providing food for pollinators and birds.
  • The soil allows for the uptake of rainwater which can help to prevent surface flooding in the winter.
  • Soil also helps to regulate temperatures and will feel cooler during a hot summer than artificial turf.
  • Real grass provides a soft, healthy surface for children and pets to play on. (Did you know that soil microbes play an important role in the health of our kids?)
  • Real grass can be maintained without the use of harmful chemicals and excess water (if you’re happy to compromise on the perfect monoculture idea and allow for a mixture of species, such as clover, to coexist happily). Learn more about clover lawns here. And how to manage your lawn more naturally here.
  • Real grass can be mowed with a reel mower which uses no gas or electricity and provides a little exercise which some people really enjoy!
  • Grass clippings have a number of uses including making excellent mulch and an ingredient for your compost. If you’re interested in more uses for grass clippings, have a read of this article.

Cons

  • Real grass needs to be mowed which can be a time-consuming chore. And, unless you’re using a reel mower, uses gas which is heavily polluting, or electricity which also has environmental consequences.
  • Real grass needs water to stay green so unless you live somewhere that rains enough all year round, you may have a yellow lawn for a few months in the summer.
  • If you subscribe to the idea that a lawn should be all one species and perfectly even, it will require work to maintain, and for most people this means the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides which are harmful for the environment, animals and people.

Having to mow the lawn is probably the biggest con for a lot of people. But having the right mower can turn a chore into something enjoyable.

If you have a large lawn, consider a zero turn mower and you might just start enjoying your weekends! Alternatively, if you’re on a budget, there are plenty of affordable mowers on the market too.

Artificial Grass

Pros

  • Artificial grass requires little to no maintenance, just the occasional rinse.
  • Artificial grass doesn’t need mowing.
  • It will stay green all year round without water.
  • Artificial grass is durable . It doesn’t get muddy and can handle garden furniture and children’s play equipment well.
  • There won’t be any muddy footprints after walking across artificial grass in the rain.
  • It is well suited to balconies, really small yards belonging to elderly or mobility impaired people, or sports grounds such as bowling greens.

Cons

  • The manufacturing process uses significant amounts of water and oil and produces chemical waste.
  • Artificial turf can’t be recycled. When you’re done with it, the only place it can go is the landfill.
  • You will never be fooled, it will never feel like walking or sitting on real grass. And it will never quite look like the real thing.
  • Artificial grass is dead. It doesn’t support the local ecosystem in any way and arguably negates a lot of the health benefits of having a green space in your living environment.

The Weigh-In

Essentially, what it’s going to come down to is a personal preference. No matter how well the artificial turf companies try to convince you that their turf is equal to or far superior to the real thing, you will never be able to forget that you are sitting on plastic and not real grass.

I would recommend visiting a property that has artificial grass lawns. Have a walk around, imagine looking out the window and seeing the artificial turf instead of real grass.

If the ease of maintenance is a massive priority for you then artificial turf might be the way to go. If you’re on the fence about whether you like the aesthetic of a fake lawn, it might be safer to go with the real thing. Yes, it’s more work, but there are ways of making your lawn work for you (remember I mentioned clover lawns?).

lawn sprinkler working

Alternatively, do you need a lawn at all? As more and more people recognize the unsustainable nature of the classic lawn with its water and fertilizer needs, it’s becoming a popular choice to forego grass altogether and instead put in rock beds, gravel pathways, shrubs, and more raised beds for vegetables.

Think outside the square! Anything is possible! No one said you have to have a lawn! And if your kids need somewhere to run, you can always use the local park.

Summary

So there you have it. At the end of the day, deciding between artificial turf vs sod is ultimately going to come down to your personal taste.

The zero-maintenance aspect of artificial grass is attractive for many people. But, that doesn’t necessarily make it an environmentally-friendly choice. You could do much more for the environment by keeping a section of lawn planted with other species that pollinators enjoy while reducing the overall size.

What are your thoughts on this? I’m interested to hear what you think! Please let me know in the comments section below!

Andy Gibson

My name's Gibson. Andy Gibson. I like to think of myself as the Bond of the backyard, that is if yard work ever became sexy. I write about everything about indoor and outdoor gardening and the dread-it-but-still-need-to-do-it chores around the yard, like cleaning out the gutter guards.

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