Seeking lawn simplicity? Opt for sod, not seed

For 30 years, Saratoga Sod Farm in Stillwater has been providing sod to residential and commercial p
Steve Griffen, right, and a Saratoga Sod employee ensure that the soil in each Saratoga Sod Big Yellow Bag is of the highest quality.
Steve Griffen, right, and a Saratoga Sod employee ensure that the soil in each Saratoga Sod Big Yellow Bag is of the highest quality.

When it comes to creating a lush green lawn, homeowners are increasingly bypassing seed and turning to sod.

For 30 years, Saratoga Sod Farm in Stillwater has been providing sod to residential and commercial properties. Co-owners Laurie and Steve Griffen say the market has indeed changed over the years, with sod becoming more prevalent in the residential setting.

“We’ve seen an interesting thing happen. When we started the business no one knew what sod was so we had to create a market,” said Laurie of the pair taking on the task of educating the public.

Sod is a mature lawn that is transplanted and then takes root. It takes about three weeks for the sod to root and then it’s no longer sod, but a lawn consisting of grass, as if it’s been there for years and years.

Through their outreach to the public the Griffens have allowed homeowners to become aware of the various options they have – they travel to home and landscaping shows to spread the word about sod.

One of the biggest misconceptions Laurie finds is people thinking that sod is out of their price range. The Saratoga Sod Farm offers small and big rolls of sod – a small roll of sod is 10 square feet and a big roll is 333 square feet.

The average lawn is about 3,000 square feet, so a homeowner could spend $1,000 on sod to fully replace their lawn.

“I’ll often say not to think about it in terms of all or nothing,” Laurie said. “Just do high-impact, high-visual areas and maybe that’s a manageable portion.”

While she suggests breaking up the job to smaller sections Laurie also raved about the convenience factor of their product.

“It’s just like going to the frozen food aisle,” she said. “It’s instant grass-ification.”

Getting sod for your home is a lifestyle choice, Laurie said. While more expensive than seed, sod allows for use in short order and avoids potential issues with the seeds washing away or simply not taking root.

The Griffens frequently create lawns for quick events like graduations or weddings. The farm wholesales its sod to most garden centers in the area; buying sod through those locations allows homeowners to buy smaller portions and save money.

“Sod is an investment upfront to get the job done,” she said. “As long as you take care of it, you’ll be fine.”

For people thinking about investing in a sod lawn, timing is an important consideration. The best time to plant sod is when it’s cool, typically between April and December.

“You’re going to get active rooting until the ground is frozen,” she said.

This past winter was unusually good for sod-growing, with the Griffens able to harvest until December 29 because it was so warm.

Laying down the sod itself takes people only halfway to a great lawn, according to the Griffens.

“I spend a lot of my time talking to people about site preparation,” said Laurie. “How you chose to do the sod is just icing on the cake. What’s important is the soil.”

That’s why the Griffens ventured into the soil business seven years ago. They now sell soil and mulch in big yellow bags. The bags are delivered to customers and can be placed right next to the work area.

“What you have underneath affects the sod structure and longevity of the plant,” she said. “We want people to be set up for success.”

The care of sod should not be difficult, but the most important thing to remember is that sod is a regular lawn once rooting takes place.

“Whether it’s a culture problem like going on vacation, or a disease or over-fertilizing, the bottom line is that the plant is alive,” she said. “You want to address any problem that you have and care for it as you usually would.”

The farm grows all varieties of northern sod — Kentucky bluegrass, a Kentucky bluegrass and fescue mix and turf type tall fescue. Each type of sod serves a specific purpose.

“Kentucky bluegrass likes higher maintenance, the fescues could peter out with more maintenance,” she said. “It boils down to what you want and then the environmental concerns.”

The investment in sod is one that Steve sees as outweighing many other home improvement options.

“It’s probably a better return than a bathroom or kitchen,” he said of sod.

The Saratoga Sod farm at 1670 Route 4 in Stillwater is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Steve started the sod business with his dad while a student at Cornell University, but farming has been in the Griffen family for many of years. Steve’s father was a dairy farmer and Steve put himself through school selling farm-grown strawberries. It was while in the strawberry business that he realized he wanted to make a market for himself.

The farm is celebrating its thirtieth anniversary this year.

Since the first crop, Laurie and Steve have grown the business to include 15 employees and have bright hopes for the next thirty years.

“There’s a ton of opportunity in agriculture,” he said. “It takes a lot of neat equipment, but it takes a lot of people to get this done.”

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