Q: I can't seem to get grass to grow well in a little patch between my front walk and the driveway, near a few pine trees. Would I have better luck with sod?
—Brandon Carpenter, Perry, Mich.
A: Roger Cook replies: Grass is grass, whether you grow it from seed or lay it out as sod. If the growing conditions aren't right, it won't survive.
First of all, make sure the area gets at least five hours of sunlight a day. If the pines are blocking the sun, you could cut them down, but that's a drastic step given the size of your patch. Or you could just forget the grass and plant a shade-loving ground cover, such as pachysandra, instead.
If there is enough light, the soil probably needs help. Have it tested by your cooperative extension service and follow their recommendations about what nutrients or minerals to add. After you have the results, turn over the top 6 to 8 inches of soil, work in sand or compost if it's compacted, and use a shovel to thoroughly mix it. Now spread lawn-starter fertilizer and the recommended additives, and rake them into the top layer of soil. Only then should you seed or sod.
The way I see it, you might as well put down sod. It won't cost much to cover your small area and you'll get some instant gratification for all your hard prep work.