Can I lay turf onto wet soil?

5 min read

heavy rain with water splashing against a dark background

Rain is the gardener’s friend in so many ways but it’s not always pleasant to work in. We’re looking at the effects of rain and discussing whether or not to lay turf onto wet soil.

Newly laid turf should never be allowed to dry out. However, whilst it’s good to lay turf in wet weather and onto moderately damp soil, it’s not advisable to lay turves onto a muddy quagmire. The Turfonline team have some sensible advice for laying turf in wet weather.

  • Working with wet ground can lead to soil compaction – avoid it if you can
  • If your soil is sodden and you cannot delay your turfing job, work quickly and try not to overwork the soil
  • For small areas of turfing, digging by hand is a better way to prepare wet soil than rotovating
  • Consider adding some land drains if your garden soil often gets soggy
  • Add 5-6cm of dry topsoil to the surface to make it easier to level
  • Always work from turf laying boards – even for digging and raking out the soil
  • Use a good quality pre-turfing fertiliser. The grass will need extra help to grow roots in difficult conditions


Soil compaction – why it’s not good for your lawn

Soil is the major factor in the long term health of your lawn. It’s where the grass gets its nutrients from. Healthy soil is a mix of 25% air, 25% water and 50% minerals and organic matter. Compaction can change that mix to 90% solids and only 5% each of air and water. Which is not a healthy balance at all.

When soil is saturated, it’s far more vulnerable to compaction. Every time you step on it or wheel your barrow across it, you squeeze those particles together and squish out all of the air space. Once the soil dries, it remains squished. Roots simply cannot penetrate it – neither can they find the air and water they need to sustain the whole plant.

If you are a cook, you’ll know that the way to make pastry that sets like concrete, is to have a wet mixture and overwork it. Ditto for soil.

When you prepare the soil for turfing, your aim is to get rid of any compaction and incorporate a healthy amount of air. If the soil is wet – that job becomes more difficult. Far better to be patient and wait for the soil to drain before beginning your preparation work.

Soil when wet and muddy will be difficult to prepare for turfing. If you really can’t delay your lawn making project, try adding a layer of dry topsoil before starting work.

Tips for laying turf in wet weather

Creating a trench around the edges of your soon-to-be lawn will help to drain excess water away from the area to be prepared.

For smaller lawn areas, digging the soil with a garden fork rather than rotovating it, is a better way to avoid making a muddy mess. Make sure you stand on turf laying boards to spread your weight. If possible, incorporate some dry topsoil to improve the texture.

Some landscapers advise spreading a layer of sharp sand on top of the wet soil and laying turf onto that. It’s a good, temporary solution and works well, but be prepared to feed your lawn regularly throughout its lifetime. Sand isn’t very good at holding on to plant nutrients in the long term and your lawn will never perform as well as grass growing in topsoil. Think of this as a desperate measure only to be used if you really can’t wait for the soil to dry out a little.

If your soil is already prepared and your turf has been ordered, try to protect the ground from heavy rain by covering it with a tarpaulin. Simply roll back the cover when the turf arrives and lay your new lawn as quickly and efficiently as you can.

Products that can help…

laying boards Buy topsoil
Buy laying boards Buy topsoil

How long can I store turf when it’s too wet to lay it?

You must ensure your turf is unrolled within 24-48 hours of delivery (sooner in warm weather) – even if it just sits on the driveway as a temporary measure.

No matter how wet the soil is, turf is still a perishable product. It cannot stay rolled up for long periods of time.

In cool weather, it’s OK to stack the turf on a pallet under a shelter – perhaps a temporary gazebo or a carport. NEVER cover your turf with a tarpaulin to keep it dry – it will heat up quite rapidly and the plants will be killed. Good ventilation and good drainage are essential if you want to keep your turf in good condition.


Watering your turf in wet weather

It may sound daft, but you do need to make sure your newly laid turf has enough water. First of all, make sure each piece of turf has good contact with the soil beneath it. Popping a laying board on top of it and walking up and down will be enough to press the roots onto the earth without creating compaction.

Unless the ground is sodden, watering the turf in will help to settle the roots.

Check every day that the soil beneath your turf is nice and moist. Sometimes it feels as though we’ve had more rain than we really have.

Do not walk directly on your new lawn until the weather is kinder.

Feeding your new lawn in wet weather

Water washes plant nutrients out of the soil. Newly laid turf is always hungry. So be sure to use a pre-turfing fertiliser and as soon as the soil returns to normal, apply a good quality lawn feed that’s appropriate for the time of year.

Soggy turf may look a little yellow and sickly for a while. Provided that it has decent drainage and enough nutrition it will soon recover.

Keep a watchful eye for common lawn diseases and treat them as soon as you see the first signs.

Links to useful information about laying turf in wet weather

How to lay turf properly

How to look after newly laid turf

Where to buy pre-turfing fertiliser and lawn feed

Where to buy good quality lawn topsoil

Repairing your lawn after a wet winter

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