The secret to creating a beautiful lawn lies in the ground preparation. In this blog, we go back to basics and share the secret of how to lay turf properly.

There are five crucial steps to laying turf properly

  1. Clearing the ground
  2. Improve the soil
  3. Create a firm level surface and feed the soil
  4. Lay turf carefully
  5. Keep new turf well-watered.

How to lay turf properly 1: Clear the area of potential nasties

You cannot use turf to disguise soil full of weeds and rubble. At least not in the long term. You can try – but it won’t be long until areas of turf start to fail and weeds begin to poke through.

First of all, either dig out every single weed and dispose of it – or use a systemic weedkiller to destroy them. That word systemic is important. Some weedkillers just burn off foliage and leave the roots in fine fettle. The weeds regenerate in next to no time. Systemic weedkillers – the best-known one is called Roundup – kill the roots and the leaves. Depending on the weather they take up to 4 weeks to work properly. Don’t rush it. Especially if your designated lawn area contains things like nettles, docks, bindweed, ground elder or other really strong weeds.

how to lay turf properly soil prep

When the weeds are gone, dig over the ground to at least 15cm deep and take out any stones, bricks, twigs etc that are bigger than a baby’s fist (around 3-4 cm diameter). Also take out sharp things like nails, broken glass or pointy stones. It’s amazing what gets buried in a garden and things do tend to work their way up to the surface. Nobody wants to sit on a piece of broken glass and it’s very difficult to remove debris in the soil once turf has been laid.

How to lay turf properly 2: Tackle any soil related problems

We’ve already got rid of unwanted debris in step 1. But what about problems such as poor drainage, compacted soil or really free-draining (dry) soils?  Now is the time to improve your garden soil.

If your garden soil is clay-like it will be prone to compaction – which isn’t good for grass plants. Clay soil will benefit from having some really good quality topsoil dug into it. Just be sure that if you are importing topsoil you know it’s from a reputable supplier. You don’t want to end up in a worse situation!

Really free draining soil needs added body so that it can hold enough water and nutrients to keep your turf happy. Again, incorporating as much good quality topsoil as you can be a worthwhile investment.

Remember, for turf laying you need at least 150mm depth of friable topsoil.

If you are laying turf in hot weather it won’t hurt to rake some water retaining gel crystals into the top 5cm of soil just before the turf goes down.

How to lay turf properly 3: Create a firm level surface and feed the soil

Assuming that you have already dug over or rotovated your soil, its time now to create a level surface to lay turf on. This is going to involve a bit of a cardio workout so make sure you have plenty of water to hand.

Rake your soil into a fine tilth. It needs to have the consistency a bit like the top of an apple crumble. You might have to rake it several times to break down all of the lumps.

While you are working, try to rake the humps into the hollows so that you end up with a flat surface. The soil will be quite loose at this stage.

Loose fluffy soil will yield beneath your feet. If you were to lay turf at this stage, you would end up with dips in your lawn whenever you walked across it. So, if you want to lay turf properly, you must make the soil surface firm enough to hold your weight, but loose enough for roots to grow comfortably in it.

Use your feet to firm the surface of the soil. If you watch the video at the end of this article you’ll see this referred to as the gardeners shuffle. It looks a bit daft but it has served landscapers well for around 400 years. I’m sure if there was a better way, they’d have found it by now!

One more quick rake over – this time incorporating some pre-turfing fertiliser and you are ready to start turfing.

How to lay turf properly 4: Lay turf carefully

Everyone you speak to will have advice on how to lay turf properly. This is the method we recommend

  • Lay turves all around the edge of your new lawn first. Small pieces of turf are prone to drying out if they are at the edge of the lawn. This method avoids that happening.
  • Starting at one end of the lawn, start filling in the middle. Lay turves in a brickwork pattern making sure they are butted up close together. Always work from laying boards and ensure that the back of the turf has really good contact with the soil beneath it.
  • Use a sharp knife to trim turves to size if you need to
  • Try to avoid walking on newly laid turf, so work backwards if you can.

How to lay turf properly 4: Watering

Turf cannot survive unless it is really well watered for the first weeks after installation.

As soon as you have finished laying your turf – before you’ve even put the kettle on for a well-earned cuppa – give your new turf a really good soaking.  Pay special attention to the edges of the lawn because they are most prone to drying.

Don’t switch the hose off until you are certain that the water has soaked through the turf and into the top 4-5 cm of soil. (you need to encourage those roots to work their way into the soil for water, they’ll not do that if the water is all on the surface). You can check by lifting the corner of one turf and examining the soil beneath.

Water at least once a day for the first fortnight – even if it has rained. In summer, keep a close eye on the soil moisture, you may need to water more often.

More about caring for new turf 

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