Tuesday, 23 May 2017 11:49:44 Europe/London

Preparing your garden for new turf

Soil preparation is the key to creating your beautiful new lawn

Laying turf is just like any other DIY job around the house.  It will make a huge difference to the look and feel of the place. And the better the standard of workmanship, the longer it will continue to look good.

The key factor to creating a truly beautiful lawn, lies in preparing the ground.  Just as prepping walls for paint or paper or sanding down woodwork are a vital (but boring) part of interior decorating.

How to prepare soil for turfing

Decide on the shape, size and position of your new lawn

Mark out the area to be re-turfed.  If you are doing a whole garden makeover, it’s best to leave the turfing until last.  That way you won’t need to walk on the newly laid turf to reach other parts of the project. 

I like to use tent pegs and string to mark out the area.  They’re easy to move around and alter until you are completely happy with the size and shape of the lawn.  

Try to look at the area from lots of different angles – including from above.

Clear the area

Remove every last piece of debris.  Toys, plants, old paving stones – everything. If you are replacing an existing lawn, that needs to be removed too.  

soil being raked in preparation for turf laying

Beautifully prepared topsoil having a final rake-over before turf is laid.  This is also how soil should look if you are planning to sow grass seed or lay wild flower turf.  Crumbly, level and with just the right amount of firmness without being compacted.

Removing the old lawn

Personally I’m not a fan of chemical weedkillers, but if you want to use one, follow the manufacturers’ instructions to the letter.   You may need to wait up to 3 weeks for it to work.  

My preferred way to get rid of an old lawn (and a good way to burn off some calories) is to use a sharp spade to lift it off. 

Old turf can be stacked in an unused corner of the garden where it will rot down to make beautiful compost. 

If you have a large area to prepare, you can hire a mechanical turf cutter from most tool-hire shops.

Do you need more or better topsoil?

Now that you are faced with bare topsoil.  You need to assess its quality.   Use a trowel to loosen a handful of the soil and then pick it up.  The best soil for turfing can be squeezed into a tight ball but as soon as you prod the soil ball, it will crumble. 

If your soil is too loose to form a ball, it probably contains a high proportion of sand.  If I were you I would buy in some good quality topsoil or some compost to improve it.  

If your soil won’t crumble it’s likely to be clay.  Clay soils are great at holding plant nutrients but they can be difficult for plant roots to penetrate.  Again, incorporating some organic matter or some free-draining topsoil at this next stage would be a really good thing to do.  

Oh – don’t forget to assess the depth of your topsoil.  If you can dig a hole 15cm deep and not hit subsoil you should have enough. 

Dig or rotovate to loosen the soil

Now we start loosening the soil and turning it into something that your lawn will grow well in.  

Start by digging or rotovating the whole area.   It needs to be at least 15cm (6 inches) deep.  If you can dig deeper than that please do – the deeper the better! 

As you dig, be sure to throw away any old roots, rocks builders’ rubble and other rubbish.  Use your spade or fork to smash any big lumps of soil.  

If you are bringing in more topsoil or compost, spread it out before you start digging so that it gets evenly incorporated. Next, use a rake to level the area. 

Rake and level

I’ve always found that a landscaping rake is easiest for this.  It’s wider than a garden rake and makes the job much easier. Rake all over the area several times.  You are aiming for a nice smooth surface with the texture of the topping on an apple crumble.  No big stones, no clumps, no humps, no hollows.

Do the gardeners shuffle

Now for the fun bit.  The soil at the moment is probably a bit too fluffy for turf – especially if you’ve used a rotovator. 

What turf needs is a firm surface –but not a rock solid base.  The roots need to be able to penetrate the soil easily but it must be strong enough so that it doesn’t sink every time you step on it.  

This is where you put on your gardening boots and shuffle all over the lawn area.  Pressing and firming the soil with your feet.  It takes ages but is great for the glutes! 

If you feel daft, bring the whole family round to help you.

And finally....

Soil firmed and levelled, it just needs a quick sprinkle of pre-turfing fertiliser and a rake over to loosen the surface a bit and you’re good to go. Now you can measure the area and order your turf. 


You may find these articles helpful too


Do I need pre-turfing feed?


How to choose turf


How to lay turf

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