If that old patch of grass in front of your house needs a good tidy up before Christmas or the back lawn needs improving in good time for a spring wedding reception. Turf is your answer. Turf can be laid at any time of year, providing you can prepare the soil properly. Here are our top tips on laying turf in winter.
Preparing the soil for winter turfing
Soil preparation is the most important part of creating a beautiful winter lawn. The second most important thing is choosing the right turf – we’ll look at that in a moment.
The 5 steps to preparing soil for winter turfing
Dig deep and dig thoroughly. Poor drainage and compacted soil are the biggest dangers to turf at this time of year. If the soil is wet and heavy, I would always advise digging it over with a garden fork or a mechanical tiller.
Dig as deep as you can and get as much air into the soil as possible. If the existing soil is very stodgy but there is no time to allow it to dry out, buy in some good quality topsoil and mix it in to improve the texture.
It goes without saying that all existing vegetation, roots, leaves etc need to be taken away along with any stones that are bigger than a baby’s fist.
This is where you will make or break your turf bed. You have just put a lot of time and effort into loosening the soil and incorporating air. Don’t go and ruin it now by stomping all over it. Raking is important – vital even – but you mustn’t compact the soil by walking on it too much.
Try to do most of your raking by standing on the path at the edge of the lawn. If that’s not practical, use laying boards to spread your weight. It’s a bit of a faff, but trust me, it’s worth it.
For this first round of raking, aim to break up any big lumps of soil and get the lawn reasonably level.
You are aiming to make a turf bed that is nice and level. It should be firm enough so that the soil doesn’t settle into hills and hollows when it’s watered or walked on. But not so firm that it won’t drain and the grass roots cannot penetrate it.
The Levelawn 28 is the perfect tool for this job. At just shy of £120.00 it might be overkill for a domestic gardener, but for a professional landscaper, it’s a good investment.
Alternatively, a wide rake means that you can cover a bigger area in one go. We recommend this Chelwood 18E. It’s 70cm wide and really well built.
Once the lawn area is raked almost level, firm it by laying boards on top of it and walking across them before moving them to the next bit. The traditional way to firm a turf bed is to shuffle across it with your feet. For turfing on reasonably dry soils that’s still the best way. If the soil is soggy, you need to be a bit gentler.
Some people can level a turf bed by eye. I can’t. The best piece of advice I ever had for levelling a turf bed was to find a heavy-ish plank. Something like a scaffold board. Tie a loop of rope to it and then tow it long ways across the ground. That shows you where the hills and holes are so you can use your rake to smooth them out.
5: Final raking
Use your rake to loosen the top of the turf bed and incorporate pre-turfing fertiliser if you’re using it.
The consistency should be fine, but not too fine. About the same as the topping on an apple crumble.
Choosing the right turf
Always choose the best turf you can afford. There are differences in quality and at this time of year the thing you may notice most is that the rolls are heavier and possibly slightly weaker. That’s because they’re wet. Turf is grown out doors in big fields. It’s subject to the same weather conditions as your garden so to see seasonal changes in the product. The better quality the turf, the easier it will be to handle.
Choose turf that suits the conditions in your garden and your ability to care for it. For most applications, turf containing ryegrass is the easiest to cope with. Turf with no-ryegrass can be disease prone and is best left to keen lawn care enthusiasts. If shade is an issue in your garden. Buy a shade tolerant turf. It may be more expensive at this stage but it won’t need replacing after a year or two. It’s cheaper in the long run.
If you’re not sure, talk to your turf supplier. Ask them about the TGA Standard for Turf Quality and whether or not their products are compliant.
Laying turf in winter
Now that your ground is ready and you’ve ordered your turf. It’s time to get it laid.
Winter turfing is far less pressured than summer turfing. In summer time you need to work fast to avoid sod heating or drying out. During the cooler months you can relax a little bit more. In winter, your turf will happily stay rolled up for 2-3 days without coming to any harm.
Avoid laying turf onto frozen soil. Far better to have an extra cup of tea and wait an hour for the sun to chase away the frost.
You will need to wear a good pair of gardening gloves if you don’t want your hands to get cold and sore. I like to have 2 or 3 pairs available so I can change them if they get too wet and uncomfortable.
Laying boards are essential. Use them to make a path for your wheelbarrow (if you’re using one) and kneel on them whilst placing and unrolling turves.
Start at the furthest end of the lawn and lay a strip of turf right round the edge of the lawn. This keeps the mud where it ought to be – on the garden not on the path.
Then fill in the centre of the lawn row by row. Lay turves in a brickwork pattern. It helps the pieces to knit together without any ugly gaps.
Work steadily. If the turf is wet and heavy, lift and carry it carefully. Lay each piece down before you unroll it and then lift, rather than drag it into to position. Don’t worry if it tears a little, that’s natural at this time of year. Just gently press the pieces into place and believe me when I tell you that you won’t know the difference in 3 months’ time.
If you need to trim any pieces, use a really sharp knife and be assertive. Cut, don’t rip.
Watering winter turf
New turf needs less watering in winter time than it does in summer. Still, don’t neglect it. Water turf immediately after laying and make sure the moisture has soaked through into the soil beneath. Check daily that turf isn’t drying out (especially on windy days) and be vigilant until the roots have firmly bedded themselves into your soil.
NEVER walk on frozen grass. You will kill it.
This video from our sister-company shows turf being laid in spring time. You will be able to see what you are trying to achieve in terms of soil consistency. Please remember though that in winter time soil structure is more easily damaged.