When it comes to laying turf, proper preparation is the key to great results. But if you’ve never done it before, knowing where to start can be confusing.
How long before your turf arrives do you need to start work? What tools and equipment do you need? And what do you need to do to guarantee good results?
That confusion ends here! We’re going to take you through every step of how to prepare your soil for turfing. Follow our guide, and you’ll give your turf the very best chance of growing into a beautiful lawn.
Let’s get started!
Tools and equipment:
- Gardening gloves
- Turf cutter or garden spade – if you’re removing an existing lawn
- Rotovator or garden fork
- Topsoil – if there isn’t enough on your garden
- Soil improver – this could be gravel, sharp sand or organic matter, depending on your soil type
- Garden rake
- Pre-turfing or general-purpose fertiliser
- Watering can or garden hose
Step By Step Guide for preparing ground for turf
Step 1. Clear the area
If you’re going to be laying your new lawn on a spot that already has grass, you’ll need to remove it first.
You can do this with a garden spade, but it’s hard work. You’ll need to cut into the grass, then push your spade underneath to remove it. Make sure you wear gardening gloves, or you’ll end up with blisters.
Alternatively, you can use a half-moon edger and garden fork. This YouTube video from the Gosforth Handyman shows you how to do it. It’s still a back-breaking task, but the technique makes it a bit easier.
But if you’ve got a large lawn to clear, we’d highly recommend hiring a turf cutter. You’ll get the job done in a fraction of the time. And your back will thank you for it!
When you’ve removed the grass, put it into your composter or take it to your local tip.
Step 2. Check your soil type
Now that the area is clear, check whether you’re going to need any additional topsoil or soil improver.
Your new grass will need at least 100mm, and ideally 150mm, of topsoil. Dig down and see how much you have. Topsoil is easy to distinguish from subsoil, as it’s much darker in colour.
If you don’t have deep enough topsoil, order more. You’ll need to work out the surface area of your new lawn to do this. We’ll explain how to do that in the next step.
Take a look at the consistency of your soil too, to see if it needs to be improved. If it’s heavy and clumps together, it’s a good idea to add gravel or sharp sand to improve drainage. If it’s light and sandy, you may want to add organic matter. Purchase whatever soil improver you need now.
Step 3. Measure the space for your new lawn
It’s best to measure in metres, so that your final figure will be in square metres. Most topsoil and turf suppliers work with metric rather than imperial measurements.
If your new lawn will be rectangular, just measure the length and width. Now multiply the two measurements together to get the surface area.
If your lawn will be circular, measure the diameter. Then split that figure in two to give you the radius. To calculate the surface area, multiply the radius by itself, then multiply the result by 3.14.
If your lawn will be irregularly shaped, draw it to scale on a grid or sheet of graph paper. Make one square equal to one square metre, and count up all the squares your drawing fills. Then add in any squares that are at least half full to give you a total.
However you calculate your lawn area, it’s a good idea to add at least 5 per cent to the total. Use this figure to order your turf, and your topsoil if you need it. That will ensure you have enough for your project.
Make sure your turf will be delivered within 24 hours of when you’ll lay it. Ideally, you want to be able to lay it as soon as it arrives. Note that you’ll need a few days for other preparations before your ground will be ready to turf.
Pro tip: Another way to measure an irregular shaped lawn is to divide it up into smaller squares, rectangles and half or quarter-circles. Measure the dimensions of each smaller shape, then calculate the area accordingly. Now add everything together to get a total.
If it’s a complicated sum, do it at least twice to make sure you get the same result!
Step 4. Dig over the area
You’re now ready to start preparing the ground for the new turf.
Start by digging it over to a depth of at least 150mm. You can do this using a garden fork but, as with lifting old turf, it’s a tough job. If you’ve got a large area to cover, consider hiring a rotovator. It still requires some energy to control the machine, but it will be much easier.
If you’re doing this by hand, break up any clumps of soil with the back of your fork as you go. Remove roots, weeds and stones too. Anything bigger than a matchbox will impair the growth of your grass.
Keep a bucket close by as you work, so you can throw any debris straight in. Then you can dispose of it in one go.
If you need to add more topsoil, now is the time to do it.
Step 5. Make the ground level and firm
Take your rake and rake over the surface. Get down close to the ground and use long strokes for the best results.
The next step is to compact the soil. Stand at one corner of your lawn with your feet pressed tightly together. Now shuffle forward, one foot at a time, keeping them as close together as you can. Press your heels lightly into the soil as you move.
Do this over the whole area of your lawn. This will remove large air pockets in the soil – but it will have the unfortunate side effect of creating small lumps and bumps.
To deal with these, rake over the whole surface once more. It’s a boring job, but it’s worth it in the end – we promise!
Pro tip: A second shuffle will make the soil even firmer. If you do this, move at right angles to the direction you shuffled the first time. That will help create a consistent soil density across the lawn.
Step 6. Fertilise the area
Now it’s time to add fertiliser to give your new turf a helping hand. You can use a specialist pre-turfing fertiliser for this, but a general purpose one will work fine too.
Make sure you follow the instructions for application carefully. In most cases, you’ll need to leave at least a couple of days between fertilising and laying the turf. That will give the soil time to absorb the chemicals.
For specialist fertilisers, follow the directions on how much to use. If you’re using general purpose fertiliser, use 70 grams per square metre.
Pro tip: Generally speaking, you’ll be able to lay turf sooner after applying specialist pre-turfing fertilisers. If you’re using a general purpose fertiliser, apply it at least four days before laying the turf.
Step 7. Give the ground a good watering
Your turf needs plenty of moisture to grow and root into the soil. Two days before you’re going to lay it, give your lawn area a good watering. You can use a watering can, but a hose or sprinkler will be easier.
Your aim is to give the ground enough water that it’s moist to a depth of 75mm 10 minutes after watering.
Plan for the arrival of your turf
- Some stages of ground preparation, like watering and fertilising, need to be done well ahead of laying turf – so plan ahead.
- Make sure you know how your turf will be delivered. How will you move it from the drop-off point to your lawn? A wheelbarrow may make the job easier, but remember to construct ramps if you’ll need to navigate any steps.
- You want to lay your turf as soon as possible after it arrives, and certainly within 24 hours. Make sure you know where you’re going to put it when it arrives. And try to find a location that’s in the shade to keep your grass healthy for longer.
If things go wrong
- Sometimes things don’t go according to plan, despite our best efforts! If that happens and you’re unable to lay your turf when you’d intended to, unroll it. That will allow the light to get to the grass and keep it alive for longer.
- If it’s hot, give it a water too. That will prevent the grass from yellowing and the soil from becoming brittle.
Choose your turf carefully
- Order your turf from a reputable supplier to make sure you get good quality. Look for providers that meet the Turf Growers’ Association standards and that guarantee weed-free turf.
- Choose turf that has the best chance of growing well in your garden. If your lawn has lower light levels, look for shade-tolerant versions.
- If your lawn is going to have heavy traffic – children playing, for example – choose hardwearing grasses. Ornamental mixes won’t look good for long if they’re subjected to heavy use.
You’re ready to lay your turf!
That brings us to the end of our step by step guide to how to prepare your soil for turfing. We hope you’re now ready to create the perfect conditions for your lawn to grow lush and green!
Take your time with your soil before laying your turf, and you’ll get much better results. That means planning ahead, and remembering to fertilise and water the ground well before the turf goes down.
Good luck with your project, and enjoy lazing on a lush new lawn this summer!