In this article, I’m going to show you, in 9 simple steps, how to prepare the ground for turf and grass seed.
Like any project, the secret to a beautiful finish is thorough preparation. As such, it’s worth taking the time to do it properly.
Tools You’ll Need For Preparing the Ground For Grass Seed and Turf
Here is a list of everything you’ll need when it comes to preparing the ground.
It’s a good idea to apply a weedkiller to the lawn to make sure any weeds and weed seeds are dead before you take up the old turf. This will prevent any weeds from the old lawn coming up through the new turf.
Elixir Glyphosate Weedkiller is excellent.
Spade or Garden Fork
If you only have a small area that you want to cover with a new lawn, a spade or garden fork might be the only tool you need for removing any existing growth and digging the ground to prepare it for new turf or seed.
Expect it to be hard work though.
Petrol Turf Cutter (If You Have Large Lawns)
If you need to remove a large area of old lawn, using a spade or turfing iron is back-breaking.
In this case, it would be wise to use a petrol turf cutter.
It’s most economical to hire one for a day or two than it is to buy one.
Again, if you’ve only got a small area on which to create your new lawn, you might be able to dig and turn the earth with a bit of hard graft.
But if you’re working on a large area you’ll need a rotavator to turn the earth for you.
It’ll be far quicker and so much easier on your back!
You’ll need a rake to create a reasonably level surface on which to lay the new turf.
A landscaping rake is an ideal tool.
Strong tines and a flat back makes an easy job of moving and distributing soil.
You can only get an area so flat with a landscaping rake.
To create as flat a surface as possible, you’ll need a landscaping lute. Now, these are incredibly expensive to buy but you can make them yourself with a few bits of wood.
I have included a video (CLICK HERE) to show you what it looks like and how it works.
Soil Improver or Topsoil (Optional but Recommended)
No matter how good your soil is, it’ll always benefit from the addition of good quality organic matter.
For clay-based soils, the addition of fine grit and/or sandy topsoil will improve drainage and add nutrients.
For sandy soils, the addition of compost or well-rotted manure will add nutrients and improve water retention.
At the very least you should get some kind of fertiliser into the soil before you lay the turf.
This will help the roots establish and the turf to knit together to give a uniformed finish. Rowlawn’s GroRight Lawn Establishment Fertiliser is perfect.
If you need to spread a pre-lawn fertiliser and you have a small lawn, you can spread by hand fairly evenly.
That said, if you have big areas of lawn, invest in a spreader. It’ll spread the fertiliser more evenly and it’ll do it quickly.
The Best Time of Year to Prepare the Ground For Turf or Grass Seed
In order to create the best looking lawn you can, you should allow yourself plenty of time to prepare the ground.
Generally, Autumn is the best time for laying turf or sowing grass seed.
The soil is warm from the Summer’s sun, there are very few weed seeds in the air and the rain comes to help water the area and encourage quick establishment and growth.
So, September and October are always good months.
I like to give myself a good 8 weeks to prepare the ground so if you plan on creating your new lawn in September, start preparing the ground in July.
Even if you don’t lay your turf or sow seed until October, the hard work will have already been done.
Preparing the Ground For Turf or Grass Seed, Step-by-Step
Preparing the ground for turf or grass seed is fairly straight forward. That said, you should take your time and be as thorough as possible.
In fact, for best results, give yourself a couple of months to prepare the ground. You can do it quicker but the results won’t be nearly as good.
Step 1: Remove Old Turf, Plants and Weeds
The first thing to do is clear the area where your new lawn is going to be laid or sown.
You should remove every last piece of plant material from the area.
There are a couple of ways to clear the area depending on how environmentally conscious you are;
1. Apply a Weed Killer
If you’re more concerned with speed, then spray the area with a Glyphosate-based weed killer. Choose one that breaks down on contact with soil like Elixir’s Glyphosate Weed Killer Concentrate.
Wait for 2-3 weeks until the whole area has died off and gone brown before removing the old lawn, plants or weeds with a spade or turf cutter.
2. Solarize the Area
If the idea of using Glyphosate irks you then there is another option. Although this is best done in the Summer as we’ll be using the suns heat.
Remove the old turf, plants or weeds with a spade or turf cutter and water the soil deeply. Then cover the bare soil with clear, 2mm plastic sheeting which you can buy on Amazon.
Leave it for at least 4 weeks, (6-8 weeks is even better).
The plastic sheeting will cause a greenhouse effect and heat the soil underneath to temperatures that will kill any remaining weed, plant or grass seeds.
This process is called soil solarization. For more information, read this article.
Step 2: Rotavate the Soil
Once you have cleared the area and killed any remaining weed, grass or plant seeds, you need to turn the soil over.
Do this with either a gardening fork, spade or mechanical rotavator.
Dig or rotavate to a depth of at least 15cm (20cm – 25cm is even better) and remove as much debris as possible – rubble, roots, stones etc.
If there isn’t enough soil to dig at least 15cm deep, you’ll need to add some.
I really like Rolawn’s Turf and Seeding Topsoil as it comes with pre-seeding fertiliser already added.
Step 3: Decide Whether You Need a Soil Improver
This does take more time and also adds to the expense of creating a new lawn. As a result, many people skip this step.
However, it makes a huge difference in how well your lawn establishes and grows in the long term. As such, I advise you to improve your soil if you can.
Heavy, Clay-Like Soil
If your soil is heavy and clay-like, add some fine gravel to improve drainage and add compost or well-rotted organic matter to add nutrients which your soil might be deficient in.
If your soil is sandy and free-draining, add some compost or well-rotted organic matter to improve water retention. This will add nutrients and also help to keep moisture in the soil where it can be used by the new grass roots.
No matter if you have clay-like soil or sandy soil, the addition of compost will always help. I like to use Rolawn’s Soil Improving Compost for larger areas but any compost, well rotted organic material or manure will do.
To mix it into the soil, spread it over the surface and turn the soil over again with a fork, spade or rotavator.
Step 4: Level the Area
In many ways levelling the area is the hard part.
The flatter you can make the area, the better your lawn will look when it’s laid.
Take a landscaper’s rake and break up any clumps of soil. Rake the area flat until the whole area is as even as you can get it.
However, using a rake to level the soil will only get you so far.
The video below shows you how to level soil before laying turf or sowing seed with a tool called a ‘Lute’ made with a few bits of wood.
It’s very simple but very effective:
This will create a surface which is as flat as possible.
Step 5: Tread the Soil
Once you’ve levelled the soil, it’s time to tread it, or ‘heel it’ as some people say.
This involves treading the soil with very small steps with your weight over your heels to firm up the soil. Do this a few times in different directions.
Treading is really the only way to firm up the soil and you need to be thorough. You cannot skip this part. If you don’t do it, the ground will settle as it rains and your lawn will become bumpy and uneven very quickly.
If there are places that sink, add soil to them and tread those areas again to make the ground as level as possible.
Step 6: If You’re a Perfectionist, Leave the Area to Settle
If you’re a perfectionist and not in a rush, leave the soil open to the elements and let it settle for a period of 2-4 weeks.
If you heel the soil and lay turf immediately, the soil underneath can settle slightly over time, creating undulations in the lawn. For a perfectionist will an ornamental lawn, this will not do.
After a few weeks, level the area and heel it again.
For normal family and utility lawns, this step isn’t really necessary.
Step 7: Add a Pre-Seeding Fertiliser
It’s important to get the chemical nutrients into the soil before laying turf or sowing grass seed.
So, add a pre-seeding fertiliser to the soil.
I use Rolawn’s GroRight Lawn Establishment Fertiliser.
Step 8: Rake the Soil
Once you have applied a fertiliser, rake it into the top 25mm of soil.
Rake the soil to a fine finish. The finer the soil is, the better contact it will have with the turf when you lay it or the grass seed when you sow it.
Step 9: Water the Soil
Now you’ve prepared the ground and you’re waiting for your turf or grass seed to arrive, it’s a good idea to water the soil.
This will activate the fertiliser and the moisture will provide good contact between the soil and turf or seed.
It’ll also help the roots establish.
Like any other job, the end result is only as good as the preparation that has gone before it.
If you rush the prep, the final result won’t be very good. However, if you take your time and do it right, you newly turfed or seeded lawn will be a think of beauty.
The good news is that preparing the ground for turf or seed is a simple task. There’s nothing complicated about it but it does take time and hard work if you want to create the best finish you can.
Over to You
Are you ready to prepare your garden for new turf or grass seed?
I hope this guide has helped you understand what to do and when.
If you have any questions, comments or if you have any hacks which you have used when preparing the ground for a lawn, drop a comment below.