How to Lay Turf to Create a Beautiful Lawn: Step-by-Step

how to lay turf

While it’s more expensive than sowing grass seed, laying turf is the quickest and easiest way to create a new lawn. And it means you’ll almost instantly have a good-looking, usable area in your garden.

Most articles on the internet about how to lay turf are very vague and don’t cover the subject as a whole. This can result in some would-be DIY’ers having more questions than when they started their research.

Even worse, some people make disastrous (and expensive) mistakes when laying new turf because they weren’t made aware of all the things that need consideration when creating a new lawn.

This article is different.

I’m going to cover everything you need to know about how to lay turf. Including;

  • What time of year you should lay turf so your lawn looks spectacular as quickly as possible.
  • Everything you need to know about planning your lawn so you not only avoid disaster but create a lawn your neighbours will be jealous of.
  • All the tools you’ll need to get the job done quickly and easily.
  • How to lay turf step-by-step, from preparing the ground to creating an immaculate finish.

It’ll take you a good 15-20 minutes to read and I’d encourage you to go through it at least twice. Then bookmark the page so you can come back to it. Heck, print it out if you have to.

 

The Best Time to Lay Turf for Quick Establishment


When learning how to lay turf, consideration must also be given to when laying turf should be done.

Laying turf is best done when growing conditions are at their best. This means warm soil, rain and sun. You’ll also want to do it when there aren’t many weed seeds floating around.

This means Autumn is generally the best time of year.

The soil will be warm from the summers sun but the rain provides moisture and the sun encourages the grass to grow and roots to establish.

It’s best not to lay new turf between mid-spring and autumn as the strong sun and lack of rain is likely to dry it out. That said, if you’re willing to spend the time and money on watering your new lawn thoroughly, you can do it successfully.

 

Planning Your New Lawn


planning your lawn

The better your planning and preparation, the better your lawn will look when it’s finished. If you skip this step, chances are it won’t look as good as it should. So it’s worth investing the time to think about the following before spending your money on the wrong things;

Designing Your New Lawn

Garden design isn’t my area of expertise. That said, there are a few design considerations that go into an easily maintainable lawn;

The Shape

Straight edges and soft curves are easy to mow and maintain. If you like a striped lawn, a simple shape will make this easier to achieve. It’s also worth thinking about lawn scarification and aeration. The simpler the shape, the easier these treatments will be to do.

Entry and Exit Points

Try and keep narrow entry and exit points to a minimum. They can become compacted and need maintaining more often than other parts of the lawn. If you have to have entry and exit points, make them as wide as possible.

Islands and Obstacles

Little islands, lawn centred rock gardens and shrubberies, bird baths, ponds, and wishing wells all look nice. That said, they all add time to lawn maintenance with slower mowing and edge cutting. If you like to spend more time enjoying your garden instead of maintaining it, you might want to keep these to a minimum.

In the Shade or Under the Sun?

The amount of light or shade your lawn sits under will dictate the type of turf you use. Some grasses don’t grow very well in damp shady areas so choose your turf accordingly.

Soil Considerations

Some grasses don’t grow very well in certain soils but perform really well in others. For example, an ornamental lawn won’t look great if it’s sat on top of heavy clay.

If you lay the wrong turf on the wrong soil, your lawn will never grow or look as well as it should.

It’s always worth thinking about investing in a soil improver, no matter what type of soil is in your garden. It’ll just give your new lawn the best chance of success.

Types of Turf

If this is your first time laying new turf you might have thought about pulling up outside B&Q and filling the boot with whatever turf they have outside the store.

Don’t do that!

Before you make any decisions about what turf to buy, ask yourself the following two questions;

  1. What type of lawn do I want? – A hard wearing lawn that’ll cope with the kids playing football on it, or a fine, ornamental lawn that looks like a bowling green?
  2. How much time to I plan to spend maintaining it? – Be honest! You can’t have an ornamental lawn if you only plan to spend half an hour cutting the grass on a Saturday morning. It’ll take hours of dedication.

Once you’ve made a decision about the type of lawn you want, narrowing it down to a type of turf is much easier.

If you want a hard wearing lawn that’ll stand up to the kids rolling around on and dogs using it while still looking good, pick a turf that contains a variety of hard-wearing Ryegrass as well as fine fescues like Rolawns’ Medallion Turf.

I really like Rolawn’s products and if you’re in the market for turf, read my Rolawn review before making any decisions.

Or maybe you want to go all out on an ornamental lawn? If this is the case, you might find you’ll need to sow new grass seed as there aren’t many ornamental turfs on the market at all.

Drainage

When it comes to lawn drainage, there are two things to consider;

Drainage From the Lawn

It’s a good idea to have your lawn slightly sloped so excess water runs off it, ideally away from the house. If your lawn runs up to a wall but also slopes towards it, water will get trapped and the whole area will become waterlogged and problematic.

If this is the case, install some kind of drainage and give that water a place to go.

Drainage From Patios or Driveways

If the soil is clay based and doesn’t drain well, the last thing you want is for water to run onto it from your driveway or patio. Again, this will cause the lawn to waterlog so install a soakaway at the lawns edge.

Protecting the Lawn Edges

The edges are the first parts of the lawn to dry out when it gets hot. As such, it’s important to protect them.

If the lawn edge runs alongside a border or flower bed, pack soil up to the edge of the lawn so it slopes down into the border. Roughly at a 30-degree angle. This will stop the roots from drying out.

Hard surfaces that get hot and retain the heat from the sun (walls for example) are also less than ideal areas for the lawn edge to be in direct contact with. It’s a good idea to put a thermal barrier in between them. Pressure treated railway sleepers work well, as does heavy-duty plastic lawn edging.

If You Have Moles in Your Lawn

If you have moles in your lawn and they make a mess with their molehills, consider installing a barrier to prevent the moles from breaking the surface. You can do this cheaply and easily as you’re preparing the ground.

 

Tools You’ll Need For Laying Turf


Here is a list of everything you’ll need (or might not need, depending on your situation) to create your new lawn;

Weedkiller

weed killerIt’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.

Read: Which Weed Killer Should I Use On My Lawn?

Spade

spade Depending on the size, a spade might be the only tool you need for removing the existing lawn and digging the ground underneath to prepare the ground for new turf.

Expect it to be hard work though.

Petrol Turf Cutter (If You Have Large Lawns)

petrol turf cutterEven on a small lawn, using a spade or turfing iron is hard work.

It’ll be backbreaking if you have a big lawn, or lots of them.

In this case, it would be wise to consider buying or hiring a petrol turf cutter.

Rotavator

rotavatorAgain, if you’ve only got a small lawn you should be able to dig and turn the earth with a bit of hard graft.

But if you’re working on big lawns you’ll need a rotavator to turn the earth for you. It’ll be far quicker and so much easier on your back!

If you’re creating an ornamental lawn you should invest in buying or hiring a really good machine. Most hire companies cost around £150 for the first day and it gets cheaper each day after that.

For most play lawns and general purpose lawns where the finish doesn’t have to be quite so perfect, you can buy a good petrol rotavator off Amazon for less than £150.

Landscaping Rake

landscapers rakeYou’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.

Wooden Planks

wooden planksIf you need to cross the lawn as your laying turf you’ll want to walk across a wooden plank.

Walking on top of freshly laid turf can damage it and cause it to move. By walking across a plank (or planks) you’ll distribute your weight across it instead of having all your weight in one place, protecting the new turf.

Sharp Knife or Saw

hand sawIt’s inevitable that you’ll need to trim the turf as you meet the edges of pathways and garden features.

A good, sharp knife or saw is ideal for trimming lawn turf and easily create nice, neat edges.

Soil Improver or Topsoil (Optional but Recommended)

top soil improverIf your soil is clay based you should do what you can to improve it.

I recommend you use a good quality sandy topsoil with incorporated fertiliser. This will improve the soil structure and promote good root development.

Mole Mesh (Optional, if You Have Moles)

mole meshIf your lawn has fallen victim to molehills in the past and has ended up bumpy and uneven, you might consider laying some Mole Mesh as you prepare the ground.

This won’t prevent moles from tunnelling under your lawn but it will prevent them from breaking the surface and making a mess.

Pre-Lawn Fertiliser

pre lawn fertiliserAt 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.

Fertiliser Spreader

seed fertiliser spreaderIf 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.

Lawn Turf

lawn turfOnce you know the type of lawn you want based on how it will be used and the soil type, you can choose your turf.

Because you need to lay turf as quickly as possible, it should be the very last thing you order. The time between removing your old lawn, to preparing the ground and laying new turf can be several days, even weeks.

Don’t make the mistake of ordering it first. It’ll be dead by the time you come to lay it.

Hose and Sprinkler

garden sprinklerAfter laying turf you’ll want to water it in so that the roots and grass establish and the turf knits together to create a nice, uniformed look.

As you’ll want to avoid walking on the grass it’s best to use a hose and sprinkler system.

 

Calculating How Much Material You Need


calculating how much material you need

Before you can create a new lawn you need to figure out how much turf you need, whether you need topsoil or a soil improver and if you do, how much.

So let me show you how to do it;

Step 1: Inspect Your Soil to Determine Whether You Need a Soil Improver or Fertiliser

Dig a small hole in the lawn and take a handful of soil. Does it feel like clay, is it heavy or is sandy?

If it’s heavy and feels like clay, it would benefit from a soil improver, like this sandy, lawn turfing topsoil. It’ll help with drainage and because it has lawn establishment fertiliser mixed in, it will help with root establishment and grass growth.

Even if your soil is sandy, your new lawn will benefit from this turfing topsoil. If you choose not to use it, you should, at the very least apply a lawn establishment fertiliser.

Step 2: Measure Your Lawn to Work Out How Much Turf You Need

If you have a square or rectangle lawn, this is easy. Simply multiply the width by the length to come up with a number. This will be the square meterage you need to order. Then add 5% for wastage and shaping.

For example, let’s say your lawn is 15 meters by 10 meters.

15 x 10 = 150
+ 5% = 157.5 square meters.

Measuring a round, oval or an odd shaped lawn is a little more complex.

Using a piece of graph paper, allocate one large square to a meter. Measure the length and width of your garden and mark it out on your paper.

Next, draw an approximate shape of your lawn so it’s to scale. Then, by counting the number of squares your lawn fills and ‘guestimating’ the square meterage in the partially filled squares, you can come up with a fairly accurate result.

Depending on how confident you are with your estimation, add 5% – 10% for wastage, shaping and mismeasuring.

If you’re struggling, you can also use a calculator to figure out how to much turf you’ll need.

Step 3: Calculate How Much Soil Improver / Topsoil You Need

Measuring the volume of topsoil or soil improver is simple.

Take the square meterage of the lawn and multiply it by the depth of material. For example, if your lawn is 150 square meters and you need 15cm of topsoil (which is recommended) you’d multiply 150 by 0.15 which gives you 22.5m cubed.

Add 5% and your total is 23.625 meters cubed.

If you need soil improver at a recommended depth of 7.5cm, multiply 150 by 0.75 which gives you 11.25m cubed.

Add 5% and for a total of 11.812 meters cubed.

Step 4: Order Your Soil Improver / Topsoil and Turf

Be careful here: It’s important that your preparation is complete BEFORE your turf arrives.

If you’re laying turf in the Spring or Summer (which I don’t really advise) you’ll need to lay it as soon as it arrives. In the Autumn, you have a 24-hour window before it starts to deteriorate. You don’t want to have the turf just lying around while you prepare the ground.

So, order your topsoil/soil improver and fertiliser to come first and your turf to come a few days after that.

Once you know how much material you need, go order it. It doesn’t matter whether you order it online from a national supplier or in-store at your local garden centre, it’ll normally take a few days for delivery.

This gives you the time to start preparing the ground.

 

How to Prepare the Ground for New Turf


The below video from Rolawn is excellent and shows you everything you need to know about preparing the ground for turf.

I encourage you to watch it as many times as you need to.

Step 1: Remove the Old Lawn

If you have an existing lawn, you’ll need to remove it. You can do this with a spade, turf lifter or a petrol turf cutter.

If you can, spray the lawn with a weed killer a couple of weeks before you plan to remove the old turf. This will kill the weeds and prevent new ones from growing up through your new lawn.

If you’re doing it by hand with a spade or turf lifter, be prepared for some hard work. You might want a bath afterwards!

A petrol turf cutter will make short work of removing old turf.

The turf you remove can be composted, taken to your local recycling centre or thrown in a green waste skip.

Step 2: Rotavate / Dig Over the Soil

With the old lawn removed, or if you’re starting a new one from scratch, you’ll need to rotovate or dig over the old soil to break it up and aerate it.

This should be done to a depth of at least 10cm, 15cm-20cm is even better. If you’re working a spade, going to 10cm might exhaust you. That said, if you have a rotavator, it’s much easier to go deeper.

It’s best to do this when the ground is fairly dry. If it’s too wet, it’ll make digging really heavy and the soil could clog up your machinery.

Step 3: Dig in the Soil Improver or Topsoil

If you’re adding a soil improver or topsoil, spread it evenly across the soil and rotavate (or dig) it in by giving the area another pass with your spade or rotavator.

Optional Step: If You Have Moles in Your Lawn

If you’re putting down a mole mesh, remove a couple of inches of soil, lay the mesh and lay the soil back on top.

You don’t want to put the mesh directly under the turf because you can often see a moles tunnels from the surface of your lawn. It might also get damaged in later ears as you scarify and aerate your lawn.

Laying the mesh a few inches down will also stop any moles getting close enough to the surface to cause any visual damage.

Step 4: Rake the Soil Level

Now take a landscaper’s rake to break up and big lumps of soil and level the ground. Make sure you remove any rocks, stones, and old roots as you go. Being a perfectionist and removing as much of this as you can will create a better finish later on.

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 with a few bits of wood. It’s very simple but very effective:

Step 5: Tread the Soil

Once you’ve removed any unwanted debris and 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 and your weight over your heels to firm up the soil. Do this a few times in different directions. You’ll get an excellent workout but this isn’t a step that can be skipped.

Treading is really the only way to firm up the soil and you need to be thorough. 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 to make the ground as level as possible.

Step 6: Add a Pre-Turfing Fertiliser (If You Haven’t Used a Soil Improver)

If you haven’t used a soil improver or a topsoil that contains a fertiliser, now is the time to add it. If you have a small lawn this can be done fairly easily by hand but if your lawn is fairly big, use a fertiliser spreader as this will distribute it more evenly.

Step 7: 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.

Step 8: Water the Soil

Now you’ve prepared the ground and you’re waiting for your turf to arrive it’s a good idea to water the soil. This will activate the fertiliser and the moisture will provide a good contact between the soil and turf. It’ll also help the roots establish themselves.

 

How to Lay Turf, Step-by-Step


So you’ve prepared the ground so now it’s time to learn how to turf a lawn.

All the hard work was done in the preparation and laying turf is the easy bit in comparison. It’s also the really fun part because you’ll start to see your new lawn taking shape.

Again, Rolawn has an excellent video which shows you how to do it.

When the turf arrives you need to get to work.

PLEASE NOTE: It’s important that you don’t walk on freshly laid turf. If you do need to cross a section of freshly laid lawn, lay a plank on top and walk over it. This way your weight will be evenly distributed.

Step 1: Laying the First Turf

Start laying turf on the longest border. To create a straight edge, use a plank or a spirit level as a guide. If you’re creating a circular lawn, start in the middle and work out from there.

Pro Tip: I always give the underside if each turf a spray with water to we the soil. This ensures a good contact with the soil the turf is being laid onto.

Step 2: Laying the Next Rolls of Turf

When laying the next rolls of turf, make sure they’re closely butted together with the one you laid previously. Make sure you push the turf into the joints without stretching it and avoid creating gaps.

It’s a good idea to gently knead the ends of the turf where they meet to create a good bond between them.

Step 3: Adding the Next Rows of Turf

When you have laid the first row of turf, it’s time to lay the next. Make sure you lay the turf in an offset fashion, exactly like brickwork.

Staggering all of the joints in this way minimises the risk of the turf drying out.

Again, gently knead the edges together to create a good contact between each roll of turf. If any gaps do appear, fill them in with a light, sandy topsoil.

Step 4: Creating a Firm Contact Between the Turf and Soil

In order for your lawn to establish itself and grow, make sure the turf has a firm contact with the soil beneath it.

You can do this by tamping down on it with the head of a rake or a length of wood.

Step 5: Shaping

When you’re laying a lawn it’s highly likely that you’ll need to shape it around pathways, patios or features in the middle.

Shaping and creating a neat edge around these obstacles is very easy when using a long, sharp knife or a hand saw.

Step 6: Protect the Outer Edges of the Turf

When you have laid your lawn you should protect any exposed edges from drying out. This could be where the lawn meets a flower bed for example.

Pack some soil against the edges to cover them and stop them from drying out. This can be removed after a few weeks if you wish.

Step 7: Water the Lawn

The final step is to water the lawn and give it some much-needed moisture. Use a hosepipe and sprinkler system so water is distributed evenly.

Depending on the time of year, you’ll need to water daily make sure you new lawn establishes well.

Sometimes when you water your turf well, you might see a few mushrooms popping up in the grass. This is perfectly normal and a sign of good moisture and fertile soil so don’t panic.

Again, make sure you use a plank to walk on when putting your sprinkler in place.

 

Now it’s Over to You


In this guide, I’ve show you how to lay turf.

We’ve covered everything from the best time of year for laying turf, designing your lawn and the different things you need to consider.

Then we covered all the tools you need, preparing the ground and how to lay turf to create a beautiful lawn.

Now it’s Your Turn

This guide is a fairly big one and there are a few things that need consideration, but it’s not complicated or overly difficult.

So I encourage you to give it a go.

If you have any questions or comments, leave them in the comments section below.

I’d also love to see your freshly laid lawns so please, send pictures!

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