In this article, I’m going to show you how to lay turf, step-by-step.
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.
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;
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.
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)
Even 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.
Again, 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.
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.
If 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
It’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)
If 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)
If 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.
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.
Once 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
After 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
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
For this step, I have made a handy turf calculator.
- If your lawn is either square or rectangular, enter the length and width in meters.
- For circular lawns, enter the diameter in meters (the measurement across the circle).
- For triangular lawns, enter the base measurement (or longest side) and the height (from base to tip).
Measuring an odd shaped lawn is a bit more complex because a calculator won’t work.
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.
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!