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Preparing soil for laying new turf - what to do for the best?

(9 Posts)
Cocoabutton Sat 09-Apr-16 11:08:31

Hello everyone,

I am a bit of a novice gardener, but keen to learn. Both front and back garden need serious landscaping, and I have minimum budget. I have started with the front as it is smaller, and this is what I see every day when I get home (and the world sees too!).

Previous owner had put down membrane and chips (although it was basically thick black tarpaulin) and the beds around had various neglected bushes and shrubs. So far, I have dug everything I don't want to keep out, and planted a flower bed with bulbs and flowers at the door.

For as long as I have lived here, I have wanted a lawn in the front garden, and this is my question. I have dug over the soil where the membrane and gravel were, which is where the lawn will go. It is fairly heavy clay soil, and there are also roots (most of these I have got out, but I need to rake it over to get the rest out). Question is what to do next for the best.

My plan is to break up the soil a bit more, and rake it over to get the stones and roots out. I think this will also take the top layer off. I think then I need to put down topsoil and then lay the turf? Am I missing something? My main challenge will be getting the lawn the same level as the borders, as I have taken quite a lot of the rubbish soil off the top here too.

Any words of wisdom welcome flowers

justwhatineeded Sat 09-Apr-16 14:47:49

You will need to mix in the topsoil to the clay. If it is a small area you can do this using a fork or you can hire a renovator for the day to make sure it is mixed well.

Once the top soil is mixed in you have to rake it level. firm down the soil by doing tiny steps with the heel of your foot. this removes the air pockets. Using a rake gently go over the top layer, breaking it up a bit. rake the high spots into the low spots and repeat this step till level.

Once you are happy firm down the soil as above and gently go over the surface. then you can lay your lawn on top and keep it watered. Keep off it till the roots are rooted

If it is a small front garden you can lay artificial grass which means you haven't got to keep mowing it, and looks good all year round.

Cocoabutton Sat 09-Apr-16 20:36:41

Thank you so much, that is really helpful. I wouldn't have got the bit about digging the topsoil into the clay and I appreciate the advice about getting it level. My five year old will need to be under strict instructions not to walk on it at first. Stupid question but how do I know it is rooted? By checking the edges?

The lawn will be about 5m by 4m. I am going for real grass; I have had this in my head since moving in, I just hope it does well. I have dug over the whole space now and started removing the big clumps and stones and the soil looks better already. Fingers crossed!

Thank you againflowers

justwhatineeded Sat 09-Apr-16 23:53:01

for the best results leave it a few weeks. The only thing you have to do is be sure to water it.

if you try to lift the turf and its stuck to the ground then its rooted.

if you don't already have one you should get a lawnmower that allows you to adjust the height. An electric one will be ok for that size. Cut the grass so that the top third is cut. it is better to cut a little bit often then waiting until it grows and cutting it all down in one go.

You will have the lawn you always wanted smile hard work but it will look lovely once finished

Cocoabutton Sun 10-Apr-16 18:24:58

You will have the lawn you always wanted

Thank you! I hope so smile. It will mean a lot to me to have the garden sorted (front and back) and it is nice to actually be getting started with it all. Hopefully this summer will be drier than last, so I can make good progress.

Once again, thank you for your advice; I really appreciate it. I don't have a lawnmower, but wouldn't even have thought of petrol, so glad electric will be fine!

shovetheholly Mon 11-Apr-16 10:17:23

What way does your front garden face and where are you in the country, roughly? It matters quite a bit for this!

If you are on really heavy clay, I would dig in a LOT of grit and some compost to improve drainage. You need to turn the top 25-30cm of it with a spade, so be prepared for some heavy work. If you're somewhere it rains a lot, and the garden faces north or east, this becomes even more important (and you may need special shade-tolerant turf).

Cocoabutton Mon 11-Apr-16 12:20:44

Thanks, I am on the West Coast of Scotland (very wet) and the garden faces west. It gets the sun in full from about now (at this time of year looking out the window) till sunset.

Heavy work is fine, I have already done a big lot of clearing and digging. There is some grit in the soil; I don't mind adding a bit more and compost (before topsoil or digging whole lot together?)

shovetheholly Mon 11-Apr-16 13:28:19

"Heavy work is fine"

A woman after my own heart grin

Yep, I'd dig in a bit more grit, really nice and deep. The last thing you want is a boggy lawn!

The really hard thing with laying turf, I find, is to get the area flat. When you dig, you introduce a lot of air pockets into the soil, especially on clay because you tend to get big ole clumps of the stuff that are uneven. So leaving it to settle for a few weeks really helps - though if you are desperate to get going, you can tread it down, level, tread it down, level, tread it down until you have a base that doesn't give too much.

The topsoil is really just to provide a fine, nutrient-rich layer that the grass can get its roots into. If you have lovely clay soil, however, you may not need it. If you rake it and it's a fine tilth, I'd just lay on top of that. It can just be quicker and easier to shove down a couple of bags of topsoil as a top dressing, though!

Cocoabutton Wed 13-Apr-16 19:55:46

Thank you againflowers

Yes, I think getting it even will be the challenge - not only lumps and bumps in the soil but I saw it from a different angle down the road and it is all at a bit of an angle! Not drastic but I think I will need topsoil to at least try and make it more even. After raking, the clay is actually quite fine and drainage is better than having tarpaulin masquerading as membrane at least. But agree re not wanting a bog.

Digging is fine, I have a whole load still to clear at the back. I figure the exercise will save me a gym membership and also DS is happy enough pottering outside, so as long as it doesn't rain too much, we will get there.

Neighbour said it looks better already, which gives you an idea how bad it was beforeblush

Thanks again for the helpful advice!

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