Turfing: DIY vs Supply and Lay
A natural lawn is a beautiful thing. Not only does it give your home a welcoming, friendly feel, it’s great for the environment too.
The quickest way by far to create a beautiful garden lawn is to lay turf.
How to lay turf yourself
It’s not difficult to lay turf but preparing the soil for turfing can be quite hard physical work. It certainly burns those calories!
Laying turf onto well prepared soil. Not the texture of the soil - it's nice and fine and friable plus the surface of the soil is firm and level. This gentleman is working from turfing boards to spread his weight and avoid compacting the soil.
The key to having a beautiful lawn is to prepare the soil really well. The same rules apply to turfing and to sowing grass seed. You need a good depth of quality soil. Remember, a lawn isn’t like a vegetable patch. You can’t go back later to add vast quantities of organic matter or grit or whatever it needs to improve the soil texture. What is under a lawn is pretty much permanent so it’s vital to get it right in the first place.
Clear the area
First of all you must remove all vegetation and debris from the area to be turfed. You can either use a herbicide to kill off existing greenery or you can remove it yourself. If you choose to use chemicals, glyphosate is very effective but you will need to wait 3-4 weeks for it to work thoroughly – so leave yourself plenty of time.
If you are removing the vegetation yourself you can either lift it with a spade or you can hire a mechanical turf cutter. Most hire shops offer them at around £50 per day. If you have a large area to cover, it will save you a lot of time and a lot of backache.
Provided the plants you are digging out are not nasty perennial weeds, it’s OK to compost them. Otherwise they need to go to the tip – talk to your local council to find out the best way to dispose of them.
Dig the soil
A lawn will never do well if the plants are struggling to root into the soil. Your next job is to loosen the top 15-20cm (6-8 inches) of soil and get plenty of air incorporated into it.
Dig over the whole area, taking any large stones and plant roots as you go. As a rule of thumb, if a stone is bigger than a satsuma orange, it ought to be removed.
Whilst digging you can assess the quality of your soil. Is it free-draining or is it heavy and clay-like. Is it pale in colour or do you have lovely rich dark soil. Ideally, turf should be laid onto soil that holds enough water to sustain the plants – but not enough to drown them.
A good test is to pick up a handful of soil and squeeze it tight. Then release your grip. If the soil stays in a hard lump, it probably contains a high proportion of clay. If, when you open your hand the soil lump immediately falls apart – it’s probably a bit too dry and sandy. If it keeps its shape but falls apart as soon as you poke it – it’s just right.
This is the stage where you can add some good topsoil to improve what’s already in your garden.
Smooth and level the soil
Now use a garden rake to create a nice base for your lawn. Keep raking until the soil texture resembles the topping on an apple crumble. Aim to get a nice flat surface with no hills or hollows.
Now walk on it to firm it down. You don’t want to compact it, but on the other hand, if the soil is all fluffy at this stage, it will settle into all sorts of funny shapes once you start using it.
When the soil is nice and firm, rake it over again to loosen the surface. Check the levels and order your turf.
It’s vital that your soil is ready BEFORE your turf arrives. Any delay in laying the turf will mean that it’s quality deteriorates. In warm weather, that can be fata.
Lay the turf
Laying turf is relatively simple and you’ll find lots of “how to” videos on the internet. Be sure to work from laying boards and butt each piece up closely to the next.
Finish off by watering it well.
Should you opt for a supply and lay service?
That all depends on your budget, your confidence in your own ability, your health and the amount of free time you have.
I have laid turf myself. It looked simple on the video but my goodness it wore me out. It was very difficult to get the levels right and the rolls of turf were heavier than I expected. By the end of it I was too tired to take pride in my work. For years afterwards I was disappointed in my lawn.
I’m not convinced that I saved much money either – by the time I’d been to the hire shop for a turf cutter and a rotovater I was over £100 down. Then there was the cost of disposing of the old lawn ….. it wasn’t what I expected.
My parents’ lawn on the other hand is beautiful. Mum and Dad are getting on in years and although they still wanted a lawn, they didn’t want the work of creating one. And quite frankly, after I’d moved all of their stuff, neither did I!
So we asked a landscaper to help. The cost wasn’t as bad as I expected. They brought in their own machinery and did the job in double quick time. Three physically fit boys made levelling and raking look easy. They also know the best place to buy good quality turf and are used to handling it. AND they tidied up after themselves. No muddy paths, no discarded half rolls of turf laying around, no dirty footprints all through the house.
If ever I needed another new lawn – I’d leave it to the professionals. It’s definitely worth the money.
- Alex Mason