Choosing turf over grass seed? Turf will green up your lawn faster than grass seed while providing more uniform results, but you’ll still need to put some work into preparing the soil.
Laying turf grass doesn’t require expert skills. That said, you’ll need to work with care and not skip any of the key steps necessary for the turf to root well.
The best way to lay turf is to remove old grass, weeds and rocks from the area, rake and level the soil and add topsoil and fertiliser. Roll out the turf in strips starting from the longest edge and follow a bricklaying pattern. Cut edges with a sharp knife, press the turf into the soil, and water it well.
Read on to find out more about how to lay lawn turf in more detail.
Can you lay turf over an old lawn or on top of turf?
You can lay turf over bald patches in an otherwise healthy lawn. But laying turf over an old lawn or on top of turf isn’t a good idea. The grass beneath it will die and lead to far from nice results.
Even if at first the turf will mask the problem, you’ll end up with a patchy and possibly uneven lawn that you’ll need to returf before long.
How much does it cost to turf a garden?
The cost of turf starts at around £2-3 per square metre (m2) for budget turf. Finer, hard-wearing turf can cost over £6 per m2. As a broad estimate, turfing a 100 m2 garden can cost anywhere from £300 to over £600 without delivery costs.
This doesn’t account for the cost of topsoil, fertilisers, and other products or tools you need during the preparation of the soil. It also assumes that you will do all the work yourself.
Tip: Buy your turf from a member of the Turfgrass Growers Association (TGA) to ensure it has passed a quality assurance process.
How much to returf a lawn?
As we’ve seen, laying turf over turf isn’t recommended. So, unless we’re talking about fixing isolated bald patches in a lawn, returfing an old lawn calls for removing the existing turf first.
This means extra work and, if you choose to use a turf cutter or similar device, renting or buying it. On the plus side, you may not need to invest as much into adding topsoil and fertilising the soil.
The bottom line is that returfing a lawn costs about as much as turfing it for the first time.
How much turf do I need?
Turf rolls vary in size depending on the grower, from 1m2 to longer or narrower strips, for example over 2.5 metres long and less than 0.5 metres wide. The seller will specify how much area a roll will cover.
Depending on the size of the turf rolls, you may need anything from one roll of turf for each square metre of lawn to a dozen or so rolls.
Start by measuring your garden to calculate the area if you haven’t already. Determine its shape and grab a tape measure and someone to help you with it.
- For square or rectangular gardens, measure the width and length and multiply them to work out the area.
- For circular gardens, measure the radius, that is, a line from the centre to the outside of the circle. Multiply this by itself and then multiply the result by the Pi number 3.14159265359.
- For triangular gardens, measure a perpendicular line from the centre of the longest side (the base) to the opposite corner to determine the height. Next, multiply the base length by the height you’ve measured. Then divide the result by two.
- For irregularly shaped areas, break them into manageable shapes and measure each.
You need to buy around 5-10% more turf than the area you need to cover. This makes up for any turf you need to cut and shape.
For example, a rectangular 10×8 metre area will require 80m2. Adding the 5% extra, you need 84m2 of turf.
If you buy turf rolls that are 1m2 each, you’ll need 84 turf rolls. For longer and narrower rolls, divide the total area by the turf roll coverage area to determine how many rolls you need.
Tip: Buy the turf on the day when you plan to lay it or order it to be delivered to you on that day.
When is the best time to lay turf?
The best time to lay turf in the UK is mid-autumn. During this time of year, the ground is warm enough to support healthy root growth and little mowing is needed, which will help the turf become established. At the same time, frequent rain means you won’t have to worry about watering it every day.
Autumn will give you the best results, but you can lay turf all year round. Here are the things you need to keep in mind:
Laying turf in spring
The second-best time of the year to roll out turf is early spring. The soil temperature and rainfall levels will create very good conditions for the grass to grow. Lay the turf early in spring to give it time to grow healthy roots before the summer heat sets in.
Laying turf in summer
Summer is the worst season to lay turf as the high temperatures and reduced rainfall make it harder for it to develop properly. However, you can still roll out turf at this time of year if you must. Water the soil properly before and lay the turf immediately after receiving it.
Laying turf in autumn
While you can often lay turf at any time in autumn with good results, the best time to do it is mid-autumn, before the soil becomes frosty. Prepare the ground properly and don’t lay the turf if the soil is soggy. Wait for it to become more compact for better results and to reduce the general mess.
Laying turf in winter
You can lay turf in winter, provided the soil is not frozen. Unlike grass seed, turf can withstand low temperatures and even frost. If the rolls of turf happen to freeze overnight, don’t worry. You can still use them. Wait for them to thaw and roll them out carefully.
Ground preparation for laying turf
You need to prepare the ground for laying turf before you order the turf. You need to dig the soil to get rid of weeds, rocks and other debris, add topsoil and level the ground. Depending on the season, you may also have to water the soil.
Important: If you want to lay turf on an old lawn, remove the old turf first with a soil cutter before following the tips below.
How to get rid of weeds before laying turf
Dig the soil with a spade to a depth of about 6 inches (15 cm). Using a fork, remove any weeds, rocks, grass, old turf, and other debris you come across. For larger areas and tougher soils, use a soil cutter, tiller, or cultivator.
Tip: If you’re dealing with a lot of weeds, treat the soil with weed killer. Let the weeds die and then dig the soil to prepare it for the turf.
What should you put down before laying turf?
Add 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm) of topsoil over the cleared ground. For example, for a 100m2 lawn, you’ll need 15 cubic metres of topsoil. You can use a topsoil calculator for this.
How to level soil before laying turf
Rake the soil to level it. Shuffle your feet over the entire surface, making the soil firm and level as you go.
After you’ve treaded the entire area, pay attention to any uneven spots. Rake the areas that need it once more and shuffle over the entire area again if needed.
You want to press down into the soil to remove any air pockets but the soil shouldn’t become compacted. You can also use a garden roller for this.
If you’re worried about soil quality, add some pre-turf fertiliser. This usually comes in the form of granules you can scatter over the topsoil and rake in gently.
How to lay turf
What you’ll need:
- Turf rolls
- Gardening gloves
- Tape measure
- Cutting knife
- Two or three long planks of wood
- Lawn edger
Lay the turf as soon as you receive it, following the step-by-step instructions below. If you’ve taken the time to prepare the soil and got the measurements right, it’s not hard. Without further ado, here’s how to lay turf on topsoil.
Note: If you’re wondering how to lay turf on sand or how to lay turf on dirt, the answer is that you shouldn’t. Unless we’re talking about artificial turf. Turf needs good soil to become established, which neither sand nor dirt provides.
Step 1 – Mark the area if necessary (optional)
Use canes and string to map out the area over which you’ll apply the turf. For small, square or rectangular lawns with clear borders, this may not be necessary.
Step 2 – Start unrolling the turf
Start laying the turf around the edges of the lawn, beginning with the longest side. Make sure that the underside of the turf makes good contact with the soil. If your lawn is on a slope, unroll the turf across it rather than down it to avoid damaging the turf.
Tip: If you have a circular lawn, start in the middle, unrolling the turf towards the edge of the circle.
Step 3 – Lay the second strip of turf
Put down a plank of wood over the turf you’ve laid down. Lay the second strip of turf next to the first, working in the same direction, in a pattern similar to bricklaying.
Stagger the joints and butt the ends and edges for a smooth result. Then put another plank over the second strip and continue in this way until you’ve laid all the turf.
For curves, overlap turf rolls slightly and cut the extra turf as needed. Cut any overlapping pieces or ends with the knife. Use the knife to cut shapes around paths, flower beds, or trees as needed.
Step 4 – Cut the turf at the edges
Use the lawn edger to cut the edges of the turf where needed and tamp them down with the flat edge of a rake. Depending on the shape of your lawn, you may have to do more, or less, cutting.
Add topsoil along the cut edges to prevent them from drying out. You can also sprinkle topsoil over any small gaps in the turf.
Step 5 – Adjust and recut if needed
Once you’ve laid all the strips of turf, step back from your work and take a good look at it. Do any joints need more staggering? Do any edges need butting? Lift, adjust, and recut the turf as needed. Cover any exposed outer edges with topsoil to prevent drying out.
Step 6 – Water the turf
Use a sprinkler to water the turf. In spring and summer, continue to water the turf every day for two weeks with breaks on rainy days.
Turf laying tips
Laying turf isn’t difficult if you work with one roll at a time and make careful cuts. Here are some key things to keep in mind:
- Avoid stretching the turf or you may damage it.
- To make mowing the edges easier, make sure the soil is level with any lawn edging you may have.
- If you can’t lay the turf within 24 hours after arrival, unroll it, put it out in the sun, and water it so it doesn’t dry out.
- When laying the last piece of turf, cut any overlapping edges with a knife.
- If the turf vendor includes fertiliser with your order, apply the granules to the topsoil before laying the turf, provided you haven’t fertilised the soil already while preparing the ground.
What to do after laying a new lawn from turf
After laying the turf, you can’t just forget about it. Follow these tips to ensure it roots well.
- Water the turf every evening for the next two weeks, you can skip any days when it rains. Water thoroughly, but without soaking it.
- Don’t walk on the turf until it becomes established.
- After the turf is well rooted, which should take at least two weeks, give it a low cut.
- Do the first mow with the blades at the highest setting.
- After the first cut, mow often, but not more than one-third of the height of the grass.
- After the turf is fully established, gradually reduce the height of the blades.
- During the growing season, apply a balanced (NPK) fertiliser every 4 to 6 weeks.
Can you lay turf in the rain?
You can lay turf in the rain as long as the soil remains firm enough for you to work it. If the soil is squelchy or soggy, better postpone the work until it clears. Bear in mind also that you have to prepare the soil first before laying the turf. Following some of the steps needed may not be possible in anything but a short drizzle.
Can I lay turf in January?
Yes, you can if the ground isn’t frozen, and the soil is level and ready for it. Cold temperatures and frost won’t damage the turf and you won’t have to worry about watering it, either.
When can I walk on my new turf?
You can walk on your new turf after about two to three weeks. By then, it should be well rooted. You may want to test it first by pulling at it with your hand. If it offers resistance and doesn’t come up, it’s good.
Can you lay turf in October?
Mid-autumn is one of the best times of the year to lay turf in the UK. But make sure to prepare the soil and apply pre-turfing fertiliser. You may also have to keep watering the turf if it doesn’t rain enough.
Can you lay turf over grass?
You can, but the results will leave much to be desired. The old grass will eventually die, possibly damaging the turf. Better to remove the grass before laying the turf.
The wrap up
Growing a beautiful lawn from turf won’t cost you too much time. If you put in enough work getting the soil ready, the results can be wonderful.
Make sure to choose quality turf and to lay it as soon as possible after receiving it. That way, your turf lawn will be off to a great start.