Whether you're laying a lawn from scratch or simply replacing one that's become weed-infested and lumpy, laying a lawn by turf is relatively quick to establish. However, if you need a more specific lawn then seed may be a better option Here's Garden Ninjas quick guide to laying turf or sowing from seed just in time for chilled out weekends in the garden firing up the BBQ!

Updated 2020: Garden lawns are probably one of the most widely recognised garden design components. Turf has a huge variety of uses if you want to lounge on a deck chair on it, manicure it to perfection, get your mates round to have a BBQ on it or even as a football pitch for your children. Garden lawns and turf is the staple of a multi-functional garden.

You can use turf for informal gardens that are hard wearing, utility gardens with play areas or formal lawns with the manicured ornamental stripes running up and down it.

Grass lawns are tough, resilient, evergreen and can be low maintenance. Laying turf is relatively easy if you prepare properly first. This guide will show you how to lay turf effectively. This guide will show you how to lay rolled turf or lay a lawn from seed.

Ultimate Guide to laying turf

Equipment for laying turf

  • Turf (Measuring the space in meters squared and then 10% more than you need)
  • Measuring Tape (30m)
  • Sharp Spade
  • Rake
  • Garden Fork
  • Garden Canes or Tent Pegs
  • String
  • Riddle (Garden Sieve)
  • Decking board or plank of wood
  • Spirit level
  • Sharp Knife (Kitchen knives are fine)

How to lay rolled turf

1.Preparation is key to laying turf effectively; my old science teacher used to always tell me ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail!’ and it couldn’t be truer than with turf. The reason for this is that turf will follow any lumps or bumps if laid on a badly prepared surface. If it’s not completely level and weed-free you’re starting off in a losing position. Rectifying these issues afterwards are a nightmare, and you should be enjoying mojitos on your lawn, not spending hours levelling it, weeding it and cursing it!

Tools for laying turf

2.Carefully measure the area where you want to lay the lawn. This will enable you to order your turfs. You’ll need a least two measurements to work out the surface area. Simply times one side by the other size. A good rule of thumb is to order 10% more than you need. This is so that when you’re staggering your joins your not left with a few tiny pieces to finish an edge, you can use a longer piece which will bed in far better than smaller bits which will dry out.

Measuring a lawn

3.How to measure for turf: Take a measurement from two points, if it’s a rectangle shape this is easy, a more free-form shape is more difficult.Take measurement A and multiply by B to get the square area. Ideally in meters squared. My best tip is even if you’re wanting a curvy lawn work on a square or rectangle dimension that’s slightly bigger than the free form area as it makes it far easier to order turf. The leftover turf can then be turned upside down and stacked at the back of a border which will then break down and make amazing loamy compost! No waste!

Rectangle turf measuring
Measuring a lawn plot
wavy turf 1
Irregular turf measuring

4.Prepare the beds for the turf by digging over the plot. This helps aerate and break up compaction in the soil. Compaction causes all sorts of problems, such as waterlogging, poor growth, dead spots and diseases in new turf. So using your spade and then fork turn over the ground. This is hard work but essential, think of it as free cardio!

Single digging garden

5.Remove any weeds, debris and stones from the plot. Use a riddle if its very stoney which is like a big sieve you can put your soil in one scoop at a time and filter through.

Debris removed when turfing

6.Dig in some compost or other organic matter. This will help provide long-term nutrients for the lawn and help retain moisture without being waterlogged. I usually dig in some compost to help break up any heavy soil. Alternatively, if the soil is light and in good condition you can add some dry fertiliser, using the instructions for the quantities.

Organic turf improver

7.Using a rake and plank on your freshly turned over soil start to level the plot. Using a back and forth action this will help pull the soil across the plot levelling and further helping to break up any small clods. Again, if debris or rocks appear to remove them.

Leveling ground for turf

8. Consolidate the area. Now it is time to shuffle! Using your feet, preferably with shoes on, shuffle across the lawn in straight lines one way and then the other. Consolidating the soil means that the lawn won’t sink as readily and make sure there are no big air pockets in the soil. If there are, fill and then relevel.

tamping down turf

9.Check the area is level. Using the plant of wood and a spirit level you can check that the area is level. Always take a couple of measurements lengthways and widthways until you’re sure the ground is level. If its unlevel in areas, rake and even out, more shuffling again.

10.Create tilth. Lastly using the rake on your level surface lightly rake the top layer to create a fine tilth, think a powdery layer. This then enables a quick root uptake for your turf. Doing this one way and then 90 degrees the other.

Tilth

11. Order your turfs. You can buy them either online in advance or from a local DIY store. Once you have your fresh turfs it is vital you lay them within 24 hours and don’t let them dry out so bear this in mind if the weather changes or your preparation gets delayed. Fresh healthy turfs should be a healthy green colour, not yellow or brown. They should also be moist not bone dry.

12. Start to lay turfs in a brickwork fashion. Using the board lay this out over the soil and either work forwards or backwards. It really doesn’t make too much difference though some would claim forwards is better.  In the video, I turf backwards so it’s easier for you to see the joins and laying technique. The aim here is to use the large sections together of your meter long turfs rather than short sections of leftovers. It is better to have two medium-sized turfs than one full size and one tiny size next to each other. This is because smaller turfs have a tendency to dry out and this will impact the uptake of the lawn. Use a sharp knife to cut any turfs leaving a clean edge, Don’t be tempted to just tear them it really damages the grass and gives a rough messy edge.

Laying turfs staggered 2

13. Butt up the joints tightly. This enables the turfs to mesh together. Gaps will cause them to dry out and curl. You can butt them up by hand and then use the back of a rake afterwards compress the turfs lightly to ensure contact with the ground and each adjacent turf.

Butting up turfs

14. Neaten up edges. Make sure with your knife that any ragged edges or wonky donkey bits are cut to a straight line. The edge of the board provides a clean neat surface for cutting a clean edge.

15. Fill any gaps. If there are gaps in the turf use a mix of sharp sand and compost to fill these gaps to ensure the turfs mesh together well.

15. Water the grass thoroughly. As soon as its laid water it in. There’s no need to feed it again, in fact, it takes to the soil better if you don’t. Then ensure that the grass never dries out for the first few weeks. Usually, a heavy water every 4-5 days is enough, as frequent light sprinklings can encourage Poa annua, a grass weed, to propagate in the newly laid turf. Take more care to check edges don’t dry out. Avoid walking on the grass for the next 2-3 weeks, or if you have to use the board to walk on to reduce the pressure of your feet on the newly laid turf which is still establishing.

16. Recycle leftover turfs and create your own loam. Place any unused turfs’ upside down, grass side down, at the back of borders or even in a bin bag that is then loosely covered. If using the bin bag method stack the turfs’ one on top of each other somewhere out of direct sunlight. Checking on it every few weeks to give it some fresh air and maybe a light water. In months to come the grass with decompose leaving lovely fresh nutrient-rich loam. So there’s no waste!

17. The first mow of the lawn. The first mow should be when the grass is 5cm or 2″ tall set the mower blade to take a third off, so 1.5cm. Be careful whilst it establishes not to scalp or cut the lawn too short which may impede its development.

Choosing the correct lawn seed

Lawns are very rarely made up of just one type of grass plant. They usually feature a mix of grass species to ensure thick rich coverage. If you think of a wool weaver, they may take a number of different coloured strands to weave one thread and a lawn is a bit like this. Some lawn seeds produce thick rugged grass, greater for harder wearing utility lawns, whereas other species use thinner more delicate grass, which is used in fine ornamental lawns. 

As a general rule of thumb ornamental lawns require far more maintenance than a utility lawn as the seed types are less vigorous. Below are three common lawn seed mixes depending on the type of lawn you want to sow in your garden.

Utility Grass Seed Mix Example:

  • Festuca rubra spp. rubra (Creeping red fescue) 40%
  • Poa pratensis (Annual meadow grass) 30%
  • Lolium perenne (Perennial ryegrass) 30%

Ornamental Grass Seed Mix Example:

  • Festuca rubra spp. rubra (Creeping red fescue) 35%
  • Festuca rubra spp. communata (Chewings fescue) 30%
  • Agrostis tenuis (Bents browntop) 35%

Shade Lawn Seed Mix Example:

  • Poa pratensis (Smooth Stalked Meadow grass) 40% 
  • Festuca longifolia (Hard Fescue) 50%
  • Poa Supina (Bluegrass) 10%
Sowing grass seed on a lawn
Sowing a lawn from seed gives you the ultimate freedom to pick the very best mix of grasses for your garden conditions

Sowing a lawn from seed

Once you’ve chosen the seed mix for the type of lawn you are laying its now time to distribute them evenly and at the right density for your lawn.

1. Choose you seed spreading method: My preferred method is to use a lawn seed spreader. These relatively cheap and easy to use tools enable the correct distribution of seed to be dropped as you wheel them over the area. If you’re spreading by hand, it’s a good move to split the total amount of seed into 4 amounts and move both horizontally and vertically in 4 passes to evenly drop the seed. You can also mix the seed with some fine sand if scattering by hand to make it easier to see where you’ve spread it.

2. How to spread the seed:  If using a seed spreader then a good method is to seed at a 45-degree angle in rows rather than vertical stripes. This is because it becomes less obvious to the naked eye as the lawn establishes of vertical stripes. It also means any gaps are less likely to be visible at first. Meaning you can go and reseed these areas. For really large areas of turf some lawn experts recommend using curved patterns, but for most people simple lines are easier. Don’t be tempted to over sow the lawn with more seed than recommended. It just means you’re creating harder conditions for the rest of the lawn to germinate.

Sowing grass seed to lay a lawn

3. Don’t cover the seed: The grass seed itself does not need burying like other seeds. In fact, it requires light to germinate properly so don’t go to the trouble of trying to sieve a layer of topsoil over it like you may do other seeds.

4. Lightly water the seed: Some lawn experts recommend then using the back of a rake to tamp down the seed. However, in my experience this is where most new gardeners can cause more harm than good. Unless the weather is bone dry your grass seed can stick you your shoes or a wet rake will lift it and cause a mess of your distribution. Instead I recommend a light watering with a very fine hose sprinkler, even the mist attachment if possible. This is so you don’t disturb the seed that’s been carefully laid out.

5. Watering until germination:  Keep your new lawn watered, especially in warmer weather. It doesn’t need to be soaked but don’t let the ground completely dry out or get scorched. Then in 7-21 days your seeds should start to germinate, and the magic begins!

Keeping Birds off your lawn seed

One important point to stress is in trying to keep birds off your lawn seed. The best way to do this is to criss-cross string about 3 inches off the ground just before you first water the seed. Tie these to pegs on the outskirts of the seeded area, a matrix of string to stop the birds easily landing. When walking on the newly laid seed use your wooden plank to stand on so not to move the seed about. 

Other methods involve placing a well-stocked bird feeder elsewhere in the garden. Don’t panic too much, if the birds take a bit or disturb certain areas you can always reseed these once the rest of the lawn has germinated. This is a good way of keeping everything in balance trainee Ninja!

Summary

Once you’ve followed this guide you’ll have the perfect lawn in no time whether it be using rolled turf for the instant new lawn or the more selective lawn seed. Although lawn seed takes far longer to establish it does allow you to pick a really specific blend of grass seeds for more problematic shady or delicate ornamental lawns.

A close up of lawn turf

If you’ve just laid a new lawn why not TweetFacebook or Instagram me with your pictures! You can also follow me on Youtube where I’ve got plenty of garden guide vlogs.

Got a lawn that’s in need of TLC or repairing? Why not watch my video on how to scarify a lawn and bring it back from the dead?

Happy Gardening!

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