There’s a lot of hard work involved in landscaping. Deciding to lay our own lawn rather than paying someone for the privilege seemed like an easy way to save £1-3,000 in labour costs, but we underest­imated the amount of back-breaking physical work required — not so much in laying the lawn but in preparing and levelling the ground before­hand, and unloading 30 one-ton bags of topsoil.

However, the great news is that with a strong back, bags of determination and a ready supply of coffee and biscuits, it is work that can be carried out by even the most unskilled of DIYers.

Our site was particularly challenging as, despite originally forming a garden to a neigh­bouring property, it had been used as a dumping ground for building materials during the new house’s construction. The soil was highly clay based and, in addition, a 20m-high horn­beam tree dried the ground out very quickly.

With this in mind, I?enlisted the help of some long-suffering family members, battled on and successfully completed the project. Here’s how to do it.

Choices

Your choice of landscaping materials should be as closely considered as the choice of interior fittings for your new home. Investing in quality pays off. We chose Rolawn’s Blended Loam topsoil as it is closely screened, highly fertile, and provides a fibrous base, for we were unsure about the quality of the site. For turf, we opted for Medallion turf, also from Rolawn. We found it light and easy to use, but most importantly very dense — like carpet. It established very quickly.

Project Details

The site to be turfed was triangular, approximately 200m2 and, despite originally being a garden, had been used as a dumping ground for building materials.

Time

  • 4 days (2 people): preparation of ground
  • 4 days (2 people): dispersal/levelling of topsoil
  • 1 day (2 people): laying of turf

Quantities and Costs

200m² site required 30x1m³ bags (around £70 each) and 200m2 worth of turves, arriving on three pallets and costing around £3 each.

We saved money by rotavating by hand.

Step-by-step

1. Ground preparation is critical to success. Most DIYers would opt to hire a rotavator to turn over the soil (about £35 for a morning’s hire); however, we decided to go back to basics and make do, turning over the soil with basic hand tools.

2. The base soil needs to be screened as much as possible to remove debris and and larger stones/rocks etc. that might impede drainage.

3. The topsoil is delivered to the site in one-ton bags. You’ll need to assess the access arrangements to the site and notify the supplier as how best to deliver the soil. We required a Hiab truck, which winched the bags in over the fence.

4. Begin to distribute the soil to the furthest part of the site first, using a wheelbarrow.

5. Distributing the soil requires some logistical forethought. It’s much easier to simply cut open the bags and let the soil fall out; we made the mistake of stacking bags on top of each other, which made it much more unwieldy.

6. The soil begins to fill up the site. We barrowed piles of soil up to around nine inches?deep, knowing that it would compact later. In areas of particularly low soil quality, we piled more.

7. The initial piles of topsoil are then manipulated and levelled out as much as possible using a simple piece of spare timber. This process helped to reduce the effect of the slopes on the site.

8. The soil is then compacted. We jumped up and down on a scaffold board across the whole of the site to both level and then compact the topsoil.

9. Further compaction then involved walking across the site and tamping down on any obvious areas of weakness — using flat-soled shoes.

10. The soil is now ready for the turf. We left a metre-wide circle around the very thirsty tree where we knew it would be difficult to grow turf. This will be filled in at a later date with chippings or paving stones. The compacted soil formed, on average, a seven-inch base for the turf. You’ll need to water the soil before the turf arrives to make it moist.

11. A week after the topsoil arrives, the turf is delivered. You’ll need to lay the turf within 24 hours of delivery in autumn/winter and immediately in summer. We started at the furthest straight end of the site as the turves can be quite energy-sapping and awkward to carry. On an awkward site like ours, you’ll need to work out how to run out the turves to minimise wastage and awkward joins

12. Before laying a turf, lightly rake the compacted topsoil in order to allow them to bind.

13. Laying the turves requires quite a lot of manipulation. Abut the top of the turf tightly to the one above it, slightly tucking it in to ensure there is no gap and allowing it to bind. Slowly roll out the turf. One person needs to hold onto the top of the turf to keep it in place — particularly on a sloping site.

14. Once in place, it is critical to tuck in the edges of the turves to allow them to bind to each other, ensuring there are no gaps.

15. Use carpet or piece of timber to ensure that you’re not kneeling on levelled, compacted topsoil. Allow the turves to follow the run of the ground.

16. Any shaping of the turves should really be left to the end of the project but initial cutting out can minimise wastage during the laying. If you’re having to walk on the turf at this newly laid stage, you should really use a plank. The turves should also be lightly pressed down to connect with the soil, perhaps using a rake held vertically and pressed against the turf. Never use a roller on new turf.

17. The lawn is laid. Unless there is heavy rain falling immediately after laying the turf, you should give plenty of water to the new lawn upon laying, and for a couple of days after. Continue to water until the turf has established itself. This is especially critical in the summer months. The ideal time to lay turf is during the early spring, or autumn.
Keep off the lawn for at least two to three weeks. You should only begin to walk on it once its roots have begun to bind with the soil below. It is also vital to mow the lawn regularly, allowing the maximum sunlight and water to get into the roots. In theory you can mow the turf a week after laying it.

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  • HIAB lover

    your so lucky having a HIAB crane! i love them they are so cool. i may be a bit geeky but an excuse to hire a HIAB crane and im there!

  • A Potter

    Great article, i have just laid our turf and was looking for advice on how to make sure it takes. Bought it from B&Q on the day it arrived. If anyone needs advice, mine is always make sure you buy your turf on the first day it comes into the store! Our next door neighbour also bought his from B&Q but he bought his discounted later in the week when they were trying to get rid of it. He thought he got a deal, but he’s currently struggling to make it grow (some rolls/areas seem pretty poor on his lawn). Mine appears to be doing okay… I’ve read some bad reviews about b&q turf, but not all bad so i took a plunge as the turf there looked just as good as the other places i went to, i think it may just be those people like my neighbour who bought it on the cheap and then complain and leave bad reviews when it doesn’t turn out looking like a cricket pitch!

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