A glorious green lawn can be the perfect finishing touch on a renovation or self-build project but starting from scratch can be daunting, especially for new gardeners. There are new costs for almost every aspect of designing a garden and deciding to lay a lawn yourself rather than paying a landscaper is an easy way to save a little as it is work that can be carried out by even the most inexperienced of DIYers. 

Lawns can be a gardener’s worst enemy and soil and preparation are key. Learning about how to lay turf before cracking on can be the difference between a looking out onto a thriving garden and watching some ready-to-roll grass die an expensive death. 

site before laying turf

After a project the site can look less than ideal, so laying turf for a lawn is a wonderful way to earning some instant gratification for showing off a completed house. See below for the ‘after’ shot (image: Wendy Beaumont)

How Much Does it Cost to Turf a Lawn? 

For larger gardens the cost of lawns is one that keeps many awake at night, so saving a little by doing the hard graft yourself is a smart option. Lawns require preparation of the soil before turf can be laid. Expect to pay £150 and upwards per hour, depending on the site for a landscaper to do this job for you. 

To lay a lawn DIY costs an average of £650-750 for a 50m² garden, but this will obviously depend on the quality and grade of the turf you choose.

Turf is generally sold in individual rolls which cover approximately 1m² (check before you order as other sizes are sometimes supplied) and some shops after deals for multipacks. 

For the ground preparation, DIYers can choose to hire a rotavator to turn over the soil which can be hired for around £40 a day and adding topsoil before laying the turf increases the chance of successful growth so this cost should also be taken into account. 

completed lawn layed

Finishing the landscaping is usually something which is considered after a project has finished, but it can pay to plan into your initial budget so costs at the end don’t take you by surprise. This entire self-build was completed for just £265K

How do you Prepare the Ground for Laying Turf? 

The conditions need to be right for creating a lawn so avoid laying turf in extreme cold conditions or before the wetter weather begins. Ground preparation is critical to success but there is a lot of hard work involved, so do this in advance of the turf arriving. 

An obvious way to save a little extra money is to turn the soil the old fashioned way using basic hand tools, but a rotavator will save time and effort. The base soil needs to be screened as much as possible to remove debris and larger stones/rocks etc that might impede drainage.

Can you Lay Turf on Top of Old Grass? 

It is generally not recommended to lay on top of an existing garden. Use turf lifters or manual labour to remove any grass as well as weed killer suitable for killing grasses — for best results, leave for two weeks before laying turf. 

Adding Topsoil to Ground

You’ll need to assess the access arrangements to the site and notify the supplier as how best to deliver the soil as, depending on the amount needed, it can arrive in one tonne bags. 

  1. Once the site is free of weeds, distribute a minimum 100mm of topsoil using a wheelbarrow, ideally 200mm or more in areas of particularly low-quality existing soil. 
  2. Distributing the soil requires some logistical forethought. It’s much easier to simply cut open the bags and let the soil fall out but don’t make the mistake of stacking bags on top of each other, which can make it much more unwieldy. 
finished lawn on selfbuild

How to Level Soil Before Laying Turf

The topsoil can now be manipulated and levelled out as much as possible using a simple piece of spare timber. This process helps to reduce the effect of the slopes on a site. 

  1. Rake and then compact — this can be done by jumping on something as simple as a scaffold board across the whole site. 
  2. Further compact by walking in different directions and tamping down any obvious areas of weakness using flat-soled shoes. 

How to Lay Turf

If laying in the autumn/winter, you’ll need to lay the turf within 24 hours of delivery and immediately in summer. If there is a delay, turves should be laid out flat to prevent discolouring. 

turf for laying on site

Aftercare is essential for the health of a lawn after the turf has been laid (Getty Images)

  1. Before laying the turf, lightly rake the compacted topsoil in order to allow them to bind. 
  2. Start at a straight edge on the site and work from there, using a board to avoid foot indentations. 
  3. Abut the top of the turf to the one above it, slightly tucking it in to ensure there is no gap. 
  4. Slowly roll out the turf. One person will need to hold onto the top of the turf to keep it in place — particularly on a sloping site. 
  5. 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.
  6. If laying on a hot day, make sure you water the turn — do not let it dry out. 
  7. Allow the turves to follow the run of the ground. 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. 
  8. 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.
  9. 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. 
  10. 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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