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Lawns FAQ - Laying New

Preparation spacer Seed or Turf spacer Sowing Seed spacer Laying Turf

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Preparation

spacer The first task in creating a new lawn is to prepare the ground. If the area is already covered with vegetation, scythe or torch the above ground growth, and skim off the top 50mm or so of the soil, dumping it in a discreet corner to rot down or load it into a skip and get shut of it, once and for all. Dig out any roots or deep-rooted weeds with a spade or garden trowel and burn them or bin them. Don't put them onto a compost heap or in with the soil discard, as they will probably re-establish themselves.

spacer Once the ground is clear, it should be rotavated. This can be done by hand digging with a spade to a depth of 200-300mm, turning over the earth and breaking it up as you progress, or by bringing in a rotavating machine. Again make sure you chuck out any weeds, large stones, roots, bricks, bits of lego, broken glass, etc.

spacer Poor, sandy soils can be 'beefed up' by the addition of organic matter. Garden compost is ideal for this, as is spent mushroom compost; manure is probably wasted, and too rich, for a lawn, but is better than nothing. This addition of organic matter is not just to provide nourishment for the grass, but is primarily intended to help the soil hold on to moisture for longer, preventing the lawn from excessive drying out and inevitable damage.

spacer Medium or loamy soils are ideal, and probably require nothing more than a good 'turning over'. Coarse grit sand and/or organic matter can be added if required, but are not strictly necessary.

spacer On clayey soil, you can incorporate generous quantities of a coarse grit sand or clinker ash as you work the soil. However, you should avoid Pulverised Fly Ash (PFA) which goes claggy when wet. The addition of grit sand or clinker ash will aid aeration and drainage when the lawn is established. Do NOT use building sand, plastering sand or any other soft sand; it must be a coarse grit or grit sand that you use. You can safely add around 20-40 Kg of sand per square metre, that's around half-to-a-full bag of the Builders' Merchant's variety. For larger areas, it will probably be more cost effective to buy your grit sand in the large 'agg bags' or even in wagon loads - ask at your local Builders' Merchant.

spacer Work in the sand, with a spade, a fork or even with the rotavator to ensure it is evenly distributed through the soil, and you don't have patches of pure sand intermingled with clods of heavy earth.

spacer On very heavy soils, it's probably a good idea to install some form of land drainage system buried 450-600mm below the surface of the lawn, and this is best done before laying the lawn. You can read more about land-drainage on cormaic's paving and drainage advice site.

spacer Assuming that no land drainage is required, or that it is already in place, and the essential soil preparation has been done, the area can now be levelled. At this stage, this needs only be done quite roughly, as the worked-over ground will need some time to settle. Use the spade to grade off the soil to an approximate level. You can use a long straight-edged timber to check your level, or use a taut string line to check that there are no noticeable humps or hollows. Use your body weight to trample the soil, consolidating it, but not overly so. A lightweight (ie less than 100Kg) garden roller can be used, if required, but don't use a vibrating roller or plate compactor, unless you are on very sandy free-draining soil.

spacer After allowing at least a week for the ground to settle, it next needs to be prepared to accept the seed or the sod. First of all, check for any weeds that have appeared since your last bout of preparation - use a hoe or the rake to get rid of them. Now, we are looking to break down the earth to what is called a 'tilth', that is, a fine, workable, crumbly soil with no 'lumps' bigger than about 10-12mm. A rake is quite useful for doing this, but be prepared to go over the ground repeatedly, working it back and forth until you get it down to the required texture. Rake, trample, check for level, rake, trample, check for level, rake, trample, and check for level again, progressively breaking down the soil without losing any of the consolidation. If you are planning to use turf, then a tilth of maximum size 10-12mm is acceptable, but for seed, you will need to work this down to 3-6mm. Add more sand if you find that your surface tilth is still a bit 'clumpy' or on the large side.

spacer Check the prepared soil for level, as before, using a straight-edged timber. An alternative method is to drag a set of ladders over the area several times, rotating them through 90 degrees each time to ensure the site is genuinely levelled and 'rippled'. This levelling is essential; any deviation at this stage will more than likely repeat itself in the finished lawn, and it is much better to spend an extra 30 minutes at this stage getting the levels just right than having to spend a couple of hours once the lawn is established, reducing a hump or lifting a hollow.

spacer And then, you're ready to sow or to turf. :~)

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Seed or Turf

Seed

  • + allows you to get a blend of grasses that are ideally suited to your situation, such as a shady site or for a fine, ornamental lawn
  • + cheaper per unit area than turf

  • - takes at least a season before it can be fully used
  • - needs to be protected while seed germinates and establishes itself

spacer Most Garden centres and DIY sheds now sell grass seed mixtures in pre-packs. These are quite adequate for most requirements, but for something a bit out of the ordinary, or a special blend, you may have to find a horticultural supplier or grass specialist. Look in the Yellow Pages or Thomson Local for local traders.

Turf

  • + instant effect
  • + lawn can be used in 6-8 weeks

  • - relatively expensive compared to seed
  • - can be difficult to source a quality turf

spacer There are different types of turf, ranging from cheap 'meadow turf', to bowling-green quality. For families, try to source a 'sports turf', which has hardwearing rye grasses amongst others. Fine quality turf has little or no rye grass. For quantities of 30 m² or more, try to source your turf from a turf farm rather than a local garden centre or DIY shed. Visit the turf farm, discuss your requirements with the sales staff and inspect the quality of what they offer before selecting the type you want. Check 3 or 4 rolls upon delivery, making sure it is what you ordered before it's unloaded.

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Sowing Seed

spacer Seed sowing is one of those tasks that's partly an art, and partly a science. The trick is to get a even and well-distributed coverage, with no sparse patches or overly-dense clumps. Every landscaper seems to have their own preferred method of sowing, but in general, most methods involve scattering measured quantities of the seed mixture in at least two directions; up and down, and right to left. Hand scattering is still popular, but for larger areas, more and more landscapers are using mechanical seed distributors that ensure regular, even coverage.

spacer Seed, whatever the mixture, is generally sown at the rate of 35-50g per square metre. If you are unfamiliar with unit areas, and plan to hand-scatter, it may be beneficial to mark out the area into one metre squares with cotton thread or sand lines and scatter the seed to each 'square', one at a time. Alternatively, the mechanical distributors, some of which can be hired from garden centres of Hire Shops, can be regulated to dispense the required amount of seed per unit area.

spacer Do not sow when the weather is wet or cold. Choose a dry, bright day, when the soil is moist, rather than sopping wet and claggy or dusty dry. You can sow seed any time from mid-March to mid-October, but March/April and September/October are the best times.

spacer Before sowing the seed, an all-purpose granular feed is usually applied to the prepared and levelled bed and lightly raked into the surface. Scatter the seed as described above and then very gently, rake over the surface, no more than 6mm deep, just enough to lightly cover the seed, but not completely bury it. Some seed will inevitably remain visible on the surface. There is no need to roll the seeded bed, but it is a good idea to take some precaution against disturbance by birds and cats. Criss-crossed threads or strings 100-150mm above the seeded bed are ideal. If you have young children or dogs, it may be worth erecting a barrier fence around the newly-seeded bed to prevent them from straying onto the bed and disturbing all your hard work.

spacer Seed will germinate in 1-3 weeks, depending on time of year and weather conditions. If it does not rain within 72 hours of sowing the seed and the ground is dry, you should water it lightly with a watering can and rose, or with a sprinkler system attached to a hose. Over the first 6-8 weeks, it is essential that the bed is not allowed to dry out. This is why high-summer sowing is avoided, as it can require daily waterings to prevent the bed from becoming parched.

spacer Once the seed has germinated and grown to a height of 30-40mm, the application of a light roller will help to firm up any ground loosened by the germination process and then a very light mowing can be undertaken. Do not cut the grass any lower than 35mm on the first 4-6 cuts, as this will give it a chance to establish itself properly, and allow the clippings fall back onto the lawn to build up a thatch that will help protect the roots. It is best to avoid cutting to less than 30mm at any time during the lawn's first season. spacer

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Laying Turf

spacer Turves generally come as rolls, approximately 900mm x 300mm. They should be laid within 3-4 days of delivery. If there is any delay in laying them within this time frame, find some place where they can be unrolled and have the entire grass surface exposed to light, to prevent it from yellowing and dying. The longer it is left unlaid and/or rolled up, the weaker it will become. get it laid as soon as is possible.

spacer Choose a bright, dry day when the ground is not too wet or claggy. Laying turf is physically strenuous and can be very messy, so be prepared. Wear gloves and old clothes, and don't try to do too much in one day. Working in the rain will result in making a hard job almost soul-destroying; the turves become sodden and heavy, your clothes get covered in mud and the carefully prepared lawn bed turns into a quagmire.

spacer Before laying the turf, an all-purpose granular feed is usually applied to the prepared and levelled bed and lightly raked into the surface. The first turves are laid to the perimeter, as shown in the animation opposite. Once the perimeter turves are established, lay all the full rolls first, making sure that joints are tight and that adjacent rolls are staggered. Do not stand directly on the turf, or on the levelled bed, but work from a plank or decking sheet which will spread the load and prevent footholes or depressions being formed. Lay another plank over each newly laid row of turves and then compact by tapping with a sledge hammer or similar. Move the access plank nearer the laying edge and repeat the process. Once all full rolls are placed, you should piece-in by cutting turves to size and shape with a kitchen knife or similar.

spacer As soon as the entire lawn has been laid, any open joints should be filled with a mixture of grit sand and topsoil, and it can be rollered, if you have access to one, although the previous consolidation will suffice in most cases. Keep the kids and pets off it for a couple of weeks, by which time, it should be ready for its first trim, which should not reduce the length of the grass to less than 35mm. Let the clippings fall back onto the lawn.

spacer The turf will take 4-8 weeks to establish itself. It should not be allowed to go for more than 3-4 days without being watered, either naturally, by our soggy British climate, or artificially. In the summer, this is best done after 7pm and with an oscillating sprinkler, if you are using the hose. In dry spells water every night that it doesn't rain for the first two weeks, and gradually wean it off over the next 6-8 weeks. If you continue surface watering on a daily basis, there is no encouragement for the roots to drive deeper in search of water, thus rendering the lawn less capable of withstanding periods of no rain.

spacer So, in weeks 3-5, you need only water once every 3 days, unless we have a real scorcher, and then only as required for the final 3-4 weeks. If watering is neglected for some reason, and parts of the lawn become dry and baked, these bits are unlikely to recover and should be cut out and patched in asap with fresh turf.

spacer There's no need to apply a top feed in the lawn's first season. The granular feed incorporated in the bed prior to laying will encourage the grass to send down roots, searching for all those lovely yummy minerals and trace elements, and the application of a top feed may persuade it not to bother. Top feeds can be applied after its first winter, if required.

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Coming Soon in the next sections of this FAQ.........
  • CUTTING
  • LOOKING AFTER NEW
  • LEVELLING
  • WATERLOGGING
  • MAINTENANCE
  • Patching-in
  • Mowing
  • New over old?

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