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What is the cost of laying turf?

The average cost of laying turf is around £7 per m2 of turf and this price does not include the labour of removing any old grass, laying the turf and preparing the soil bed if you are not going to do this yourself. For a 50m² area, the average cost to completely re turf it including adding topsoil, levelling out and laying will be between £700 and £900, probably higher if you are based in London or the South East.

Laying a lawn with new turf is more expensive and labour intensive than sowing seed in poor areas but the upside is that you will have an instant level and lush lawn once you have finished rather than waiting several weeks for improvements to take effect. A newly laid turf lawn can also be used more quickly than one which has been re-sown.

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What are the benefits of relaying turf?

Sometimes, rather than battle with a poor quality and uneven lawn or grassed area, it is easier to start again and take up the old turf and relay new turf.

image from: https://www.onlineturf.co.uk/knowledge-base/blog/how-quickly-do-i-need-to-lay-my-new-turf

It’s all in the preparation

Rather like painting or wallpapering a room, the success of the final result is hugely influenced by the quality of the preparation of the surface and the same can be said of re-turfing a lawn.

There is a reason why you are removing the old turf and laying fresh, perhaps the surface is uneven or the drainage is inadequate or the lawn has become compacted beyond repair – these are the things which you need to address before you lay expensive turf sections on what might be poor quality ground and which could end up with a result which is not much better than the lawn it replaces.

  • Drainage – if the garden has clay soil and there are areas where rainwater remains after a heavy shower then dig a small soakaway, essentially a hole which is then backfilled with small rubble and stones and then smaller stones or grit on top followed by a few centimetres of topsoil. This will allow excess water which tends to pond to make its escape through the stone and gravel rather than stalling at the impenetrable density of the clay
  • Levelling – one of the most important requirements is to get the area flat. If you leave bumps or hollows in the ground then this will just be reflected in the lawn above. The mower will end up scalping the raised areas and then leave long grass in the depressions during the mowing process
  • Compaction – if the lawn is walked on regularly or is a thoroughfare between the house and other areas of the garden then eventually the soil will compact and this, in turn, restricts the root growth of the existing grass ultimately preventing new grass roots from growing. Make sure the soil is refreshed and prepared before you lay the new turf and if you can re-design walkways so they are around the lawn rather than across it then this will prevent the same thing happening to the new turf

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Buying turf

This is an art form and your project will stand or fall by the quality and condition of the turf that you lay. Here are some top tips to consider before you buy your new turf:-

  • If you are buying turf from a garden centre then phone them first and check their stock and ask them when they have their deliveries. Most centres have a couple of deliveries per week so you could end up buying turf that has already been sitting there for three or four days and which will probably have started to yellow and die
  • Don’t order over the phone or online, only buy turf that you can physically look at before you purchase. Unroll a couple of the turves and check that the grass is still a healthy green colour. Gently shake one of the sections, if it starts to disintegrate or the grass is yellowing then don’t buy it
  • An area of lawn of under six square metres will create a turf requirement that should fit into the back of an estate car or 4x4, anything heavier than that is better delivered
  • If the turf is delivered to your home then check the quality before it is offloaded

How to calculate the right quantity of turf to buy?

Measure the width and length of the area that you wish to turf or re-turf. Multiply these two figures together and this will give you the area. Turf is usually sold in square metre rolls but do double-check that with your supplier before you actually buy. If you have measured the area in centimetres then you will have to convert the figure into square metres before you buy. Always add an extra 5% for wastage.

Marking out the area

Wrap one end of a long line of string around a brick and rest it on another brick and then do the same at the other end of the designated area. Then repeat the process in the other direction effectively creating two sides of a square or rectangle. If you are really concerned about the levelness of the area then use a spirit level against the string line to ensure the depth remains consistent all the way along.

Preparing the ground

Some weeks before you intend to lay the turf, remove any old turf if present and eliminate any perennial weeds such as bindweed or couch grass. Hand weed or use weed killer. Do not use what are described as residual weed killers as these can remain in the soil indefinitely and prevent the grass from establishing.

Dig the site or rotivate it to a depth of 20-25cm then dig in some well-rotted manure or other organic matter especially if the soil is sandy and thus poorer in nutrients for good grass growth. Always make sure that any manure that you use is well-rotted as the fresher organic matter will alter the level of the soil surface whilst it continues to decay. After cultivation, it is ideal to leave the site for five to six weeks if possible before laying the turf.

When the time comes to lay the turf, remove any weeds that have cropped up and then rake in some general-purpose fertiliser. Rake the topsoil ensuring that the final height will sit the turf slightly above the level of any paths around it; this will help stop you catching the blades of the mower when you are cutting the grass. If you have deep topsoil then use a rake to move the soil from the high points to the low points; you are trying to achieve a level and flat surface without any humps or hollows. The intention is to create a fine tilth which refers to the quality of the tilled soil. Finally, tread in the soil by taking little steps all over it and work your way across the entire site removing any large stones as you go. Try and tread the area several times in different directions. After firming the soil like this gently rake it over to remove the foot pints before you start laying the turf.

Handling the turf

If there is any delay in laying the turf then the turves should be laid out flat to avoid any weakening of the sections or discolouration. Ideally, the turf should be laid within 24 hours of delivery. If you are laying the turf yourself then you will need a turfing iron or spade. You may want to trim either the size of a section of turf or reduce the depth by slicing a layer off. The thinner the turf often the better the rooting process; a 2cm turf will root in much better than a 7.5 cm turf.

Laying the turf

  • Start in one corner and lay the first turf square. If you are laying next to a driveway or path then this edge should help keep you straight otherwise you can rely on the line of string
  • As you lay the subsequent squares, lift both ends and tuck them in together – this will help prevent gaps appearing if the lawn dries out too much before it is established. The joints should be staggered rather like the appearance of a brick wall but closely butted together to avoid any gaping
  • Once the first row is done then tamp or pack it down with the tines of a rake; this is just to remove any air gaps under the turf and not intended to hammer it into the soil
  • On the second row, stagger it very slightly so that no joins or borders marry up with those of the first row
  • Carry on with subsequent rows and if you need to tread on the newly laid grass then use planking or scaffolding boards
  • When the laying is complete, lightly spread a mixture of sand and soil or compost and work this into the joints using a rake or brush. This top dressing will fill in any minor hollows and will also help the sections knit together and support them in establishing more quickly
  • When completed, water the grass well. During dry periods in mid or late summer, water every five to ten days and in later seasons, water every fourteen days if it doesn’t rain. Be careful not to overwater as this can be just as damaging as not watering the new lawn enough and can lead to shallow rooting which encourages weeds
  • Try and keep off the new lawn for several days
  • Start cutting the grass when it needs it, usually after a couple of weeks and mow with the blades on a high setting once there is a sward of about 5cm. Do not crop too close or you will tear at the roots and weaken the turf

When is the best time of year to lay new turf?

Turf is best laid in mid-autumn or even further on into the colder months if it remains mild. It is ideal if the soil is not too wet or frosty. Little mowing will be needed at this time of year so the turf can be left relatively undisturbed for several weeks.

It seems more logical to lay new turf in the spring or summer time but working at this time of year will require much closer attention to moisture levels and watering. Dry soil and also mowing before the grass has had enough time to fully establish its roots will stress the turf and delay the rooting process.

What is sod heating?

Turf is a living product and each square metre contains thousands of individual grass plants. Because the turf is rolled up, it has no access to light, fresh air or water, unlike any other plant you may buy from the garden centre. As soon as the turf is harvested, the grass is placed under stress. Rolls are stacked on a lorry for transportation all sitting on pallets with little airflow between the pallets or the rolls to help oxygenate the plants and keep them healthy and cool. On warm days, a pallet of turf can heat quite quickly and the plants themselves generate heat a bit like the warmth you can see rising from a compost heap. The grass can overheat and begin to die.

If you receive a pallet of turf ready to transform your garden, how will you know what condition it is in without unrolling it by which time it could be too late? First of all, the smell will be noticeable and there may even be steam coming from the pallet. Even if there is no evident sign of heat or a strong odour when you unroll the grass, you can still check the quality by the feel and appearance of the turves. If the turf has been overheated during transit then the grass will appear yellowy-green in colour and it will be floppy and dehydrated; healthy turf is a strong and a vibrant dark green and will feel springy and spongy to the touch. Heated turf typically has stripes of variable colour running parallel to the short side of the turf when it is unrolled and laid.

How can you best manage your turf on arrival?

If you are laying your own turf or even if you are asking someone to do it for you then as soon as the turf arrives you need to spring into action.

  • Break the pallet down into smaller piles so that the air can circulate freely around the rolls of turf so don’t stack them against a wall or fence
  • Have the soil bed ready for installation and distribute small piles of turf squares around the area so they are ready and to hand when you start laying them
  • Don’t stack them in the sun
  • Try to have no more than six rolls in a stack
  • Never cover the rolled-up turf with any kind of sheeting, this will only create a microclimate which will lift the temperature and speed up sod heating
  • If you are worried about the condition or temperature of the turf then open up the stacks, never water them whilst they are rolled up as this will just accelerate the heating process

If you do have problems with the turf on arrival then photograph or film it with a record of the date and time. Turves that have already started to deteriorate is a waste of your labour or your money if you are paying someone else to lay them. Mild yellowing will probably recover but anything more substantial will not. Your supplier may impose terms and conditions about how quickly the turf is laid so check this when you order as if you delay laying the turf, then you will effectively cancel out any right of recourse if the condition of the turves is poor on arrival.

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When might you want to lay new turf?

There are lots of occasions when laying new turf and essentially starting again is going to be a much better option than persevering with an old lawn that is high maintenance and not really delivering what you want. Re-sowing can take time which you may not have. These include:-

  • You have bought a new house and the lawn has clearly seen better days – the demands of children and pets dictate that you need a speedy result as the new lawn needs to be in use quickly
  • You have a lawn which you want to keep free of animals and children so why not create another grassed area for play and sports in a different part of the garden?
  • A complete garden makeover

If you have existing old turf which you are removing, what can you do with it?

If you are replacing existing turf then lift it, stack it upside down in an unused area of the garden and in about a years’ time you will have a lovely loose crumbly loam to use in your garden.

Five ways to reduce turfing costs for a standard lawn area

If you are working to a tight budget then there are ways to save money and still have the lawn you have always dreamed of.

  • Keep the lawn area small – have a bit of a rethink about the overall garden design, can you spare some of the lawn for pathways or borders, this is an excellent opportunity to get creative – you don’t have to stick with the same size of lawn. If the lawn rolls right up to the house then why not break it up with some decking or an area of gravel or stone slabs?
  • Smooth out difficult shapes – make the lawn shape as simple as possible – cutting turf to fit awkward corners and nooks and crannies is time-consuming and results in high wastage as do oval or circular lawns – you will need to order a lot of turves to be able to cut to these shapes and there will be a pile of discarded offcuts
  • Measure carefully – it is quite a common mistake to order too much grass and end up with wastage that you can’t use. Discarded turf usually has to be thrown away because unless it can be deployed immediately then it will dry out and become useless. It is easy to calculate the total area with a square or rectangular shape rather than an oval or circle or lawn that has pathways leading from it. If the shape is giving you a headache and you don’t want to change it then draw an imaginary box around it and simply calculate the area from that. There will be wastage doing it like this but you are less likely to miscalculate and you certainly shouldn’t run out of grass
  • Buy in bulk – if you are a sole householder returfing your own garden then it can be difficult to access the sort of savings a garden contractor may be able to obtain so if you think you will have more than one area to turf, i.e. back and front gardens, then do them both at the same time
  • Choose a standard grade turf – research carefully the type of grass you need, believe it or not, there are different types based on usage and amount of light levels. A premium manicured finish is always going to cost more than a standard durable product

You can save money by preparing the site yourself and then just finding a contractor to lay the turf or to help you lay the turf. Laying grass is actually pretty simple - most of the hard work is done in the preparation of the soil beforehand and if your lawn area is small then it is perfectly possible to do this yourself and save an awful lot of money for gardener costs.

For more information on laying turf and real vs artificial grass, see these articles from The Royal Horticultural Society and the HomeOwners Alliance.

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