Our DIY guide to creating a great-looking home lawn by laying turf
There are three basic ways to create a new lawn for your home. You can sow grass seed, but this can take a long time to establish. You could opt for small seedlings planted at intervals, but this is also takes a while to get going. The third choice is turf, which can be laid at virtually any time of year and creates an almost-instant lawn. For many homeowners, this is the simplest solution.
If you’ve ever seen those dying brown patches of turf on people’s lawns, you know how easy it is to get this wrong. So here are some tips for using turf the right way
When it comes to groundcover, nothing beats a well-maintained lawn. But whether you’re laying down turf or growing grass from seed, principles of proper soil preparation still apply. Too many new lawns fail because shortcuts are taken in getting the soil right. If you’ve ever seen those dying brown patches of turf on people’s lawns, you know how easy it is to get this wrong. So here are some tips for using turf the right way, so you can grow the stunning lawn your beautiful home deserves.
What to think about when buying turf
The most important rule when buying turf is that you should lay it as soon as possible after it arrives. Don’t have it delivered until you’re 100% ready. It’s absolutely essential that rolls (or slabs) of turf aren’t allowed to dry out. Ideally, your new turf lawn should be laid on the day of delivery and then watered immediately. Dried out turf that’s been left in the sun too long will struggle.
These days, it’s easy enough to buy your turf online. Turf websites provide a variety of grass types to choose from, often including a graph that specifies the winter colour, shade tolerance, wear resistance, salt tolerance, injury recovery, drought tolerance and other factors for each species. Proper mowing height for different grass varieties will also usually be listed. Your climate, soil quality and location will determine which grass type best suits your needs, so don’t be afraid to ask the experts for help and advice.
Turf is normally sold by the square metre, so it’s important to measure your yard properly so you know how much you’ll need (always add 10-15% for contingencies)
Turf is normally sold by the square metre, so it’s important to measure your yard properly so you know how much you’ll need (always add 10-15% for contingencies). If your yard is a square or rectangular shape, just multiply length by width (e.g. 10m wide by 4.2m long = 42 square metres). If it’s a circle, multiply the radius by itself and then by 3.14 (e.g. 6m x 6m x 3.14 = 113 square metres). If you’ve got a triangular shape, multiply the height by the base width and then divide by two (e.g. 10m x 6m/2 = 30 square metres)1. Of course, triangle corners are going to be hard to mow, so try to avoid this.
The cost of your turf will depend on whether you choose ‘supply and deliver’, ‘supply and lay’ (if you don’t want to do it yourself) or ‘pickup’. Professional turf layers will only lay turf on sites that have been suitably prepared beforehand. Popular turf varieties in Australia include Sir Walter, Palmetto, Sapphire, Matilda, Empire Zoysia, Windsor Green Couch and CT2 Sports Couch, to name just a few. Prices can vary, so it’s definitely worth shopping around for turf.
Fastidious soil preparation – the not-so-secret secret of a beautiful lawn
Many Aussie soils are simply not suited for growing grass – at least not without a fair amount of help. Some have too much compacted clay, which means air and water can’t penetrate to the roots. Others are too alkaline or acidic.
Fortunately, issues with poor soil can easily be corrected before you lay your turf.
And some soils seem particularly good at growing weeds but nothing else! Fortunately, issues with poor soil can easily be corrected before you lay your turf. Here are some pointers for soil preparation – the key to a happy lawn:
- The ideal soil for growing a lush, healthy lawn is a sandy loam with a pH of 5.0 to 7.0. If the pH is below 5.0, you can add lime for soil improvement. If it’s too alkaline (pH 7.5 and higher) correct it by adding gypsum or sulphur.
- One of the biggest mistakes made before laying turf is to fail to eliminate existing weeds. This may take 3 weeks, but it’s an essential step. For tough weeds (and old, tatty lawn you want to get rid of) you may need two applications of suitable non-residual glyphosate weedkiller spray (ask your nursery for advice) spaced 10 days apart. You’ll then need to remove the dead surface after the recommended waiting time. Eliminating weeds in the preparation stages means you’ll have much less weeding to do once your turf lawn is firmly established .2
- Your soil should be turned over to a depth of 15cm or so. Rake and lightly roll or water the area to create a firm surface, ensuring the area is free of rocks, weeds and debris and is as level as possible. A pre-planting lawn starter fertiliser should then be applied above the soil and below the turf when you lay it. Your turf supplier will probably have a starter fertiliser recommendation.
- Neat edges are crucial for an attractive lawn. Turf is around 25mm thick, and should sit a little bit higher than paths or edges. Don’t rush your soil levelling job – the last thing you want is a bumpy lawn.
The art of laying turf
Your turf will either be supplied as rolls or slabs. Lightly water your prepared area and roll out turf in a staggered brickwork pattern (so the short ends of rolls are not aligned), pushing individual strips together firmly without overlaps, gaps or stretching. It’s best to start at the outer edges and work your way toward the centre, so you don’t have smaller pieces of turf on the perimeter where they tend to dry out.
Always cut your turf with a sharp knife – never rip it. If you’re laying turf on a slope, plant it across the slope.
Always cut your turf with a sharp knife – never rip it. If you’re laying turf on a slope, plant it across the slope. Otherwise, water will run down between the rolls and wash away your carefully prepared soil underneath. Once your turf is laid, water it immediately. This is essential to activate the fertiliser, prevent drying out and improve the effectiveness of the final step (rolling). Don’t be shy with the water – you want to saturate the grass mat and wet the soil underneath as well.
Finally, your new lawn requires a good roll, which will even out any small bumps, firm down the turf, squeeze out pockets of air and help bond the grass roots to the soil. Lawn rollers come in many types, some with spikes for aeration or reservoirs for water, but a simple handheld roller weighing around 45kgs will do the job. Once you’ve given your new turf a thorough roll, you’re done!
Watering your new lawn
Make sure you water your new lawn every day for a week or two (depending on temperature and weather conditions). Thirsty turf can quickly turn into dead turf, so keep it moist. Keep people and pets off the surface for at least a fortnight.
Thirsty turf can quickly turn into dead turf, so keep it moist.
As the roots take hold, you can gradually reduce frequency of watering, but keep in mind that in super-hot, dry conditions, you may need to water up to four times a day.
Looking after your green masterpiece
Two or three weeks after laying your turf, the ground will be a bit firmer, you’ll be watering less frequently (but more deeply – you want to encourage deep root growth) and you can start thinking about mowing. This first mow should just take the tips off the grass: use your highest mower setting and make sure the blades are sharp.
Regular mowing helps strengthen your lawn’s root system so you get robust growth and a fresh, green colour. You might get away with mowing every 5 weeks or so in winter, but a healthy summer lawn may need mowing as often as once a fortnight.
Regular mowing helps strengthen your lawn’s root system so you get robust growth and a fresh, green colour.
Fertilise your new turf lawn about a month after laying, using a complete lawn food. There are plenty to choose from, so ask your gardening store for advice. If one of your neighbours has a particularly beautiful and robust lawn, don’t be shy asking ask what they use – they’ll take it as a compliment!
And remember, if you’re a keen gardener with lots of nice tools, don’t leave them where opportunistic thieves can grab them. Lock up your house, your shed and your garage when you’re away, and ensure you’ve got adequate contents insurance to cover you for loss or theft of your valuable items.