The Lawn (and the beds ...)
Lawns also come in any shape or size. The sky's the limit .... Also the type of grass you have can also be quite varied. It does not matter if you have a bowling green , a horse's meadow or a normal back garden - it will still require a good foundation to ensure healthy growth.
The following guide is assuming you have followed the steps in the Preperations part of the site. Please go there if you have not read this first.
Your concrete bases should be in and dry, your shrub beds all cleared and awaiting the plants, and the lawn area should be a couple of inches below the finished patio height all dug out with those Bamboo stakes stuck in all over it as your guide.
As with all the stakes in the garden, these lawn stakes are again very important, and so, must be checked again to ensure they have not been kicked about. This will be the last largest important levels you will be doing in the garden and it needs to be right - this is like laying a new carpet in a room that has just been decorated and is the finishing touch.
But First ...
Before you go ahead on the lawn, you will need to know your boundaries - where does the lawn stop and start when it meets the shrub beds? The only way to know this is to finish off your plant beds first. If you plan on planting up your plant beds at a later date, when the new grass is ok to walk on, then it is not important right now. But if you want the entire job all done and finished, now is the time to plant up your beds and decide where the beds will stop and the grass starts.
As a general rule, plant beds always look best if they are higher than the grass - this may already be the case in your garden as you have excavated the lawn area but added compost to the planted areas. Although the beds will be higher than the grass, the beds should gently slope from the grass and up to the fence or wall. This is so if you go for a weed control fabric and cover with bark or specimen stone (see Low Maintenance), you have the needed levels to apply your chosen top covering without it all constantly spilling onto the grass.
The first thing to do is to use the handle of a broom or rake whatever, to scratch a line as the edge of the beds - go a little bit more than you think you need to allow the plants to mature without you having to massacre them every couple of years ! Try to introduce a curve or two in the shape of your beds - think of the shape of the lid of a Grand Piano and apply that. Wiggly regular lines and repetitive shapes tend to be a bit insulting on the eye. If you are going for the good ol' fashioned straight beds. Use some sand or stakes and string to mark out the shape then go upstairs and look at the shape through the window to be sure. When you are happy with the final shapes, you are ready to prepare for the 'carpet' !
Give me my Green back ... Please !
Are those stakes ok? ... they should be just about a couple of inches below the patio height. This means you allow an inch for the thickness of a grass turf and the rest will be the soil you are going to add.
Top-Soil and Turf do come in all sorts of grades. Some soil is more like clay - great big chunks and all soaking wet - this is no good to anyone, do not use this. Turf has been given so many names by either the garden centre / supplier and / or the grower and can seem quite confusing to someone new to all this. You basicly need a turf that is guaranteed weed-free and is not grown on the black peat / compost. Some grass are grown on these dark soil mixtures for speed and to encourage a grass that is as green as you can get it - this is fine if you lay the grass on the same soil mixture to keep it looking the same. As soon as you lay this type of grass on your soil - it will revert back to a more subdued green colour and growth speed. Getting a turf that has been grown on a 'normal' top-soil is a good indicator that the seed mix and colour etc is going to stay the same after you have laid it on your soil.
That said and done you now need to ask and phone about for both of these items. I could reccommend some places, but these would be local to me and no good for you if you are reding this and live in the Outer Hebrides or infact, anywhere in the World ! Mail me for local suppliers if you are in dire straights.
You will need a soil that has been covered ie; it is out of the weather and not covered in weed growth. Piles of soil covered in weeds means there are also weed seeds in the soil - needless to say, we dont want this in the garden. Once you have found your nice pile of dry weed-free top soil, you know this can be raked about to fine levels and you now just need to work out your area and quantity required. Dont worry if you ordered a little too much - this excess can be used on your shrub beds - provided you have not planted them up ! - or you could always build yourself that rockery you have always wanted !
Again, measure your area: Say a garden is 10 metres long and 6 metres wide, just times one by the other: 10x6 = 60, this is in square metres wrote as m². If you require about two inches in depth, a ton of soil should cover around 19m² - you have 60m² total area, so you will need around 3 tons of soil to cover your area 2 inches thick. - * this is a rough guide but shows you how you can work it out yourself.
When you had found someone to supply your turf, try to go and look at it. It should not be yellow when you open it out - if it is, it may be a few days old or even a couple of weeks during the Winter months. Check that the root area looks intact and the soil is holding in ok and is not the black stuff ! If it is a bit yellow, ask if they are getting in some fresh stuff and view it again. When happy, this is a bit easier to order as it is sold as an area ie: you have 60 square metres, so you order 60 square metres of turf - easy.
Here it comes ...
Got that mate handy again? Handle the turf with a bit of respect so it does not get flattened or fall apart between the lorry and your stacked pile in the garden. Use those hardboard sheets again to keep the drive clean at delivery time - likewise especially with the soil delivery. This will no-doubt be loose tipped off the back of the lorry and can make a bit of a mess so the boards really help here.
Start barrowing in the soil, and as always, start dumping it at the farthest part of the garden and work back toward the house. Lay your barrow loads across the garden and rake out as you go - the same as you did for the patio base. You should be raking so you can just barely see the tops of the Bamboo stakes - get one of those fluorescent aerosols and give the top of each one a quick puff to make it stand out - or you may loose a few and your levels will go up the wall. When you have been really fussy raking and raking and then raking again, you should just see the tips of all your stakes sticking out of a nice flat area. You may have a few barrow loads of soil left over at this point, thats ok, you will use them.
Apart from your footprints here and there, the area may look quite level. But you notice the area is also quite soft ! You can not lay turf on this as it is - the turf will sink here and there, never appear level, and will take about a year before it firms up enough to run about on. You need to consolidate the area (firm it up). This is not done by a roller, as many will believe, but by foot !
Starting by the house, looking up the garden, walk on the soil with a flat foot - not the heel toe that makes deep holes, just a boot straight down. Put your next foot half way along the mark you have just made and touching your other boot. So your second step should be not a full boot infront of the first - little half steps, just like a Gaesha girl would do, more of a shuffle but lifting your feet up then down flat. (should do a video of this maybe - very hard to describe !).
If you just walked up and down the garden normally, you would have a gap between both feet and a gap between every step - these gaps also need firming, so instead of walking all over the place several times, we are trying to walk with very small steps, close together so we only leave a small line in between our feet that is left as a tiny ridge. Follow the edge of your marked out plant beds, up to the end of the garden along the back, down toward the house and just keep going in an ever decreasing circle until you get to the middle of the area all done. You can now see the area still looks a bit flat, but now with a million foot prints in it. You may find your buttocks hurt the day after doing this - it's a great exercise !
You now have to rake the area again, but only very lightly, less than the weight of the rake itself. All you are doing here is just touching the top half an inch to make the footprints dissapear. After doing all this you should notice that you can now see just an inch of those Bamboo stakes sticking up - you can see more of the stakes now as you have made the soil sink a bit after all that walking on. This one inch you see of the stakes is the thickness of your turf and is correct. Still got a few low'ish areas here and there? Use those spare barrow loads you had left to lightly top up those low areas - be sure to check for high areas as well, just rake the highs into the lows, just like you did on the patio base. Dont forget to re-tread any areas you do build up, again to ensure they are firm.
Well done, the soil is now in and all firmed up ready for the turf.
And here it is !
For easier cutting of the turf, start to lay them up the garden so the cuts will be kept to a minimum. Use an old bread knife to cut any turf and be sure to wear gloves when handling turf - it feels soft on the root side, but it's really like a scourer and your hands will be red raw by the end of the day.
If your turf comes as rolls, unroll just a foot or so and bend back the edge that is the end of the roll (the first bit - small edge). You are bending it back as the edge may be bent the other way due to being rolled and you would see a dirt line instead of a grass neat edge when laid. You only bend it back and let it go, this should be enough to make the edge level again. Lay this neat edge tight against the patio (it should be under the top of the patio by half an inch), then holding this part of the turf down so it does not move, roll out the rest of the turf and move it about so it is following the shrub bed edge or fence / wall etc. Always keep ANY edge of a turf tight against a fence / whatever, to avoid unsightly gaps. After your first is rolled out, check it has not moved away from the patio and slap it toward the patio with the palm of your hand if it has. When you fully unroll the turf, do the bend-back-thing again to this end as well - you will see what I mean when you see the state of the edge - it only looks a little mis-shapen, but when you lay the whole lawn without doing the bendy thing - the area looks horrid with big brown lines every metre or so - this action avoids the nasty appearance.
If the turf comes as carpet tiles, still do the bendy thing as above - you just have to do it a bit more if the turf comes in smaller pieces as there will be more of them !
When you lay your second turf, butt it tight against the end of the first you have laid, hold it down in place with one hand and unroll with the other. You may find that a quick light pull over with the rake may again be needed if you have been walking all over the line of soil you are going to lay on, just to create a nice fluffy tilth to the soil and not a hard footprint - the new roots will take more readily to a fine tilth and will establish more faster. An important note here: "DO NOT WALK ON THE TURF YOU HAVE LAID" - if you do, you will make dents that will take ages to dissappear !
After you have laid a few turf, get yourself a few scaffold boards - or some straight lengths of timber at least an inch thick by six inches wide and around eight foot or more long. These boards are carefully laid on top of what you have just laid and are walked upon to firm the turf down onto the soil. This is the final firming required to finish off the turf laying excercise and must be done to ensure final levels are all ok and that the root-zone of the turf is in contact with the soil and not the air ! - if you get dead spots in your turf it's because you did not firm it properly ! As you lay the turf carefully flip the boards over to then walk on, and firm the next bit - all the garden has to be done in this manner - and dont walk on it - not even once !
When you get to the end of the garden with your first line, now go across the garden to make a back to the lawn. Butt this new line tight into the side of the last turf you laid - dont forget the three thing's here; Bendy both ends / rake a little / and boards. holding the turf down and keep checking your joints are all nice and tight is added to the list. Don't get carried away chatting to your mate or other half and forget these points - your finished lawn will only look as good as the attention you are paying to it at this last important stage.
Work back down the other side of the garden, coming back towards the house, and then across the front of your patio back to where you started. Well Done, you have now just made one big complete frame that is the edge of your lawn. You now 'Fill In' this frame, working up and down the garden, filling in the area. Be aware that when you start to fill in this area, you will now have three edges to look out for. You will have the first edge that has had the bendy done to it, you will then have the entire length of the turf where it butts against the other turf already laid (better to unroll an inch away and gently slide the turf into the edge), do the bendy trick a little here and there if you have to. The third edge is obviously the last one, that has the bendy again. Just remember all these points as you lay - take your time and cut any bits off as you need to - not at the end of the job - but save these bits incase you need them to patch any areas.
You should not need much more by way of tuition now. Things should all make sense and start to fall into place.
If your turf is laid in the Autumn (best time), then Mother Nature will look after it for you with regard to watering. If you try to do it in the Summer (good luck !), watering may be a problem as the Sun may dry it all before you can get round to watering it all. Another small note here: "IF IT DRIES OUT IT SHRINKS" - The Sun is just so damaging really quick to new laid turf - you have to keep the turf virtually underwater to ensure it will stay alive if laid during the Summer or even late Spring. Lay it in the Autumn and let Nature handle it for you ! The Sun's rays are so weak in the Autumn that the ground stays damp - therefore watering your lawn is not an issue. If it shrinks in the Sun - and it will - leaving a staggering two inch gap around each and every turf, even watering will not make the turf stretch back again. The only way to rectify this major problem is to have the whole lot up and re-lay the lot again ! - not a task you would look forward to - so, LAY IT IN THE AUTUMN !!
This now completes the tutorial and guidance notes for the entire D.I.Y. project. I do hope you have been able to follow all this and that you did not do any major damage to that muscle group you do not normally use! These notes should have given you confidence in undertaking something you never dreamed feasable - or at least, paved the way for you to do it right the first time.
Please let me know how you got on, and maybe send some pictures of the work you have done - we may feature it in our larger site when up and running in the not too distant future. Also let me know what you thought of these notes / way's of improving them and even requests.
Thanks again for your interest in our site, and you patience in reading the notes ...
"ENJOY YOUR NEW GARDEN"