How to make a new lawn

How to make a new lawn

There’s nothing like a lawn to bring the various elements of a garden together as it’s easy on the eye and helps highlight other more ornamental features. Best of all, it adds much needed space to the garden and provides evergreen continuity too. But a lawn shouldn't be viewed as a growing carpet that looks after itself. Instead, think of it as thousands of tiny plants crammed together that need to be cared for like other garden plants, even though they are not quite as demanding. The great thing about a lawn is that anybody can grow one successfully regardless of their experience or love of gardening. A lawn is easy to look after and continues to look good if it’s not abused too much.

Do you really want a lawn?

The first thing to consider when covering the floor area of a garden is what finish suits you and your garden best. Although a lawn is the traditional ‘material’, it requires looking after and is less suitable in certain circumstances. In areas that are particularly small, have restricted access, are on a steep slope or are in dense shade or really hot dry spots, ground cover plants, landscaping materials or even wildflowers might be a better option.

Which type of grass?

If you decide you do want a lawn, the next step is to consider which type. Traditional bowling-green style lawns with a perfect striped finish may look great but they are a lot of work to maintain. Real bowling greens are hard, flat surfaces that are mown down to 1cm on a daily basis during the growing season. Coupled with additional seasonal maintenance, that amount of care would tax even the most enthusiastic of gardeners! For this reason most people opt for a ‘family’ lawn that contains a mixture of compact, hard-wearing grasses. These are much easier to look after, requiring mowing weekly during the growing season and an annual feed and rake for the best possible finish. There are even grass seed mixtures for problem areas such as light shade, dry and sunny spots as well as mixtures to create wildflower meadows and prairie-style gardens.

Turf or seed?

The next consideration is whether to create your new lawn from turf or seed. In a nutshell, turf is more expensive (ten times as much!), harder work and needs laying as soon as it delivered. But it provides an instant result that can be used in just a few weeks and can be laid anytime from early autumn to late spring. Seed, on the other hand, is more vulnerable (to the weather and to birds) and takes months before it can be used as a lawn, but it is cheap and easy to use. The best time to sow is either in mid-spring (April-May) or mid-autumn (September and early October). One common mistake made by many novice gardeners is to assume that turf requires less ground preparation than seed. In fact they both require the same ground work.

Preparing the ground

Initial soil preparation is very important. You should aim to create a perfectly level seedbed whether you are using seed or turf. Allow plenty of time so that the soil can settle and any imperfections can be rectified before the grass is added. Prepare the site when the soil is easily worked and doesn’t stick to your boots or tools.

  • Thoroughly dig the area as if you were preparing a border for planting. Remove any debris and weeds – including the roots of perennial types. Leave the area for a week to settle and for weed seeds to germinate.
  • Hoe off the weeds then rake the soil roughly level, removing stones and any other debris that has surfaced as you go.
  • To create a firm, level surface, tread the whole area with the weight on your heels. This will help consolidate the softer areas. Rake and repeat until the surface is firm and level.
  • Scatter a general fertiliser, such as blood, fish and bone, at the recommended rate and lightly rake it into the surface.

Laying turf

  1. Do not walk on the prepared soil, but work from a pair of short planks that will spread your weight. If the weather has been very dry, water the soil thoroughly 48 hours before you intend to lay the turf.
  2. Have a bucket of sieved soil handy to fill any hollows noticed as you lay. Lay the first line of turves end to end, carefully butting their ends together without any gaps. Place a plank on the first row of turves to spread your weight and to help firm them ensuring good contact with the soil below.
  3. Lay the second row butted up to the first so that the joints are staggered like bricks in a wall.
  4. Repeat, working forwards on the planks, until the whole area is covered. Fill any tiny gaps between the turves with sieved garden soil.
  5. Allow turves to overlap the ends so that they can be easily trimmed to shape using an old kitchen knife. Use a plank as a guide for straight edges and a garden hose for curves. Try to avoid leaving small pieces of turf at the edges as these are more likely to dry out and take longer to knit together.
  6. Water the area well after laying is complete and be prepared to water again in dry spells until the grass is well established.

Sowing seed

  1. Divide the area to be sown into 1m wide strips using canes and string.
  2. Weigh out sufficient seed for 1sq m and pour into a polystyrene or plastic cup. Make a mark on the side of the cup or cut it down to size to form a handy scoop.
  3. Start at one end of each strip and scatter the seed for 1sq m as evenly as possible over about 2sq m. Repeat until you have covered each strip evenly with seed.
  4. Then, move the string and canes to form strips running at right angles across the area and repeat sowing it again. By the time you have finished, each square metre should have received the correct amount of seed spread as evenly as possible.
  5. Lightly rake the seed in and water thoroughly if it doesn’t rain. Within a couple of weeks the area should take on a green fuzzy appearance.
  6. Don’t worry about weeds, because the will soon disappear once you start mowing. Make your first cut when the grass reaches about 5-8cm high, using a sharp mower with the cutting height set high – the aim is to just tip-back the longest grass blades.