Timber garden decking never seems to lose its popularity, and why should it, when it's such a useful way of extending your living and entertaining space. Andy Taylor explains why decking is so easy to install and how best to look after it.
A well laid lawn, that enhances the appearance of your garden and home, is the ambition of many gardeners. There's still time to lay turf before any hot dry weather arrives and Andy Taylor answers some of the questions that are most frequently asked on this subject.
Autumn is the most favourable time, as the earth is still warm and plenty of rain will normally fall over the winter. The warm damp autumn soil is the ideal growing medium for the new roots to grow into. You have to remember that a lot of the roots will have been sliced through when the turf was cut and re-establishing this root system quickly is the key to a healthy green lawn.
Spring is probably the most popular time to lay turf but you will need to make sure that the new root system establishes quickly before the summer heat sets in. Keep the turf very well watered over the first couple of months.
You should lay your turf on up to 6ins of good quality topsoil. If this is not readily available you should consider buying topsoil, preferably sandy loam that offers effective drainage and nutrients, from a reputable supplier.
Preparation is very important. You only have one chance to create the right growing conditions before you lay the turf and this opportunity should not be missed.
Any existing grass and weeds should be removed, either by hand or with the application of weedkiller.
Dig the earth over, removing any large stones and breaking up clods. Then level by raking and firm the surface by walking over it, making sure you put plenty of pressure on it to expose any areas that may sink in the future. Depending on the size of the new lawn this may take several days, on and off, but is worth the effort.
If dry, water before the turf is delivered to settle the surface and provide moisture for the roots. Then lightly rake over the surface again to break the soil which will allow the new roots to penetrate more easily. If you are laying the turf in the autumn feed the soil with old-fashioned sterilized Bone Meal, which is a slow-release fertilizer that will still be working next spring when the new roots will need a gentle feed. If you are laying the turf in the spring then an Autumn Lawn Food is a great choice as it is also slow-release, which will not burn the new roots. You can also buy specialist granular fertilizer for under turf, or use Chicken Manure or similar. Do not use fresh stable manure.
If you buy your turf from a reputable local Garden Centre it will almost certainly be weed treated cultivated meadow turf. For most applications, most of the time, this choice is perfect. It has a combination of grasses including ryegrass that make it hard wearing, drought resistant, and it looks good on the eye.
If you go to a specialist turf supplier you will be able to buy a higher grade turf, or turf that is more suitable for shady, dry, or damp conditions. Turf without ryegrass is certainly finer, but it is not suitable if you have children or grandchildren, but it makes a great show lawn.
Turf still seems to be sold in yards, with most standard rolls of turf covering one square yard. One square metre will be slightly smaller than one square yard. In simple terms, you multiply the length x width of the location and add about 5% to be sure. Having said that most areas to be turfed will not be a perfect square or rectangle so you may have to divide and measure the area up into smaller blocks and add these up at the end.
Lay the turf as soon as you can, is the simple answer. When the rolls arrive store them in the shade and make sure they do not dry out. If possible lay on the day of delivery. Having said that you are actually buying the root system of the turf, and not the green side, which will, of course, soon have grown through and will be cut off so if your turf has gone slightly yellow do not despair. As long as the roots are still healthy the grass will revert back to green after a short while with a few cuts.
It’s important to mark the lawn so you know exactly where you want to lay your turf.
A good way to do this is to insert wooden stakes into the ground, choosing key points along the area you’re turfing. Take some cord and connect it to the stakes, creating a lining system that you can follow along. This will give you perfectly aligned turf.
It's always best to lay the first rolls along a straight edge. Firm down with a rake and make sure the ends of the rolls are butted up against each other but don't stretch them. I would then normally work around the perimeter (leaving an access route if necessary) as it is easier to create sweeping curves using a long length of turf than it is to try and cut them into shape.
Then lay the centre of the lawn, making sure you stagger the rolls like brickwork so the joins are not all in a line. Cut the turf to size with a utility knife and then trim the edges with a half-moon edging tool where necessary.
After you’ve finished laying your turf you may notice inconsistencies across your lawn. Use the trimmed pieces of excess turf to fill in any gaps. Where the turf is uneven because of underlying hollow spots, gently lift the turf and fill underneath with topsoil.
Definitely, and for a further few weeks. It is best to avoid the middle of the day so put your lawn sprinkler on late afternoon / early evening to conserve the loss of water you are laying down. Water enough so the water seeps below the turf sods and then the roots will grow down to follow the water. If you water sparingly the moisture will sit nearer the surface and the newly establishing roots will tend to turn up seeking moisture, and not grow down. This will also provide the right moist conditions for annual weeds to survive and then thrive. It can also cause long-term problems during dry spells. Make sure the grass does not dry out until the new lawn is well established.
If your lawn develops patches of different coloured green soon after it has been laid then it is likely that you’re not watering your lawn evenly. Don’t assume your lawn is getting an even spread if you’re using a sprinkler. A quick way of testing this is to get empty tins placed around the lawn. After watering using your sprinkler check to see if any of the tins have significantly less water than others and then adjust accordingly.
Mowing will help the lawn become established. So cut the grass within the first week or two but keep the blades set fairly high as you don't want to tear at the lawn thus lifting the roots. Lower the blades with successive cut and alternate the direction in which you cut each time.
If you have followed all the correct preparation steps you will not need to feed the lawn until the following spring or autumn, whichever comes first. This is because you need to grow and establish the new root system before you start delivering extra nutrients which could scorch the tender roots. Don't forget, you have already prepared the ground before.
If you need more detailed information about caring for your lawn read our blog 'How to Care for a Spring Lawn'
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