How to Prepare the Ground For Grass Seed or Turf in 10 Simple Steps

by Daniel Hunter

When you’re creating a new lawn either by sowing grass seed or laying turf, you need to prepare the ground.

After all, the quality of the end result depends on the quality of the preparation. If you cock it up at this stage, your lawn will always look, well, a bit shit.

Trust me, the last thing you need is that irritating feeling of wanting to rip it up and start again!

This article explains my 10-step process for preparing the ground for turf or grass seed. The process is the same, whichever method you choose.

Prepare the Ground in 10 Simple Steps

Preparing soil for turf or seed is a dead-simple. That said, don’t think that because it’s a simple process the work is easy. It takes graft and a bit of patience.

There are 10 steps;

  1. Kill all existing grass, plants and weeds
  2. Remove the old lawn
  3. Dig or rotovate the soil
  4. Improve the soil structure and fertility
  5. Level the area
  6. Firm the ground
  7. Leave the area to settle (optional)
  8. Re-level the area
  9. Apply pre-turfing fertiliser
  10. Rake to a fine tilth

If you’d rather watch than read, here’s a video from Rolawn explaining how to do it;

1. Kill All Existing Grass, Plants and Weeds

Nothing will piss you off more than seeing weeds growing your new lawn.

This happens a lot and I’ve seen people leave scathing reviews about how crap the turf or grass seed was. When in actual fact, they didn’t take the time to kill off the old lawn first.

Don’t be that person!

Kill the area off with a glyphosate-based weed killer. This will kill any plant material right down to the roots. I recommend Roundup Fast Acting Weedkiller.

Give it a couple of weeks to work its magic and you’ll see the existing grass, weeds etc, start to turn brown as it dies.

Roundup Fast-Acting Weed Killer

roundup fast acting weed killer
  • Kills weeds at the roots
  • Visible results in 1-2 days
  • Degrades on contact with soil
  • Leaves no harmful traces and allows for re-planting

2. Remove the Old Lawn

Once everything is dead, you need to remove the old lawn and any vegitation.

You can do this by levering the old lawn off the soil underneath with a spade or turfing iron. That said, even in a small area, this is a miserable, often back-breaking job.

If you can, hire a turf cutter. It’ll save you a ton of time and effort.

3. Dig or Rotovate the Soil

With the area cleared you now need to dig or rotovate the soil.

Grass needs at least 15cm of soil it can grow deep roots. So rotovate to at least that depth and remove any roots, rocks, rubble or stones as you go.

Again, if you’re a sucker for punishment you can use a spade or garden fork but you need to be thorough. No half arsing it!

Otherwise, use a mechanical rotovator. You’ll get it done in a tenth of the time.

You can buy a decent electric model for smaller areas for around a hundred quid. Or you can hire petrol tillers for larger areas. Trust me, they’re money well spent, especially if you’ve got a large area to turn over.

Tacklife 1400w Electric Tiller

tacklife tiller
  • 400rpm high-torque speed
  • Rotovates to a depth of 20cm
  • 40cm tilling width
  • Stable and easy to control

4. Improve the Soil Structure and Fertility

If your garden grows on top of good quality soil then you should be able to skip this part.

In my experience though, soil is rarely perfect!

If the soil is very sandy and free-draining, add in some good quality, well-rotted manure. It’ll increase the soils ability to hold onto water and also adds vital micronutrients.

I use Field Compost’s Well Rotted Manure. It’s nice and steamy and it’s the best I’ve found.

Field Compost Well-Rotted Manure

field compost manure
  • High-quality rotted horse manure
  • Increased microbial activity in the soil
  • Improves moisture retention
  • Doesn’t smell

For clay-based soils which get boggy when it rains, add in some pea gravel to improve drainage. Also, add in plenty of regular compost to add in nutrients.

Field Compost Organic Soil Conditioner

field compost
  • High-quality soil conditioner
  • Provides nutrients to the soil profile
  • Improves moisture retention
  • Peat free

No matter what type of soil you have, the addition of compost or manure will always help.

Whatever you need to do to improve the soil, the process of getting it into the soil is the same. Spread it over the surface and dig it in with your spade, fork or rotavator.

5. Level the Area

With the area dug over, now it’s time to level it. The flatter and more level you can make the soil bed, the better your lawn will look.

Break up any clumps of soil with a landscaping rake and rake the whole area until it’s as level as you can get it.

For larger areas, I’ve always used an old wooden ladder with a loop of rope tied at each end. Then I add some weight to it (bricks) and drag it over the area until I’m dizzy. This drags the soil from the high spots and deposits it into the low areas.

Keep pulling it across the surface until the whole area is as flat as you can get it.

6. Firm the Soil

Now it’s time to tread the soil to firm it up. Some call this ‘heeling’ but I like to call ‘the lawnsmith’s truffle shuffle’.

So tread the soil, taking tincey-wincey steps with your weight right over your heels. Go up and down the lawn lengthways.

As you go, you’ll be able to feel the low or soft spots in the soil as well as any high spots.

Once you’ve done, either add soil to the low spots or roughly rake the soil from the high spots into the low spots.

Then tread the area again, this time going across your lawn and back width ways.

Treading the soil takes patience. Especially if you’re after a snooker table flat area on which to lay your turf.

7. Leave the Area to Settle (Optional)

If you do want the area to be snooker table flat, firm the soil as I’ve described. Then leave the area to settle for 6-8 weeks before going out and finishing it off.

If there’s no rain, water the area weekly to help the soil settle properly. You’ll also see where puddles form in the low spots.

8. Re-Level the Area

As the soil settles, you’ll see high and low spots.

You can either add soil to the low spots or rake the high spots into the low spots. You may have to heel, add/move soil around several times until you’re happy. It depends on how much of a perfectionist you are.

I like to keep going and going until it’s as perfect as I can get it.

9. Apply Pre-Turfing Fertiliser

Now it’s time to get the chemical nutrients your new turf will need into the soil. These are nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium.

In which case you’ll need to apply a pre-turfing or pre-seeding granular fertiliser.

A1 Lawn’s Pre-Turf Fertiliser is a belter.

A1 Lawn Pre-Seed/Turf Fertiliser

pre seed fertiliser
  • NPK = 6-9-6
  • Promotes healthy root development
  • 10kg covers 285m²

10. Rake to a Fine Tilth

The last thing you need to do is rake the soil to a fine tilth.

The finer the finish, the better contact the soil will make with the underside of the turf when you lay it. And so the quicker your new lawn will take root and establish.

What Are You Waiting For? Crack On!

And that, dear reader, is how to prepare soil for turf or grass seed.

As you can see, it’s a pretty simple process.

I’ve already told you but it’s worth repeating. The quality of your new lawn depends on the quality of your preparation.

Take your time, do the job right.

Then you can measure your lawn to work out how much turf you’ll need. If it’s a simple shape, use my handy turf calculator. If your lawn’s an odd shape, here’s how to measure it.

Then when you’re ready, this is how to lay turf and this is how to care for it once you’ve laid it.

So what are you waiting for? Get to work!

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