Simple Guide to Laying a New Lawn

A step by step guide to lay a new lawn with turf

I’ve been noticing on ‘YouTube’ that there are a number of people offering advice on how to lay lawns. In most cases, all I can do is shake my head. Many demonstrate how to take the shortcuts when laying a lawn. Indeed, some suggest laying turf on a bed of organic-based material. This isn’t the best method because, as the organic material decomposes in the sub-surface, the lawn will get dips and become uneven.

Consider a healthy root system

When laying a new lawn, the object is to have a good root system growing within the soil profile. The soil profile is made up of different layers called horizons. An horizon is a layer of soil sited parallel to the soil surface. Its physical makeup differs from other layers, both, beneath it and above it.

Ideally, we want the root system of a lawn to penetrate deep into the soil profile where it will reach the cooler soil. The deeper soil tends to be more moist and less prone to drying out.

soil profile for a new lawn

The picture, above, depicts a sandy horizon within the soil profile. This will allow the roots to grow more quickly into a deeper profile as they pursue the water, minerals and nutrients they seek

 

To achieve a soil profile similar to this one, you may have to excavate and remove up to 200mm of existing soil. This is an expensive exercise. Firstly, machinery is required to remove the soil; and secondly, the tipping costs of waste material has soared over the last 10 years. Therefore, in most instances, contractors tend to take short cuts when laying a new lawn. They will skim off the existing grass, rotary hoe the area to be turfed, roll the area and lay the grass. They may or may not introduce a turf underlay but the faster the job is done, the sooner they can get paid and move onto the next job.

The problem is, if the lawn has been laid onto a clay surface or, worse, a rocky outcrop, the roots won’t travel as deeply. This can, and will, cause problems in the long run. A good, strong, healthy root system will allow the owner to mow his lawn a little shorter than normal. If you’re in the habit of cutting your lawn short but have a poor root system, the grass will be placed under stress. This may cause large areas of grass to go yellowy and never green up, even after fertilising; it can cause lawns to recede in shaded areas where they should normally grow well; it can even cause ‘browning off’ (especially during the summer) where the shallow root system is burnt by the sun.

The bottom line is- If you’re looking to have a lawn laid and you want to have the benefit of a nice-looking lawn for a very long time, it is best to build a good foundation for that lawn at the outset. Spend the extra money to have a lawn profile with, at least, a 150mm horizon of 80:20 turf underlay (that is- 80% sand and 20% topsoil).

Once your underlay soil is down, it will need to be smoothed over with a rake to get the surface area as level as possible. To get an even better finish, a lawn leveller (aka- soil leveller or lute) is required.

smoothen your lawn surface with a rake

These are Soil Levellers (Lutes). They do an excellent job with preparing your final soil levels.

Smoothen your surface with a lawn rack

After you’ve laid the underlay soil, taken out all the bumps and filled in all the dips, and you’re happy with your final levels, it’s time to roll the surface area. This is extremely important as, if it’s omitted from the process, you will get deep furrows left by your feet when laying the grass. This will lead to an uneven lawn surface and a terrible finish. Once rolled, you may need to fill in dips with sand and take away any rises. So, even these out, get the final levels right and then roll the area once more. Once you’re satisfied with the levels and the firmness of the ground, it will be time to lay your turf.

lawn area roller

Choosing a turf lawn

This brings us to a very interesting topic- WHICH LAWN TO LAY?

For well over a decade, the preferred choice of lawn has been one of the many varieties of soft leafed buffalos. The original buffalos were the ST range which were made up of ST 26, ST85 and ST91.

They were soon followed by Shademaster, then Sir Walter and Palmetto. Newer varieties are now available like Matilda, King’s Pride, Sapphire and several others that smaller turf farms are now propagating.

I’ve never been a fan of soft leafed buffalo. All varieties have their pros and cons. All the turf farmers will tell you that theirs is the best. The fact is that most farms can harvest up to three crops per year on the same hectare of land. Now, do the maths… 10,000 square metres x 3 times per year x $6.00 per square metre… No wonder they push the stuff so much!!!

What they don’t tell you is that, like couch varieties, buffalo grass produce rhizomes and stolons… and more stolons… and more stolons. Stolons are ‘adventitious roots’ that grow over the top of the soil surface (rhizomes grow under the soil surface). The problem with so many stolons is that they quickly grow over the top of one another, forming a thick thatch. The thatch is easily noticeable by its sponginess and this can lead to a difficulty in mowing.

anatomy of grass

The picture shows the anatomy of grass. Stolons grow on top of the soil surface and can, eventually, cause a thick thatch

 

Another problem with buffalo is that it’s highly susceptible to fungal disease- and if anyone tells you otherwise, they’re telling Porkies! Fungal disease can happen at any time during the year but it mainly attacks in peak summer.

Everyone wanting to lay a new lawn has an expectation that it will be lush. There is no doubt that soft leaf buffalo will satisfy those expectations but some of the varieties will come back to haunt you.

If your lawn is going to be growing in shade or has trees or shrubs which will eventually cause a shadow from their canopy, I would suggest buffalo. If it’s going to be in deep shade, then Durban is definitely a consideration.

If your lawn is going to be in full sun, I would suggest a couch variety. The reason I choose a couch variety over a zoysia is that I don’t believe zoysias have been around long enough in our climatic zone to really prove themselves. Couch is tried and tested- over and over again, and over decades of time. The first zoysias, in Sydney, were a disaster and many didn’t suit the climate they were being introduced into. Take a look at buffalos, for instance, the early ones like the ST varieties turned out to be poor and have now been superseded by better varieties; and they’ve been around longer than the zoysias! For a better idea on the different varieties of grasses available- the different species and their sub-species, go to the ‘Lawn’ link.

In any case, there are pro’s and con’s to all lawn varieties. If you decide to do the job yourself- DO YOUR HOMEWORK. If you decide to get a contractor in, again, DO YOUR HOMEWORK.

Steps to laying the lawn

When laying grass, it is best to start in a corner and unroll the grass along the longest edge. When you reach the end of the run, the last roll will inevitably overlap the returning edge. This overhang will require trimming and you want to make as fewer cuts as possible at the end of the job. Make sure you leave no gaps between the rolls of lawn as these can stand out as creases later on.

In the photo, opposite, this fellow is cutting the end of the roll with a knife. You will notice (and may realise) that it’s far easier to cut the ends off the rolls than to cut off the long edges. It will almost be a ‘gimme’ that a long edge will require cutting during the job but you want to keep these to a minimum.

By the way- it’s a lot easier to trim off the ends with a brushcutter!

This the wrong way to lay a lawn. The problem is, that inevitably, there will be rolls overlapping one another along the sides and they will need trimming.

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Another problem will also arise when gaps appear between the rolls and adjacent rolls will have to be shifted to compensate; making the finished job looking crooked and unprofessional.

This is a far better way to lay a lawn. Each strip is butted up to the leading edge of a roll already laid. By laying the lawn this way, there is little, if no chance, of overlap or gapping.

Once laid, you will need to roll the lawn with a lawn roller filled with water. This will help to level out the bumps that may have been in the rolls before laying. Water the lawn for about 45- 60 minutes to moisten the soil and cool the grass roots. DO NOT ADD FERTILISER AT THIS STAGE.

After care of your newly laid lawn

It will take two to three weeks for your lawn to ‘knit’. That is, it will take this time for your roots to establish and bind to the soil beneath. During this time, keep your lawn well watered and don’t let it dry out. Some turf farms grow their lawns on a base with a clay content. If these dry out, the strips of grass laid will shrink in all directions, leaving gaps between the rolls.

You will know when your lawn has ‘knitted’ when you can’t lift the lawn from the ground- the roots have embedded themselves in the topsoil. It is now time to make your first cut.

Over the preceding weeks, your grass would have grown. In some cases, it may have grown as much as 75mm. Your first cut should just clip the tops off the blades of grass. Take no more than a third off the sward (leaf-blade). If using an old mower, make sure your blades are sharp! Sharp blades will give a neater finish and not ‘shatter’ the ends of the swards (it’s a bit like having hair with split-ends). Shattering will only damage the grass.

 

I hope the above information was useful.
Check out our Lawn Care Guide for more detailed information.