Garden Advice

HELP! How to Level Soil Before Laying Turf

We’ve briefly touched the topic on general site preparation before laying turf in our last turf-related post. In this one, we’ll focus on the key step of levelling the ground prior to laying sod.

You’ll learn in more detail not only how to prepare the ground for turf, but also some specific levelling techniques, designed to ensure the best possible start with your lawn establishment. Last but not least, you’ll find out when you need to consider getting some topsoil, as well as what to do if your garden is not exactly flat, but on the sloppy side.

Table of Contents:

We think that you’ll find this post helpful if:

  • you’ve never laid turf before;
  • your garden soil is not the greatest to work with;
  • the site you want to turf is not completely flat;
  • you can’t quite decide on the right way to level the soil.

How to level soil before laying turf

Laying turf is, of course, superior to planting grass seeds when it comes to getting an instant lawn. It can be enjoyed and used almost straight away. However, you still need to get ready for some hard work regarding the preliminary ground preparation, as well as learn exactly how to level a garden before turfing.

So, here is how to prepare the ground for turf:

  1. Clear the planting site from any weeds.

    Remove old grass seedlings and any perennial weeds first. Thorough manual weeding always renders the best results but, if you wish, you can apply a standard herbicide. The trick is to allow enough time for the weed-killing product to “clear off” (at least a couple of weeks), especially if it’s been classed as a residual weed killer.

  2. Rotovate the area well.

    Dig and till the ground to a good depth. A minimum of 6-7 inches is recommended, but the deeper you rotovate the soil, the better, especially if you’ve skipped completing the task manually and used the appropriate equipment for the job.

  3. Remove all stones.

    Rotovating the ground properly will most likely result in stones and rocks of various sizes appearing on the surface. You know what to do, right? Remove all of those, as they will prevent you from levelling the soil nicely and effortlessly later on.

  4. Improve your soil with organic material.

    Add compost or well-rotted manure to the planting site. Mix it into the soil with a tiller. If you’re aware of any deficiencies that your garden soil might have, then this step is a must. Experts advise leaving the freshly cultivated surface for a few weeks to settle before proceeding to the next step. This will also help you spot any new weeds that have come through before you lay the turf.

  5. Level the soil.

    You may be tempted to grab a lawn roller to level the soil. However, our advice is to do the job with your feet. It takes time, but treading over every inch of the site will allow you to get the feel of the tiniest uneven spot, which you can break down by stomping it with your heels. In other words, to avoid ending up with an uneven lawn later on, level the soil with the help of your garden boots several times in different directions.

  6. Rake the site well.

    When you’re done levelling, get a fine rake and go over the planting site with it. Scratch the surface with the rake more than once and never in the same direction. This will help you loosen the top layer of soil and give the grassroots a better chance to transplant properly.

We should note here that there are different opinions on how to level the soil before laying turf in the best way. So, let’s explore the matter further and see why the physical efforts and hard work described above will pay off at the end.

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Why tread the ground before the final raking

So, why should you stomp rather than use a roller?

The idea behind using your feet to level the soil before laying turf is that your own weight will help you break every single bump of soil down more effectively. Furthermore, a roller could easily “miss” any depressions in the soil as you go along and navigate the equipment with your hands. Last but not least, your feet will feel any odd small stones, covered in dirt, which you may have failed to notice and remove. In contrast, a lawn roller will just “sink” those further down into the ground.

How to apply the stomping soil levelling method

Your feet should work their way and tread over the planting site sideways and at an angle of about 90 degrees (imagine the hands of a clock, set at 10 minutes to 2). Take your time and cover the entire area two or even three times. Some people prefer to rake the surface that they’ve just trodden on, straight away as they go. The end result should be a perfectly level area, covered in soil that has been brought to a fine tilth, meaning it doesn’t look or feel compacted and solid.

Check the level of compaction with your finger. A good guide will be the depth at which your finger cannot go any further down, i.e. about 1-2 cm. This depth is enough for the turf to root successfully.

To sum up, if you level the soil by stomping it with your feet, followed by a gentle rake, you’ll eliminate the risk of ending up with an uneven lawn later on.

If you’re a bit of a perfectionist, after raking the area, you can level the soil with a long plank of wood with an edge as a finishing touch.

How to know if you need topsoil?

Sometimes, the existing soil is so poor that you are better off adding a significant amount of topsoil. Or the site you want to turf hardly has any soil at all, as you’ve turned it into a compacted sub-base for a patio you no longer wish to have and you’ve just removed.

Last but not least, you may need to use some topsoil to reduce the gradient of a slope, which you plan to lay your turf on. Whatever the situation, getting topsoil is your best bet to correct a range of faults with your garden, whether we’re talking about levelling the ground or the unfortunate case of having hard-to-work-with, heavy clay soil or acidic sandy soil.

How much topsoil you need to get will depend on what type of problem you’re trying to fix before laying the turf. Just as a guide, to work out the quantity you intend to purchase, multiply the length and the width of the site area you need topsoil for. The measurement result is the size of the surface, which should then be divided by 30. The figure you get, you can multiply by the depth (in inches) to end up with a good estimate of how much topsoil you’ll need in tons.

Well, as topsoil differs in its density, it’ll be an approximate number that you may need to adjust, depending on the type of loam you’re buying and what exactly you’re using it for.

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Extra tips before laying your turf

So now that you know how to level the soil before laying turf, take a look at these additional tips that you may find helpful.

  • If your future lawn is going to end against a wooden fence, you’ll need to protect the latter from moisture damage by placing a barrier between the border fence and the soil.
  • Laying turf on a slope is a tricky job, but manageable, if you secure the turf with wooden skewers until the roots transplant properly. It’s another matter, though, how you’ll handle the ground preparation of a slope and levelling out the surface with a copious amount of additional soil. You can always consider creating a terraced landscape that will make your new lawn project less of a challenge.
  • When turfing an area that borders a pavement, a garden path or a patio, allow for soil movement when levelling the ground to a firm finish. This means that the top layer of the soil should be at the same level as the garden hard surface feature. Why? Even though the turf on top will sit slightly higher at first, it will level out over time, as the soil underneath will sink slightly.
  • To help turf transplantation, apply a general-purpose fertiliser with a rake and moisten the surface before laying the turf.

And before you go, check out our guide on whether or not you should strim wet grass. It’s worth noting out the cases you actually CAN do this, as our weather always tends to not play along by the rules.

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  • Ground preparation and soil levelling may be hard work, but doing these steps right is as important as laying the turf correctly.
  • Creating a new lawn with turf is pricier than growing your grass from seed, so if you’re not up for the job, get a professional to do it for you.
  • Don’t be a know-it-all and seek expert advice at your garden centre, so you don’t end up buying the wrong type of turf for your mostly sunlit or rather shady garden.


Thank you for sharing this post and feel free to tell us your thoughts or tips on ground preparation before lawn establishment when using turf.

Source: Deposit Photos / By kivitimof 

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