The Turfonline team think laying boards are essential to creating the perfect grass or wild flower lawn – find out why
One thing that the team at Turfonline always advise our customers to do, is invest in a set of laying boards whenever they are creating a new lawn from either turf or seed. That goes for wild flower turf as well as garden lawn turf. So what are laying boards and why do you need them?
Beneath Every Great Lawn is Well Prepared Soil
The skill in creating a perfect lawn lies in the dirt. It’s the soil beneath the plants that will determine how they establish and thrive in the long term. Hard, impenetrable soil is not a good environment for roots. Neither is lumpy, bumpy stony soil with huge air pockets.
Nutrient levels need to be correct for the type of lawn you are creating too. A wild flower lawn needs low nutrients, a grass lawn that will be kept short needs nutrient rich soil.
So it’s important to spend plenty of time preparing the soil. In fact you’ll probably spend much more time on soil preparation than you will on sowing seed or laying turf.
What you are aiming for is a nice friable tilth. At least 15cm deep, well drained but able to hold water and with the texture of a nice apple crumble topping. (Not one of my apple crumbles, they tend to set like concrete!)
Testing your soil preparation
When you think you have your soil prepared properly, there are 3 tests that you should carry out to check.
Is it deep enough?
A good way to test the depth of the soil is to take a nice long screwdriver – one with a blade about 6 inches (15cm) long. Simple push the screwdriver into the soil as far as it will go. The soil should be firm enough to offer a bit of resistance but loose enough that you can push the screwdriver down with hardly any effort. Does it go down to the handle? If so, you’ve done a good job.
Is it friable?
By friable I mean easy to work. What the plants need is a growing medium with plenty of small air pockets between particles. The air pockets allow water to percolate through the soil and they also supply the roots with vital oxygen. First look at the texture. I’ve already mentioned apple crumble – that’s what you need. Big stones, rubble and other debris should have been removed already. If not, start again and do it before the turf arrives.
Now squeeze the soil in your fist – go on – as hard as you can. If water runs out – it’s too wet to do anything with. Leave it to dry for a few days and then try again. A nice friable soil will squish into a lump when it’s compressed, but poke that lump with your finger and it will fall apart. If you squish a fistful of soil, and the resulting lump stays in one piece when prodded – your soil will be easily compressed. It probably contains a lot of clay. You can overcome this by mixing some really good quality topsoil in with your garden soil before seeding or turfing.
Is it level?
Now I appreciate that some folks like gentle hills in their lawn and some folks have sloping gardens. So a perfectly horizontal surface might not be do-able. Having said that, lumps and bumps in a lawn tend to be scalped by the mower and are more prone to weed infestations, disease and moss. So they’re not at all desirable. Holes aren’t easy to mow over either.
So, what you can do, once you’ve finished your final raking, is to take a long plank of wood – it needs to be reasonably heavy or it won’t work – fix a rope to either end of it, and then drag it across the lawn area. It will scuff up the surface of the soil a little bit and you will be able to see where the humps and hollows are. Use your rake to adjust the levels and then do the plank test again. It only takes a few minutes and you’ll never regret doing it.
Soil’s ready – now tell me why I need laying boards
Apologies for taking so long to get to this bit. Now that you’ve spent so long getting your soil preparation perfect – why would you want to spoil it by stomping all over it with your big boots?
Think about how we all walk. The heel of our foot touches the ground first, followed by the toe and then as the front foot bends, we pick up the back foot to move it forwards. For just a few seconds, all of your weight is concentrated in the few square centimetres that are the ball of your foot and your toes.
I’m guestimating my measurements but I’m not exactly sylph like so I’d say that as I walk I exert a pressure of 50 PSI through the balls of my feet. What would that do to newly prepared soil? Squash it – that’s what. So would wheeling a barrowload of turf across it – think how little of the tyre’s surface is on the soil and how much 5 or 6 rolls of turf plus a barrow would weigh.
The soil would be compressed. Not only will that leave little hollows in a lovely level surface, it will ruin the texture. Air pockets would be pushed out and it will be harder for water to percolate through. All that hard work will have been undone in less than a second.
Walking on laying boards effectively makes your feet bigger – like wearing snow shoes. If I were to walk across a board laid on top of prepared soil, the pressure would be more like 0.5 PSI.
It is science – but it’s not rocket science.
Laying Boards for Lawn Care
It doesn’t matter whether you are laying turf, sowing seed or watering a new lawn. For the sake of the long term health of those plants – please please please use laying boards. It’s a small investment compared to the benefits it will bring.