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Nightmare garden - how to prepare for grass on clay?

Hi all,

I'm just after some advice as to what to do with our garden.  Basically we have had some guys come in to level off the garden the best they could with a digger (it was previously full of bushes, parts of grass and generally overgrown) , they also put down some topsoil and laid some turf (which was done in winter) but the ground was really too wet and its very bumpy.

The turf was only put down as a temporary measure as it has given our son somewhere to play out over summer.  My question is what to do with the rest of the garden.  Its very clayey and over the winter most of the un-turfed areas were very muddy.  Its also full of stones/rocks.  I've attached a picture of it so you can see what I mean (ignore the area at the back as eventually that will be a raised patio/decked area).

What are my options?  its a rather large area so breaking up the clay will be a nightmare - its like concrete at the moment!  Having done some reading people recommend top soiling the lot about 6-inch deep.  Is there an easier way?  its going to need a fair few tons of topsoil if not.  I don't think we could rotovate it as I think the ground is too hard and has too many rocks in.

Also, whats the best way to level out the already turfed area?  Just keep adding top soil to the dips?

We are no means after the perfect lawn, we just want a space to use that will probably end up as a football pitch in the future! :-)

Many thanks for any advice in advance!!!



  • BorderlineBorderline Posts: 4,700
    edited July 2018
    In terms of levelling. There is the slower method of constant mowing and then top-dressing with fine top-soil every autumn and spring. That usually works for very minor dips.

    If it's quite drastic and very uneven, you can either hire a roller and go over the areas and then spike the lawn to aerate it afterwards or pulling up the lawn and raking the soil underneath it to level out that way. Then tamping the turf back in. All can be done when the weather is cooler and when there is more dampness in the soil, so autumn time is ideal.

    With your soil type, no point trying to work the soil until it's autumn time. It will be a lot of top soil and compost mixed in to help your soil. Not much you can do with stones, you have to either remove them as you go, or leave in to help with keeping the soil more free draining. 
  • Jason-3Jason-3 Posts: 391
    If you only plan to lawn it ( which would be a shame imo as your garden is made for a lawn with big borders) I'd hire a whacker plate level it off and then put top soil and turf accordingly
  • glasgowdanglasgowdan Posts: 632
    Borderline's advice is good, though I'd maybe suggest not using compost as it can rot down a touch if there are pockets of it, leaving uneven areas.
  • dchornbydchornby Posts: 15
    thanks for the replies so far!

    re:top soil - is there a specific type I should look to get?

    We will definitely look at borders in the future, we just need something usable for now!

    To level the ground off I assume i could just use the soil / rubble we have at the back of the garden?

  • dchornbydchornby Posts: 15
    Borderline's advice is good, though I'd maybe suggest not using compost as it can rot down a touch if there are pockets of it, leaving uneven areas.

    So just generic topsoil should be good enough?  Also, I would rather barrow the topsoil from the front to the back when its summer and the ground is hard or the barrow will end up sinking in the clay!  Can topsoil be sat around with no issues for a few weeks/months?
  • glasgowdanglasgowdan Posts: 632
    Yes that won't be a problem, though it'll be covered in weeds which will need to be sprayed a few weeks before you decide to start work if you leave it until after the winter. 
  • dchornbydchornby Posts: 15
    great - thanks.

    Do i really need 6inch depth of topsoil?  (dreading having to barrow it back and to!!!! :'( )
  • BorderlineBorderline Posts: 4,700
    Maybe I never worded my post well. My third paragraph was advice for your open border area and not on your new lawn.

    Compost will not be useful on your lawn. But it will be useful for your future borders. If you are using average topsoil, you may need to sieve it first before brushing into the lawn.
  • dchornbydchornby Posts: 15
    I might not have explained my first post that well :-(

    Basically i'm more interested in what I need to do / put down (if anything) before I seed the soil area in the picture.
  • BorderlineBorderline Posts: 4,700
    It does seem like a big area. You need to think about the space and how you want it to be planted. But without a rotovator, you will need to do this the old fashion way, dig it over.

    Incorporate a lot of top soil, compost and well rotted manure. The more the better. To make it manageable, you can do them in sections at a time. Cover the areas with tarpaulin when you are not doing anything with it. All the work will need to be left till autumn time when the soil is moist but not sodden. Dig down to at least two spade's depth. Any less, you will make more work for yourself in the future.

    With stony soil, no point trying to plan how to get the stones out. With time and rain, the stones always tend to collect at the top. Just collect them periodically and store somewhere else where they may be useful.
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