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I am new to the forum and hope someone may be able to offer advice for my problem. I am about to buy a cottage with attractive smallish garden which the vendor has almost completely covered with artificial turf. She has shrubs along the boundary fence and stone wall, but everywhere else is pure plastic.

I don’t want to replace it with a lawn, but intend to grow a mixture of flowers and veg organically, as near to permaculture as a small plot can be without livestock. I have no idea what the condition of the soil will be underneath all that plastic when I remove it. Presumably, there will be compaction, but what about earthworms, soil conditioning bugs etc? How should I treat the soil? Dig it, double dig it, or use no the no dig principle? Incorporate mulch and compost or just pile it on and hope for the best? I would prefer not to buy in top soil as access is difficult. Any suggestions on what may be lurking under there and what to do about it would be very welcome, please.


  • DovefromaboveDovefromabove Posts: 86,101
    edited September 2019
    What I would do is to dig it over removing roots, large stones etc and incorporating manure
    but from then on I’d beer towards ‘no dig’. Earthworms etc will soon re-populate the soil even if there are few there now. 

    I would just check with the seller that the artificial grass isn’t covering up ground elder, Japanese knotweed, tree roof suckers or horsetail ... or that the area isn’t so badly drained and/or shady that nothing, not even grass, will grow. 

    Good luck and let us know how you get on 👍 

    Gardening in Central Norfolk on improved gritty moraine over chalk ... free-draining.

  • We had artificial grass put in due to really bad drainage, making the garden unusable. They put a good layer of stone aggregate underneath and used a whacker to compact it together. Maybe before you drag it all out, lift a corner and see what's there, so you know what you're facing, and possible cost implications etc. As @Dovefromabove suggests very sensibly, ask why the artificial grass is down, there may be a good reason. 
  • And best of luck with the house move!  :)
  • If it has been laid properly, there will be an inch or so layer of sharp sand and 2-3 inches of hardcore below that.  They usually then use a whacker plate machine to compact it all down before laying the artificial turf, so the ground will be compacted and need breaking up.  Depending on the type of soil below and the size of the hardcore, you could dig or rotovate everything together or remove the hardcore/sand and then break-up the compacted soil.
    If you are lucky and the astroturf was laid directly on soil, I would proceed as Dove says, adding as much well rotted manure as you can get (at least 4 inches) and then mulch the surface with more and leaving over winter.  If in no rush to start growing until next spring, you could even get away with using fresh manure this first time.
    If the ground turns out to be poorly drained or otherwise unsuitable for growing crops then raised beds are always an option. 
    Either way, mulch the surface with well-rotted manure and/or home made compost each autumn and the soil ecosystem will develop and look after everything for you.
    A trowel in the hand is worth a thousand lost under a bush.
  • wild edgeswild edges Posts: 9,922
    Maybe you could use the prep work to your benefit and make raised beds and ponds with gravel paths on top of the ground that's there?

    Either way try and find someone on freecycle who wants the plastic grass. As much as I hate the stuff at least it would stop it going to landfill.
    Tradition is just peer pressure from dead people
  • Thank you all so much for the helpful replies.

    I really hope the vendor hasn’t had it laid properly! I had not even considered the possibility of hardcore and whackers. I doubt there is a drainage problem as the garden is higher than the road beyond the neighbouring garden and also on a terrace above a pretty stone patio area. The boundary shrubs are healthy and well cared for, soil around them looks fine.

    The vendor is an older lady with an old three-legged dog. The turf looks comparatively new (there were spare rolls stacked by the shed at my first viewing), and I suspect has been laid to replace a damaged or patchy lawn to look better for the house sale. Everything is immaculate, inside and out, all manicured straight lines in the garden, lots of large, healthy pots and tubs around on the stone parts.

    My brother in law did a very thorough survey of the house, lifting carpets to check floors etc, but it did not occur to me to survey the garden as well and lift the turf! I assumed it was just laid on bare soil, having no experience with it. Maybe I will be lucky and that is all that was done.

    It’s good to learn the soil ecology can recover without too much time or work. I am only moving a few miles and have plenty of farming and horsey friends and neighbours with large muck heaps, so no problem finding well-rotted compost. I will be mindful of what chemicals may be in it — I know who uses nematode destroying wormers that don’t break  down in the soil.

    The turf will definitely go to Freecycle, which has been my saviour during the recent downsizing process. Huge bonus is that everything is collected, so I don’t have to haul it away.

    Thank you all again for the suggestions and good wishes.
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