The Casual Gardener: Turf versus seed – the pros and cons

When creating a lawn, circumstances will dictate whether you choose to lay turf or sow seed but good preparation is essential whatever the method

A lawn’s uniformity is the foil to a sudden explosion of foliage

IT'S just small selection of monocotalydens sown together en masse and it neither flowers nor bears fruit, yet for many gardeners – particularly the male of the species – the lawn is very often the main preoccupation.

There's some justification to this: a lawn provides the ideal foil to colourful shrubbery or bold borders. The closely cropped grass's green uniformity is the ideal contrast to a sudden explosion of foliage and flowers; it helps guide the eye, enhancing the impact of the plants at its edges.

Early autumn, like spring, is a good time to create a new lawn or repair an area of existing lawn. The cooler but not too cold months are preferable because it's warm enough for grass to grow but the sun tends not to be strong enough to scorch the young blades of grass and there's always plenty of moisture in the soil to boost growth. Likewise, it's not too cold and you still get the desired growth.

The big question when it comes to laying a lawn is which is preferable – seed or turf?

The key advantage of turf is the instant gratification you get once you've laid the turves, trimmed the edges and given it all a good soak. The joints knit after a matter of days and it should be OK to sit on after a week or so.

On the downside, however, it can be expensive and demands a considerable amount of manpower if the space is any size at all or difficult to access.

Sowing seed, on the other hand, is relatively cheap and it's a comparatively quick operation. But you're going to have to wait a while before organising your first picnic as it takes a while to grow into a lawn. For instance, it can take a spring-sown lawn around two months before it's a match for its turf counterpart.

With seed there's the additional concern of keeping the freshly-sown area weed free and ensuring birds don't help themselves to the seed – which is where old CDs (remember them?) or plastic bags come in handy.

The initial ground preparation is the same for both methods and it's important to spend time getting it right, as reparatory work on an existing lawn can prove difficult.

To begin with, rotovate – ie dig the area roughly to loosen the ground while removing tough perennial weeds such as dandelions and dockens. Rake the area to create a fine surface, and remove any larger stones, roots or other debris as you go. Tread the ground thoroughly, shuffling backwards and putting the weight on your heels to firm the soil and eliminate any soft spots.

Rake over again to level the surface and repeat the process. It's a good idea, but not essential, to add a scattering of general-purpose fertiliser at this stage – about 35g per square meter of Growmore is ideal. Use canes spaced at 1m intervals to achieve an even spread – a trick you can use again if you choose to sow seed.

Lay the first turf along a straight edge then lay a plank across it to spread your weight and lay the next roll of turf, staggering the ends and trimming the edges as you go.

For seeding, lay garden canes across the area at 1m intervals to help sow the correct rate of grass seed. Weigh out 35g of seed and tip it into a plastic cup. Draw a line on the cup and use this cup to judge the amount for each 1m square. Try to scatter it as evenly as possible – scatter half in one direction and half in the other.

Remove the canes and rake the area gently to work the seed into the soil.

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