How to Prepare the Ground for Artificial Grass

When it comes to artificial grass, there’s one simple mistake that people always make:

They don’t do the proper ground preparation!

Here at AlmostGrass, we’ve installed and repaired artificial lawns in hundreds of households around the world.

Time and time again, we’ve seen lawns start sinking, flooding or creasing over time, due to bad ground preparation and installation.

The truth is, artificial grass is a super simple, hassle free lawn solution… But only if you install it properly!

If you put the effort in to get the ground ready before installing it, then you’ll be able to sit back, and reap the rewards of never having to mow or water your lawn again. 

Now, preparing your garden for an artificial lawn isn’t as simple as you might think. It’s certainly not something you can improvise on the fly.

To help you avoid completely destroying the lawn, our team has put together a complete guide on how to prepare the ground for artificial grass.

Simply follow the steps below, and you’ll have a strong, stable base to install your artificial grass on in no time!

1. Measure the Area and Plan

Before you dig anything up or lay anything down, you should have an idea of what you’re working with, and how much grass you will need…

Carefully measure the area you plan to lay the artificial grass on, so you know how much artificial grass you will need to cover the area.

From there, you can develop a plan for what areas to dig up, and how to arrange and join the grass panels.

Clean up the area and make sure that there are no lawn furniture or toys lying around. Once you know how big your lawn is and come up with a plan, it’s time to take action…

2. Check for Underground Hazards 

Before you proceed with digging, you need to make sure there are no electrical lines or water pipes where you’re about to dig. 

The last thing you want to do is pushing a shovel or lawn cutter into the ground, only to burst a pipe and completely flood your lawn.

Not only is that going to massively delay the installation of your artificial grass, but it’s also going to cost a lot of money to fix.

Refer to your home’s building plans, or ask your contractors, so you get a good idea of what exactly is underneath your yard.

Once you’ve ascertained that there are no barriers running under your designated lawn area, you can start preparing the ground.

3. Remove Old Grass and Topsoil

Start by removing the old grass on your current lawn, and excavating to a depth of about three or four inches.

You could use a sharp shovel for this, but you would save yourself a lot of time and energy by using a turf cutter, depending on how big the area is. 

Turf cutters are designed exactly for this kind of job. All you have to do is go a few times across your lawn with the machine, and simply roll up the grass before tossing it away.

Once the surface of your lawn been lifted, you need to compact the soil. Either use a plate compactor or a roller for this.

This is the very base of your artificial grass compound. While we will be laying a sub-base on top of it, this is the foundation that everything will be built off of, so make sure you get it as compact and even as you can.

4. Check Your Soil for Drainage

A lot of people assume that they don’t have to worry about drainage when it comes to artificial grass. But this couldn’t be more wrong!

While water will drain right through the backing of artificial grass, you still want to make sure the soil underneath it drains properly.

Neglect this step, and you’re going to end up with a lawn that sinks and dips in certain areas because of water build-up.

This is only going to make repairs even more expensive, so avoid ruining your artificial grass by making sure that your drainage is proper right from the start. 

If you’ve had regular soil on your lawn and haven’t experienced drainage problems before, then you’re probably good to go. 

But if you are working with a special soil type, or if you’ve experienced flooding in some areas of your garden in the past, then you should consider installing a drainage pipe or coil.

This might be extra work and effort, but you should not cut any corners during this stage. If you do so, you run the risk of ruining the whole lawn before you even lay down the artificial grass.

5. Clean Up and Level the Area

Okay, so your old lawn has been dug up, and your drainage is checked. Great! We’re making progress.

The next step in preparing the ground is to give the area a quick clean up before we move on to laying down a sub-base.

Get rid of any bits of leftover debris and plant material lying around, as well as any soil that might have spilled out over the edges of the garden.

Cut down any overgrown bushes and hedges that might be dangling over the soil. If there was ever a time to do that extra bit of yard work you’ve never gotten around to, now would be it!

Any leftover rubbish around the area should be picked up and taken care of, along with any overgrown patches of grass and roots that might remain in the soil. Any random stones, leaves, and other bits of debris should be swept up, too.

The idea here isn’t just to get any obstructions out of the way of your sub-base, but to provide you with a clean and clutter-free working area.

Consider leaving a bin nearby for quick and easy waste disposal, and maybe even give the surroundings a quick wash with a hose.

After you’ve got the garden nice and clean, you’re going to want to go over the soil once again and level the installation area with a wide rake to get it nice and even. Alternatively, you could smooth out the area using a hand tramp too. 

6. Install Edging

Now, you’re ready to start laying down the foundations for your artificial lawn. But before you do so, we recommend installing edging, though it is not absolutely necessary. 

If you’re unfamiliar with what this is, edging is a border around your lawn that acts as a retainer, providing a place to secure the perimeter of the artificial grass. 

Your edging can be made up of just about anything from wood to clay to brick and concrete. All that matters is that it acts as a hard border. 

But edging actually does a lot more than just providing a perimeter. It helps keep your sub-base and artificial grass secure, and away from any organic materials or flower beds. 

7. Install Gopher Wire (Optional)

Gopher wire is not quite as important as edging, but we recommend you install it anyways if your budget allows for it, especially if you live in an area with gophers and other rodents.

There’s no downside to it except the cost, and it’s going to help keep away gopher holes, which can be a serious issue down the road.

If a gopher decides to make your garden his home, you will be forced to redo the entire installation process, and you might even have to buy new artificial grass. There’s no easy way to repair gopher holes, so prevention is your best course of action.

As you might have already guessed by now, gopher wire is simply a wire mesh that you can install under your artificial grass. This mesh prevents gophers from digging up from underneath, and ruining your new lawn.

If you’ve never experienced or heard of gophers digging in your particular neighborhood, you can skip this step. But if you have any doubt, we would still it as a precaution. 

8. Install a Weed Membrane (Optional)

While weeds are a much bigger threat with regular, natural lawns, it is still possible for them to grow upwards from the soil, and through the backing on your artificial grass.

Installing a weed membrane is not not a difficult process. It’s a sheet that is simply laid underneath your artificial grass, that will prevent weeds from growing through.

When you’re laying it down, make sure you’re using galvanized U-pins to hold the sheets in place and overlap the edges. Otherwise, weeds can sneak through the gap in between the sheets.

Getting rid of weeds after its already grown can be a tedious affair. As with gopher holes, it’s much easier to take preventative measures rather than trying to fix it after the fact.

That being said, you should avoid weed membranes if you have pets around the house. As cute as they are, they will inevitably pee on your lawn.

A weed membrane is going to make the mess much worse. It traps the urine and prevents it from freely draining away, which can leave your grass with a horrible odor.

So if you happen to be a pet owner, or plan to get one, skip the weed membrane entirely and move on to the next step…

9. Spread and Compact Subbase

At this stage, most of your preparation is done. What’s left is to lay down the foundation for the artificial lawn to be installed on.

The layer that goes directly above the earth and below the artificial grass is called sub-base. It is critical for keeping your lawn solid and sturdy, whilst maintaining easy drainage.

The reason why we never install artificial grass directly on the earth is because soil is expansive. When it rains, soil expands and washes away, sinking and trapping water underneath your lawn, and causing holes and wrinkles throughout the grass.

Always take your time and be careful when installing your sub-base. An badly installed sub-base can mean you have to reinstall an entirely new lawn in a year’s time.

The best materials for both structural stability and drainage are decomposed granite and limestone chippings.

Once you’ve bought your subbase, the installation process is simple but must be followed carefully.

First, spread your subbase out over the installations that have already been put in place. Make sure you get an even coat on the entire area.

For most homes, we recommend a minimum depth of 2 inches. In general, the heavier the usage, the thicker you should make the sub-base.

Bear in mind, the depth of your sub-base layer will be smaller once compacted. When in doubt, simply measure at the edging of your lawn.

After you’ve laid down your sub-base, lightly water the composite. You’re not looking to flood the area, but simply aim to dampen the material.

Once you’ve let the sub-base soak, compact it down to about 90% of its original depth with your plate compactor. You’re going to have to use a hand tamper in any tight spaces or corners which cannot be reached with the compactor.

Remember: Your goal is to have the final product be 2 inches deep, so you will likely have to spread more sub-base on top of this and compact repeatedly.

Once you’ve accomplished this, it’s time to make some corrective measures. Look over your sub-base for inconsistencies: If you see a high spot, use a wide rake to flatten it down. If you notice there’s a dip in the base, then add some more to it and compact. 

The goal is to get your sub-base as flat as possible. Repeat this process as much as you need to until you have a smooth, even layer.

10. Install and Level Your Laying Course

This is the final layer that sits between your sub-base and your artificial grass backing. The job of the laying course is to provide a flat, even finish, rather than the structural support offered by your subbase.

For this, either use granite or limestone dust. Both of these materials are fine enough to be compacted into an even, smooth layer. 

Your laying course should be about one inch thick. However, if you have edging installed, then you should bring your laying course to be level with the top of your edging.

Once you get your dust of choice, spread it over your sub-base, trying to keep everything consistent. Then give the whole area a little spray of water. This helps the dust stay weighed down and helps it to bind together.

From here, use your plate compactor to compact all of the dust into a smooth, even surface. Again, make sure it lines up with the top of your edging, or comes as close as possible to it.

As with your sub-base, if you notice any dips or bumps in the laying course, use a rake to level it out or add more dust if needed. 

Your goal with this step is to make sure your area is completely smooth and even. Your grass is going to be installed directly on top of this layer, so this is going to directly affect how good the final product looks.

11. Add A Foam Underlay (Optional)

As a final addition, you may want to install a foam underlay before you lay your grass down.

This allows your lawn to feel extra soft and comfortable, just like the soil underneath a real lawn. It will also protect children and pets from slips and falls.

Alternatively, some homeowners may choose to install another weed membrane.

This additional membrane is going to fight off weeds further, making it extremely unlikely that any ever get to the surface of your artificial grass. 

As we’ve already mentioned, you should avoid laying a foam underlay or weed membrane if you are a pet owner, as these layers can act to trap urine and the odors that come with it.

Conclusion

After you’ve finished preparing the ground, you’re finally ready to unroll and lay down your artificial grass.

Preparing your yard is a labor intensive process, but doing it properly means you will avoid many potential problems in the years to come.

Remember: Your artificial lawn can last up to 20 years, or even more! That’s why its well worth it to take your time to do this right.

Follow the steps we’ve outlined above, and you’ll be enjoying your artificial lawn in no time, without any stress or worry!