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How to Prep the Base for Artificial Grass

Learn how to remove the existing ground cover and prepare the base of artificial grass to ensure your new synthetic lawn will be long-lasting. Hear prep recommendations for DIYers, and manufacturer's guidelines to understand the process of installing the base layer for turf. 

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Why Opt for Artificial Grass?

If you're looking for a low-maintenance, drought-resistant lawn, artificial grass is a great option. Artificial grass looks incredibly realistic, and it's available in a variety of different shades and textures. In addition to being easy to care for, artificial grass also doesn't require irrigation or fertilizers, making it an environmentally-friendly choice. When installed correctly with high-quality materials, you're set for up to 15 years. Thanks to its many benefits, artificial grass has become increasingly popular among homeowners in California.

Base Layer of Synthetic Turf

With that being said, the lifespan of your synthetic lawn can be greatly reduced if the artificial grass base is not prepped correctly with the right materials. Because the base is not visible to clients, contractors can skip steps here and you won't notice until a few months down the line when you start to run into problems.

Why Does the Ground Need to be Prepped for Turf? 

While many think you can simply throw synthetic grass over your existing surface and secure it down, there's much more that goes into it. With a poorly prepped base layer, you'll be at risk of the lawn sinking in spots, bumps or wrinkles forming, and edges uplifting. Pests such as gophers and moles will also have more access to ruin your installation if the base is not solid. Also,  weeds will flourish without a properly compacted base. So what do you put under artificial grass?

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Removal of Existing Grass 

Two weeks to a month prior to installation, begin shutting down sprinkler systems and stop watering the lawn. Unhealthy and dead grass will be easier to remove and can help you save on dumping costs. You can also spray the area with a weed killer to accelerate the process of killing the natural grass and existing plants. Don't wait too long after the grass dies to remove it as this can lead to heavy weeds flourishing in the area in the meantime. Areas with heavy weeds will result in more dumping costs and extra labor. 

About 2 in. of grass and soil will be removed from the surface to make room for the new base layer. For DIYers, you can use an aluminum landscape rake to remove the dead grass and soil once it has dried up. We use professional sod cutters to cut natural turf. This way we achieve a smooth surface that allows for thorough compaction and prevents soil settling bumps in future.

Grass and Soil Removal for Artificial Grass Base Preparation

Preparing Turf Base - Manufacturer Recommendations

According to manufacturers, the best and most effective base layer for artificial turf is a class II road base. They recommend removing 2" of soil and suggest removing a bit more along the perimeter where root systems are stronger. Before moving forward heavily apply weed killer to the surface. We also use a weed preventer that attacks the seeds. You can also lay a weed barrier cloth if you'd prefer. However, the weed barrier installed underneath the base is not very effective against weeds, and can often just be a layer that traps bacteria. We never recommend using weed barrier for pet-friendly artificial lawns, but instead a strong weed preventer.

Manufacturers then advise adding an even layer of class II road base along the surface about 2-3" thick and heavily compacting using a stamp compactor. Prior to compaction ensure the road base is dispersed along the surface evenly. When compacting, move in circles around the surface rather than pulling it back and forth. Compact both clockwise and counterclockwise for the best results. Be careful when compacting near concrete edging and make sure you get into the corners at an angle to compact the borders securely. 

road base compaction for artificial turf installation

Preparing Turf Base - for DIY Installers

For DIYers, it's often hard to find access to heavy machinery and the materials needed to follow manufacturers' recommendations when installing the artificial turf base layer. For this reason, homeowners installing turf themselves will usually prepare the sub-base layer a bit differently. 

To save money, we'd recommend avoiding renting expensive machinery and instead working with tools that can be easily handled by one person. The beginning of base prep will remain the same, remove the soil and apply a weed killer to the surface.

Use decomposed granite as an alternative artificial grass underlay, it's much easier to get ahold of than road base. Evenly disperse about 2" of DG with a push broom along the surface. Then use a heavy-duty roller to compact the surface. Roll along the DG in multiple directions for the best results.

Compacting the Base for Turf Installation DIY

To ensure your base won't wash away with rainfall, you must apply a stabilizer on the DG after compaction. This will provide you with a sturdy enough base to hold the nails when you're securing the turf down. Skipping the stabilizer will be detrimental to the lifespan of your new artificial lawn. Allow the area to fully dry before moving forward with installation.  

balcony turf cost calculator

Preparing Turf Base - Over Concrete

Artificial grass can be installed directly over concrete as long as the concrete itself doesn't cause drainage issues or create any obstructions to the design and layout that you're going for.

Prior to installation, we'd recommend chopping off any sharp edges of concrete to smooth the area and allow for easy gluing. Keep in mind that heavy professional adhesives may leave stains on the concrete upon removal of artificial grass! Even though stains may occur, we always recommend securing the turf with glue to prevent wrinkles and movement as the temperature fluctuates. 

Preparing Turf Base - Pet-Friendly Lawns

Prepping the base for artificial pet turf is no different from the process for regular synthetic lawns. However, we'd recommend laying a 1/4" layer of Zeofill along the compacted base before laying down your pet-friendly artificial grass. Zeofill prevents pet odors by acting as a deodorizer and will trap ammonia smells from urine until you're able to flush out and sanitize the area. 

Underlayment for Pet Turf

If your lawn has any dips, we'd recommend installing a french drain in that area to accelerate water movement. While this is not required, a french drain will help percolate liquids quicker and combat odors from occurring in pet turf systems

Preparing Turf Base - On Slopes or Hills 

When preparing the base for artificial turf on a slope or hill, there may be some added steps to ensure the slope is secure and won't cause the turf to slide and move over time.

Slopes up to 15 degrees

We'd recommend laying wire mesh, such as chicken wire, prior to adding your road base to the surface. The area will then be compacted to manufacturers' recommendations. This wire mesh used in conjunction with the base layer will provide added security. 

Slopes more than 15 degrees

For larger slopes, you'll need to use a stabilization membrane cell. Lay this on the surface prior to adding your road base. After compacting the road base, smooth the area by adding a small 1/2" layer of DG and then continue with base layer compaction. 

Securing a slope during base prep for turf installation

Preparing Turf Base - Putting Greens

The process of preparing the base layer for a putting green is quite similar to regular turf installation, but there are a few additional steps. Grading and leveling are extra important when installing a putting green. Gameplay and the ball roll can be negatively affected if the area isn't level. Also, because the pile height of putting green turf is so short,  inconsistencies such as dips and bumps will become much more visible. 

When installers are building a putting green, they'll also add a very thin layer of decomposed granite on top of the compacted road base to help smooth out the surface even more. 

Base Preparation for Putting Green Installation

Preparing Turf Base - Heavy Traffic or Drivable Grass

When preparing the base for artificial grass in an area that will be heavily trafficked or a space where cars will drive and park, the turf base layer will need to be provided with a bit more stability. To create drivable grass, you can use geotextile permeable pavers to provide additional support to the base. Prepare the synthetic turf base layer in the same way as manufacturers recommend, and lay these paver tiles along the surface prior to unrolling the fake grass. 

Geo textile grid layer during base preparation for drivable grass

We hope this covers all the different base prep scenarios you may find yourself in when installing artificial turf in your space. Once the lawn is covered with artificial grass, it's nearly impossible to pinpoint base prep mistakes until it's too late and the installation is compromised. Always ensure the installation crew you work with uses high quality materials and prepares the sub-base properly. Ready to get your project started with InstallArtificial? Request a custom estimate below in 2 minutes or less! 

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