Preparing the ground for landscaping

The ground preparation stage can range from nothing more than a quick morning of exertion to several days of hard graft, especially if you’ve got a big job like a driveway installation up ahead. Sadly, it’s not always possible to know exactly what you’re up against from the word go. We’ve all run into a few of those “easy” small garden jobs where the most basic ground preparation turned into a mammoth task due to weather, ground texture problems or unexpected encounters with large pieces of debris.

Of course, in its most basic form, ground preparation doesn’t require much more than removing grass. If you’re putting in a patio, driveway paving or garden decking, however, you’re going to need to get the laser level out and get that ground flat. Provided there are no nasty surprises lurking beneath the surface, you’ll get a good sense at first glance of how much work is going to be involved in this stage.

  • 1. Clearing grass

    The basics of grass removal will be second nature to you by now, but having the best tools for the job always makes a massive difference when it comes to any garden landscaping job.

    To cut down a solid 6 inches or more into the soil and bring out neat, well-shaped squares of sod, we recommend a high quality flat shovel.

    If you’re trying to get the job done at top speed, you’ll want to lift out the largest pieces of sod possible. Since the weight of these adds up quickly, the importance of having a nice, cooperative wheelbarrow that rolls smoothly is undeniable. It can make the difference between a swift job and a Herculean task. Take a look at our wheelbarrow range.

    For large jobs, you’re likely to want to hire a digger. This is usually an ultra-efficient route to the same end goal. No doubt you’ve worked on plenty of jobs where the investment of digger hire turned out very much worth it for the amount of time and effort saved.

  • 2. Levelling out

    With the grass and top layers of soil removed from the area you’re landscaping, you’ll be ready to start work on levelling it out. You can find links to handy products for each of the stages of the levelling process below.

    1) Usually, you’ll start by marking out the area space with stakes and string, getting out your tape measure and spirit level to make sure the strings are at the right height. If you’re low on supplies, you can pick up some stakes here.

    2) Having already decided on the best type of aggregate for the project, it’s time to use it to bring the ground level up to meet the strings. At this point, you might also be adding a slight slope in order to assist with drainage.

    3) You’ll probably use your rake to spread the aggregate across the surface. At this stage, it’s likely you will already know whether your feet will be sufficient to pack the aggregate down tightly, or whether you’re going to want to use a tamper or a plate compactor.

    4) If you’re putting down paving stones, patio slabs or garden decking, you may choose to allow the soil a couple of days to settle before you start laying anything down. If your client wants to plant new grass on the levelled area, it’s worth checking if they are aware that growing it from seed will be a slow process and will involve a fair bit of maintenance.

  • 3. Garden drainage

    Nobody likes a waterlogged lawn! If the grass in your client’s garden is constantly sludgy, soggy and generally unpleasant to walk on, you might already be planning a conversation with them about drainage solutions.

    If the driveway, patio or other surface you’re laying is over five square meters in size, the latest legislation states that you’ll need to apply for planning permission unless permeable materials are chosen. For this reason, you’ll probably be nudging your client in the direction of materials such as gravel.

    Another way to dodge the admin of planning permission is to ensure all rainwater that runs off the surface is directed to a lawn or other permeable surface, or to install a soakaway. We suggest looking at the ACO StormBrixx soakway for a quick and easy solution.

    These notes on the basic drainage process below offer a quick reminder of the steps involved and a checklist of some key supplies.

    1) Once you’ve dug your trench, you’ll move onto laying down gravel at the bottom (Selco offers a good range of options). You’ll also need your rake to hand to get the surface nice and even.

    2) Next up, you’ll move onto placing the pipe along the trench, section by section. We stock drainage pipes and drainage channels suitable for many different types of job.

    3) To keep pipes safe and protected some people choose to cover them with roofing paper or felt.

    4) Finally, you’ll be ready to fill in the trench with gravel and finish it off with topsoil. You might also want to use stones or a ground cover to conceal the drainage field.

    ACO’s HexDrain installation video offers a more detailed look at drainage installation.


  • What are the main tools for the garden preparation?

    Ensuring you have the right tools, will make your ground preparation much more efficient. These include:

    • Drainage supplies
    • Shovels and picks
    • Wheelbarrows
    • Sand, stone and gravel
    • Ballast

    Find the right tools >>

  • What is the best method for clearing grass?

    The best method for clearing grass will depend on the size of the job. To get the job done at top speed, lift out the largest pieces of sod possible. Having a wheelbarrow that rolls smoothly will make the process much easier.

    For larger jobs, you may need to hire a digger.

  • What are the main steps for levelling a garden?

    Here’s a quick reminder of each stage of the levelling out process.

    • Mark out the area and make sure everything is the right height
    • Bring the ground level up to meet the strings
    • Spread the aggregate and pack it down tightly
    • If you’re putting down paving stones or patio slabs, allow the soil a couple of days to settle