How best to remove 3-4" topsoil to extend patio?

6 Nov 2005
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United Kingdom
Hi all

I want to take up about 20 sqm of lawn to part-extend a patio and add a gravel/shale area.

The lawn rises away from the pation to about 2-3" (50-75mm) above the level of the patio. (Although currently no problems with water draining from lawn onto patio - soil is free-draining loam over chalk.)

I intend to
  • * Take up the turf (20 sq m)
    * Remove about another 3-4" (75-100mm) of topsoil to allow for a layer of sharp sand & the new slabs (and a slight drop away from the patio for drainage) ~ about 10 sq m.
    * For the shale area (10 sq m) I plan to just remove the turf & enough soil to let the shale be level with the slabs. (I will put weed-fabric under the shale, but no sand layer)
What is the best way to remove the extra 3-4" of topsoil?

1. If I hire a turf-cutter and remove the turf, can I use it to go over the bare area and slice off the extra 3-4" of topsoil?
(Or does the cutter need to have a layer of turf bound by roots to cut effectively?)

2. Is it better to use a rotavator to break up the extra 3-4" of topsoil, and then rake/board/shovel(!) off the excess? (Then 'heel-in'/compact before laying slabs/shale)

3. Accept that manual labour is the best way as lifting just the extra 3-4" of topsoil with a spade means that the soil underneath is left in its existing stable state?

If the answer is none of these, "get a mini-digger", I'll leave it until later in the year when I get a mini-digger to do a pond!


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20 sqm is not that much if its only topsoil youll do it in a day at the most with a shovel. Would be quicker with a rotovator on a low setting, but it will disturb soil underneath.

youll be better laying the slabs on a bed of mot type 1 stone chippings and a wet bed of mortar
and how ever you opt to do it dont forget the soil will aerate, so it will "expand" from 20sqm to ?

so in other words you will need more skips than you thought
Thanks Thermo

I suspected 'hard work' might well be the reply.
I had tried a couple of sq m with a spade last weekend, but the preceding dry month meant the lawn was a bit dried out for slicing/lifting.

The rain this week will presumably make the slicing easier, but the lifting just a little heavier.

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although a spade is good, often overlooked is the garden fork
breezer said:
... dont forget the soil will aerate, so it will "expand" from 20sqm to ?

so in other words you will need more skips than you thought

Thanks - another useful point to bear in mind.

I had been planning to spread the removed topsoil over a few other beds.
Your point about the bulking-up of the removed topsoil means that I'll need to use more beds than expected.
Luckily I have enough of beds (~200 sqm) around the rest of the garden, to do a sort of "Great Escape"-style spreading as a top-dressing (20sqm x 50-to-100mm = 200sqm x 5-to-10mm).

Probably need to get a conventional wheel-barrow rather than the Swedish flip-over sack-trolley/leaf-scoop thing that I've used for the last 15 years!

I did a patio at my house last week and the soil just fluffs up so much its ridiculous!! I ended up having 3 grab lorry loads taken away.

Quicker to hire a machine in too. You can get one for about £90 for the day and it saves theback breakig digging!
fluffs up, good technical term that, but thanks it does prove my point.

its like digging a hole the soil that came out will go in with some left over.

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