Gardening Tip: Getting Rid of Grass

Less lawn, more garden beds!

Close up of tomatoes, growing on vines
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If you are considering adding more vegetable or flower garden beds to your yard, it's likely that you will have to figure out a way to get rid of existing grass first. In this article, we'll look at a few ways to get rid of lawn grass. Some of these methods require patience, while others will require a strong back and plenty of energy. No matter which method you use, you'll end up with less lawn and more gardening space.

Note: whichever method you use, a good first step is to cut the grass as low as possible in the area you are removing. It will speed things up and make the process easier.

Sod Busting, A.K.A. Dig It Out

There is just no nice way to put this: digging out sod is a pain in the neck. And the back. And the shoulders. And the get the drift. If you have a large lawn area to dig out, you'll want to phase the work out over a few days.

How to Do It: 
Grab either a half-moon edger or a sharp spade. Use a garden hose, string, and stakes, or another method of creating the outline of your proposed garden bed. Then, get to work. Use the edger to cut the sod at all of the edges of your new bed. It is also a good idea to cut the sod into a series of strips with your edger; this makes the sod easier to handle when you're digging it up.

Once you've got the edges and your sections cut out, then it's time to dig. There are many tools for removing sod, but a good sharp spade or shovel works just fine. At the line, you cut around the bed, insert the tip of your spade, and start removing the lawn. It's a good idea to try to remove as little soil as possible, so keep your spade at a pretty low angle to try to get lots of roots but leave as much of the soil behind as you can. Toss the sod into a wheelbarrow or other container as you go; you can compost it or use it to patch other areas of your lawn.

Pros: Once it's done, it's done. You have a bed, ready to plant. Requires very little planning, so if you're a spur-of-the-moment type, this method will work for you.

Cons: It is a lot of work. If you have back issues, you may want to leave this job to someone else.

Solarize It

This is a method that takes a bit of patience and planning, but if you had a lot of weed problems in your existing lawn, it may be the way to go.

How to Do It:
Solarization basically means putting thick plastic on top of the area you want to kill, sealing it (usually by burying the edges in soil) to keep in the heat, and letting the sun do its job for anywhere from six to twelve weeks. If, however, you had particularly noxious weeds (bindweed, anyone?) you may have to wait even longer: up to six months. Two layers of thick plastic (heavy painter's dropcloths work well) will do the job. And when the grass is dead, you can pull up the plastic, amend the soil, and garden away.

Pros: Definitely kills the lawn and any nasty weeds you were contending with. Very little work.

Cons: Patience is required, since this process can take anywhere from six weeks to six months, depending on the amount of sun the area gets and how bad the weeds were.

Smother It
This is one of the easiest ways to start a new bed and has some things in common with lasagna gardening, which we'll talk about in a minute.

How to Do It:
Once you've figured out the size and shape of your bed, gather your materials to smother the lawn. What can you use? Newspaper sections, corrugated cardboard, and old carpeting are all popular options. Simply lay your smothering material on the area and wait. This is best done in fall so the grass can die over the winter. Then, go ahead and amend and plant the following spring.

Pros: Very little work. Does a good job of killing the grass.

Cons: This can be a little on the unattractive side. A good solution is to cover your smothering material with fall leaves or bark mulch. You can pull the mulch back when you're ready to plant.

Lasagna Garden

A lasagna garden, built in the fall, will provide you with a ready-to-plant garden bed in the spring.

How to Do It:
Simply build in layers, including compost or peat moss. Full instructions can be found in our article about lasagna gardening.

Pros: Easy, easy, easy. And the resulting garden soil is fluffy and full of organic matter.

Cons: Requires patience. You'll have to plan ahead so you can build the bed at least six months in advance of when you want to plant it.

Raised Beds

Raised beds are great if you know your soil is not great (clayey, acidic, etc.) You simply build a box (or not) and fill it with good quality garden soil, compost, and composted manure. Instant garden! If the bed is eight inches or deeper, you don't even need to really worry about smothering the grass below. However, if you'd like to, simply lay down a few layers of newspaper before filling your bed with good garden soil.

How To Do It:

Pros: Easy, and you can plant immediately.

Cons: Additional cost associated with buying good soil.

We hope these ideas help you make a few new beds. Good luck!