How to Kill Grass

Natural Way to Kill Grass and Open Up Planting Beds

Nice grass (image) is beautiful but a lot of work. The hydrangea backdrop adds to the scene.
Nice grass is beautiful to look at but a lot of work, in the form of up-keep. Wouldn't you be happier playing in a garden than mowing a space like this? Then learn the best way to get rid of that grass. David Beaulieu

Organic gardeners often wonder how to kill grass and eliminate lawns without using herbicides -- and without excessive work. Well, there's an easy and natural way to do the job in preparation for opening up planting beds, a method that involves using newspapers to smother your lawn. The job goes pretty quickly, but the smothering process takes several months to play out, so lay the newspapers down in fall if you aspire to be gardening in the spot by next spring.


Natural Way to Kill Grass, Step 1: Mowing (Optional)

Why is step 1, mowing, classified as optional? The reason is that the natural way to kill grass I discuss below will kill tall grass as certainly as it will kill short grass. So why bother mowing? Because it will be easier to get the newspapers to lie flat on top of the shorter grass.

Natural Way to Kill Grass, Step 2: Laying Newspapers

In order to kill grass effectively using this natural method, it is important to keep two things in mind as you lay the newspapers over the lawn:

  1. The layer of newspapers must be thick: about 10 sheets.
  2. Overlap each 10-sheet stack of newspapers with adjacent stacks by a few inches, in both directions.

I'd compare it to laying asphalt shingles on a roof, except that the overlapping will occur in both directions. By "both directions," I mean both north-to-south and east-to-west (not that orientation matters, but that's the easiest way to explain it).

When I first began this grass-killing project, I found I was wasting too much time opening up sections of newspaper (as if I were reading the contents) and counting the sheets. But as I proceeded, I developed a quicker, if less precise method. I came to learn approximately how many sheets per section (be it sports or whatever) was the norm with the publisher in question.

Then, I just started laying sections down, unopened. This meant laying more individual "shingles" (to return to that analogy), but it sped up the process considerably.

Wondering if using newspapers to kill grass -- sometimes referred to as "layering" -- qualifies as "natural?" Read my FAQ on the issue of whether newspapers are safe as mulch. Also, in my entry for the term, "biodegradable," you'll see one reader's objection to my reference to "organic" in the context of the present article.

Incidentally, although spraying water on the newspapers (to keep them from blowing around) might seem like a good idea, I found that wetting them made the newspapers more difficult to work with (they tended to break up too much)....

Natural Way to Kill Grass, Step 3: Laying Mulch on the Newspapers

Since you'll be applying mulch anyhow, I found that a better way to keep the newspapers from blowing was to keep a bucket of mulch handy, so that a bit of mulch could be applied immediately, if necessary.

When you're through laying newspapers, go back and spread a layer of mulch (5 or 6 inches, say; it's not an exact science) uniformly over the newspapers.

A thick layer of mulch will press the newspapers tightly against the lawn. Now that you're done working with the newspapers, you may spray some water over the entire area, further packing down the mulch.

You're done! Now you just wait (at least several months) for the layer of newspapers and mulch to kill the grass. Sod, newspapers and mulch will eventually all break down, adding nutrients to your soil.

Conclusion on Killing Grass With Newspapers

Have you ever wanted to convert a lawn area to a planting bed (without using herbicides) but dreaded doing so because of the work involved? Let's face it: the thought of rototilling, digging sod out by hand or even renting a sod-cutter can be daunting, especially if you have a large lawn area. The good news is that you don't have to do any of those things to kill grass.

Besides being organic and giving you a chance to recycle newspapers, what makes this grass-smothering project nifty is that it involves relatively little work on your part. Instead, you let time do the work for you!