Turf professionals say that when the turf is 60 percent weeds or more, it is probably time to clear the area for fresh seeding. If this describes your lawn, you might consider using a turf or sod cutter or “sod kicker” to clear your lawn. A sod kicker is a muscle-powered manual tool, much like an old-style farm tool, like a sod plow. It can clear about 500 square feet in a few hours without too much exertion. A manual sod cutter is noise-free and requires no gasoline, engine maintenance, or winterization.
A kick sod cutter has two long handles anchored with a crossbar. It includes a roller and an adjustable flat blade at ground level. Use the cutter by kicking the crossbar to move it along as you cut. Adjust your sod cutter blade to remove at least 3/4 inch of topsoil along with the grass. It removes long, narrow sod strips you can roll up and remove.
What Is Sod?
Sod or turf is the upper layer of soil with grass growing on it. It can be pulled up like a carpet. It is often farmed, harvested into rolls, sold, and laid out on a bare spot to replenish a bare lawn.
According to Wayne Thompson, president of Quail Manufacturing, the sod kicker tool works for many people. “You don’t have to bend over to use it. It relies more on upper thigh muscles than back strength. It doesn’t require much upper body strength at all.” Thompson says he’s shipped thousands during his tenure at the firm. Users range from 115-pound women to people over 75.
Meet the Expert
Wayne Thompson is the president of Quail Manufacturing in Princeton, Minnesota, a maker of sod-cutting tools.
When to Use a Sod Kicker
You can pull up sod any time of year. It is best done early, mid-fall, or spring if you plan to replant it. Let the sod dry out for a day or two if it has rained recently. It's difficult and heavier to move soggy sod. You can also pull up and lay sod in winter.
Reasons to pull up sod include wanting to install new sod or plant fresh grass seeds or transitioning your yard to new landscaping, a garden, installing a yard feature, or a new type of grass planting.
Before Getting Started
One to two days before you use the sod kicker, water the area thoroughly. Manually cutting a dry lawn is backbreaking work.
Clearly mark off the area with marking flags or grass-safe spray chalk where you intend to remove the sod. You don't want to remove too much or too little sod. It’s easier to remove sod than to establish new sod, so do not remove any sections of the lawn you wish to keep.
Remove all visible rocks, branches, fallen leaves, and debris. The tool will glide easier, and the tool will go down three inches effortlessly if big rocks are eliminated.
Plot out the pattern for how you will remove the sod. Plan to remove sod in long, straight lines.
Before cutting sod, read the manufacturer's instructions to ensure you use the tool correctly. Always wear eye protection while operating this tool since it can kick up rocks and gravel that cause injury. Wear close-toed shoes. Keep children and pets away from the working area.
The cutter's tempered steel blade requires periodic sharpening. A dull cutter blade can cause premature wear and difficulty using the tool.
Equipment / Tools
- Water hose
- Sod Kicker
Water the Sod
The night before, water the spot where you intend to remove the sod. Moisture helps to keep the stripped sod intact in a "ribbon" and makes it easier to remove or dispose of. If the sod is good, you can reinstall it at another location.
Set the Cutting Depth
The cutting depth should be pre-set to one and one-half inches to three inches and a 95-degree angle for effective operation.
Mow the Area
Use the lowest setting on your mower to mow the area that you intend to pull up with the sod cutter.
Place the Cutter at the Starting Point
Place the cutter at the starting point. While holding the handles, kick down on the foot bar. The blade will go beneath the sod to cut it.
Push the Cutter Forward
To lengthen the cut, push forward. Continue by applying your foot on the press bar and pushing forward. It takes a bit of technique, which becomes smoother over time.
Make the Next Cut
Pull back slightly, then push again to make the next cut. Once the sod is cut, roll it up. Transport the cut sod in a wheelbarrow.
When to Call a Professional
Sod is very heavy. If you have to clear a large area, you will need help from another person. It is recommended to call a professional if you need to clear a large yard. Professionals have higher-end gas-powered sod cutters.
Hardware and home improvement stores also offer motorized sod cutters for rent at an hourly or day rate. Rather than purchasing a new sod cutter, you can rent a gasoline-powered sod cutter to clear your lawn quicker and with less effort.
Mowing and Trimming Safety. Kansas State University Research and Extension.
How To Protect Established Trees During Your Landscape Conversion. Southern Nevada Arborists Group.