Lawn to Garden Convert - Removing Grass

colliwobblesMarch 15, 2007

Hi everyone,

I was hoping that someone can give me a little advice on removing grass from a lawn. I need to start planting within the next few weeks, so I don't have time to waste.

My original plan was to kill the grass with Round-Up, till once dead, add compost, till again, and then plant and mulch. I'm worried about this method now because I'm afraid the ground won't get dried out enough in the next few weeks to till it.

The other idea was to use a sod cutter, and I was wondering if any of you have experience with this method? Would I be able to cut the sod out sometime in April, or does the soil have to be dried out to a certain degree also?

As a last resort, I will cover the grass with newspaper and add 6" to 8" of soil, but I'd rather not go this route.

Thanks for ANY advice you can offer!

- Jana

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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Sod cutter, if available from nearby rental agency is like a tall and heavy tiller. If you can get one and get it there, operate it successfully it does slice the grass right off nicely. If you don't line up each pass perfectly there will be narrow strips of uncut grass but should any of these be left you can get those with a hand tool afterward.

The cut sod can be laid upside down in a low spot somewhere, as fill or otherwise utilized where some soil is needed. If you stack it upside down, with the sides close together there actually isn't a huge problem with it growing. If the edges manage to continue development those could be sprayed or covered with something that blocks the light.

Yard waste totes aren't supposed to have sod put in them and you will have too large an amount anyway. They may also be prohibiting sod at transfer stations here now, but I'm not sure.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2007 at 1:48PM
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lilydude

I had the exact same problem last Spring. I covered the lawn area with black plastic for three weeks. After that, the lawn was dead, and the soil was in good shape for tilling, since the plastic kept the rain out, and helped warm up the soil. Also, the dead grass foliage and roots add organic matter when you till it in. The grass has not come back.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2007 at 1:34AM
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azehav(7/8 Oregon)

Yes, Roundup is completely unnecessary, terrible for the Willamette River, and not so good for you. I have gotten rid of grass several ways:
1. mowed it down as low as the machine will go, and then turned it under, putting compost on top of it.
2. Sheet mulching: putting down a layer of cardboard and newspaper and then piling compost, clippings, etc. on top and then turning it under after a few months.
3. removing the grass with sod cutter or shovel. You can post your grass on freecycle.org, or craigslist.org and sometimes folks will haul it away for you. It makes great compost, if you have the patience. Our sod was used by a neighbor to build up a planting bed in his parking strip. It looks great.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2007 at 2:13PM
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grrrnthumb(z8 WA)

I think your last resort is actually the best resort. I really don't think doing all the extra work will really give you any big benefit.
In our last house, my wife converted large areas of grass into flower beds by just covering with 6 layers of newspaper and 6" of pure Cedar Grove compost. Wow! Those were the best beds we've ever had. Weed and grass free and everything grew like gangbusters in there with less watering. Easy as pie to get started. I highly recommend it.

    Bookmark   March 19, 2007 at 7:45PM
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JAYK(8b)

There are many ways to prepare your site for your intended purpose, but it should be made clear that Roundup is not "terrible for the Willamette River". While some pesticides commonly present off site movement risks and problems, Roundup is not typically one of them. Its property of binding tightly to soil particles as well as other factors are well known and distinguish it from easily moved herbicides such as atrazine. This is one reason glyphosate based herbicdes are commonly used for invasive plant removal in sensitive areas such as streamsides.

    Bookmark   March 20, 2007 at 1:57AM
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colliwobbles

Thanks everyone for your input.

After stressing out about the grass too much, I decided on the lasagna method. I was then stressing about finding enough newspaper to cover the grass, but then discovered that I could just order newsprint from a paper company for a decent price.

My dilemma now is deciding what to use for the layers, but that shouldn't be too hard. I'll get compost for sure, and maybe peat. Now, if it would just stop raining...

    Bookmark   March 21, 2007 at 11:18AM
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westgate(8b Brit.Col.)

I planted quite a large area over with flower beds.... at first, I dug the sod, turned it upside down, put top soil over the top, and it worked fine. However, next time I just put the top soil directly on top of the grass.... no layers, nothing.... and that worked fine too. Just had to pull out the odd grass bunch, as it poked through, but it was minimal. The following seasons, the bed has been fine and the grass has never returned. Really easy!

    Bookmark   March 21, 2007 at 12:14PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Alternating layers of different materials ignores natural models, where you ordinarily have organic material on top of soil with less organic material as you go deeper. The decay organisms are mostly up near the surface, where the air is.

Here is a link that might be useful: Newspaper Mulch

    Bookmark   March 21, 2007 at 4:46PM
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grrrnthumb(z8 WA)

Bboy the article you linked makes 6 points against newspaper. Items 1, 3, 5, and 6 all do not apply when the newspaper is properly covered by 6" of compost.
Item 2 doesn't matter because bark won't give you a weed free bed that you can plant into today.
Item 4 she's just guessing on. 6" of compost is enough to trap all the water that rains & slowly release it down into the soil. I know that from my personal experience & that of my friends.
Part of the difference here is that she was considering it as more of a top layer of mulch, when here we are just using it as a low layer weed barrier.
When we used this method we had an incredible amount of worms show up within a year and really "tilled" the soil. This was in soil where we had hardly ever seen any before. The newspaper disappeared within 6 months to a year and that transition line quickly faded within a couple years.

    Bookmark   March 21, 2007 at 9:09PM
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purplelotus

I have to do exact same job, getting rid of grass that is. I 'm new to this area. is there a place here (west WA)where you can buy compost, manure, topsoil, garden pebbles etc for cheap. In my earlier place there was a public garden supply place that had piles of these and they sold everything for $2 a sack, fill it with what you want...wondering any place like that in this area? or home depot et al is the only way to go?....

    Bookmark   March 25, 2007 at 2:41AM
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grrrnthumb(z8 WA)

Cedar Grove Compost is the best place I know of. They don't use manure & sawdust like some do, it's just plain recycled yard waste. You can have it delivered by the dump truck load or buy it in bags at the home centers for 2 1/2 or 3 bucks a bag.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2007 at 12:47PM
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grrrnthumb(z8 WA)

You can also take your pick up down there and they'll fill it up.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2007 at 12:51PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

Here's my view of Cedar Grove Compost. Squak and Cougar Mt. in the background and a part of Cedar Hills Landfill with a liner on it.

Here is a link that might be useful: Cedar Grove Compost.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2007 at 2:53PM
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rpkayak_comcast_net

I am doing a progressive transition of a parking strip from all grass to Paver path to curb with benches on either side and a Neighborhood Herb and Hardy Fuschia Garden. I started with 360 sq ft of Grass.

I am experimenting with pulling up the sod, knocking off the loose soil and letting the sod decompose in some spare garbage cans with tight fitting lids. Perhaps the tight fitting lids are a mistake. Any comments? I have pulled up approximately 40 sq ft so far. I am about 10% through the project and have been planting stuff as I've progressed.

The slow process appeals to me. I get to meet a lot of neighbors and the constantly changing garden makes for a good conversation starter.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2007 at 8:16PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

Colliwobbles, how did it go? What method did you use? What are the results?

Inquiring minds want to know. ;-)

    Bookmark   June 2, 2007 at 11:51AM
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zyrtecdave

I am about to embark on a large project, removing 10,000 sq. feet of grass with a sod cutter. I have several VERY large beds I am putting in place to reduce overall sq. footage of grass.

Am I reading these posts correctly in that I can cut the sod up, turn it upside down to develop "bermed" beds with minimal retun of the grass?

    Bookmark   May 2, 2008 at 2:33PM
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sinfonian(U8b A2 S5 SeaWA)

EEK! My method of a trusty pick axe is great for a very small area, but 10,000 SF! EEK. hehe

Here is a link that might be useful: Sinfonian's garden adventure!

    Bookmark   May 4, 2008 at 2:04AM
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gardengal48

Zyrtecdave, yes you are reading the posts correctly. Turning the sod over with the grass side down and the roots exposed will essentially stop the photosynthesis process and the grass will eventually starve. The same theory as if you were to leave a large stone or pot in the middle of your lawn :-) The rooty dirt side is diificult to plant in until the grass dies and decomposes, so I'd suggest using it only as a base for your berm and adding soil over the top. You will also get a more natural contour to your berm if you do this.

When you use the sodcutter, make sure the blade is positioned at a sufficient depth to remove the majority of the roots as well as the topgrowth.

    Bookmark   May 4, 2008 at 10:11AM
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skittish

I converted grass area to perennial beds last summer. Started out planning on cutting and turning the sod , adding newspaper and soil then waiting several months. Got impatient and decided to try the lazy way.I just cut the grass VERY short and then dumped 6-8 inches of topsoil on top. Only waited a week or so then planted most of the beds.Turned out great.Got a bit of grass coming up here and there, mostly near the edges where the topsoil wasnt thick enough but it pulled out pretty easy for the most part and sure beat the backbreaking work of digging up sod !
This year the plants are all doing very well. And when I dig down below the 6-8 inches this year the grass has mulched in quite nicely... lots of big fat worms too...lol

    Bookmark   May 8, 2008 at 3:23PM
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jgadamski

So reading zyrtecdaves post,it occurs to me that i could use wide strips of sod turned upside down as walls for a raised bed. Anybody ever do this? What was the result?

Also, since I have an abundance of sod,it occured to me to run it through a cement mixer to break it up. Anybody ever try that? Tell me it works fine before I rent a mixer and find out otherwise!

    Bookmark   March 27, 2009 at 8:26PM
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ebri326_msn_com

I'd like to remove 1500 sf of Kentucky Blue Grass sod and replace it with perennial beds and gravel or bark paths. The grass is now infested with grubs. Will turning the sod over and leaving in place starve the grubs by removing the roots they feed on? If grubs aren't killed, will my new beds be in danger of damage by grubs who no longer have grass roots to eat? Maybe I need to create berms for all beds to get them up and away from the grubs. Thanks for any advice.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2009 at 5:43PM
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mdvaden_of_oregon(NW Oregon)

Look at all the ideas.

Roudup Bad ?? Not really. At reduced rate, 500 square feet of lawn could be killed with Roundup with maybe 2 eyedroppers of Glyphosate dispersed over the whole area, much of the herbicide to deteriorate. And near Portland at least, sod is not accepted at commercial composting locations.

Lasagna method ?? Sometimes one more way to make a thatch layer. Probably the slowest way to get the job done. Can't knock that it works though if you wait for decomposition. If the lawn was not thatchy - may be promising.

My choice ?? Cut the sod, remove it, ammend the soil with compost and rototil or cultivate with a shovel.

Why not stack the sod and compost it to the side. Get it out of your hair ??

Add soil ?? Why ?? We turned hard clay soil over, added an inch of compost and rototilled. Repeated several years with an inch of compost or so per year. And double dug. Ended up with soil so loose, I could push a blunt 1" diameter bamboo pole in 14" deep with my bare hands. And that in spring prior to cultivating yet.

Some folks say double digging may cause compaction. My experience with the poles pushing 14" in, proves the compaction fear to be a myth, since it was brick-like prior to the double digging.

M. D. Vaden of Oregon

    Bookmark   May 30, 2009 at 8:16PM
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al_maki

While the active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, isn't harmful, some of the other chemicals in it, specifically the surfacant has been found to block the reproduction of amphibians. So if you want there to be frogs and toads in the world, pass over the Roundup.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2009 at 7:47PM
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mdvaden_of_oregon(NW Oregon)

That's odd.

We have had frogs at our present home and past two homes, and still used Roundup.

Guess my technique of using it in moderation at slightly diluted rates works after all.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2009 at 11:39PM
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eagergardener5(9)

Thank you for all the informative posts. My back yard is in transition right now from a green tall fescue lawn to bare dirt with paths and plantings. It is so ugly. I was discouraged about the entire project until I read the blog. I have one area of layered newspaper, cardboard, hay, and soil. It's taking a long time to degrade. The larger area of the yard is dead yellow grass now. A leaking hose proved to us that the grass will come right back when given water. I was encouraged to read that I can put a layer of compost or soil over the dead grass. If it weren't 100 degrees, I would plant in a few days. Thank you for your help.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2009 at 12:47PM
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nwhorthappy(z8 WA)

If you want to ensure some pathways amid the new garden space....cardboard is a great layer.....I cover it with whatever aesthetically pleasing mulch I can find for free, and it works great.

Cardboard also is doing a great job at keeping Himalayan blackberries from resprouting from root bits. I'll rototill it all in after a few more rainy seasons.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2009 at 12:42AM
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crazyservants_yahoo_com

I've read this entire blog and have a question. Planting season is now. We have started veggies in the house and want to transplant them. My first time attempting a garden. Well, we need to remove the grass. Most of these ideas suggest that I can not plant this season if I want to do it right and have healthy soil. Would turning the sod upside down, adding soil or compost and rototiling be my only option? Or am I not understanding the blog. We were gonna go out today and remove the grass and plant the garden, ofcourse a couple swings of the hoe caused me to check ideas. I am working with a 10x15 foot area. Please help, my kids are so excited about this garden. They planted the starters and have been watering for three weeks waiting for the last frost. What should I do??

    Bookmark   May 3, 2011 at 11:04AM
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oliveoyl3

Novice Gardener:
You don't have to wait a season to plant. Your kids can plant today if you do the lasagna method. ;O)

We've done the layering over grass many times. Just be vigilant for any grass coming through the mulch. We did it last year for several new beds & early spring we expanded and created more planting space right on top of grass.

We mound it up 6-18" than the grass & once it decomposes underneath your bed won't be so high. Depends on how large of rootballs you have to plant. We moved our large rhodie last year, so needed a big hole for that & layered around it. So far, so good & the bed is so soft in spots you sink if you step into it to cut flowers or take close up photos. I've continued to add mulch to keep a 2" layer. No huge weed problems even though we used lots of hay.

Use what you have for mulch and layers. Try to get a few different sources.
-Compost might be best for your vegetable garden concentrating that in your planting holes & use the mulch materials between them to fill it up.
-I wouldn't use bark for a vegetable garden though
-used coffee grounds from St*rbucks or other shops (call ahead & ask them to save for you to pick up later in the day or the next day if you want a lot of them)
-we use partially composted horse manure/bedding because it's free & nearby as the bulk of our layers for ornamental beds. Usually, full of worms & really gets the bed looking nice quickly.
-sweepings from a feed store -- a mix of their hay, straw & alfalfa...coarse and you'll have to either shake out the hay seeds or cover up that top layer of hay to reduce sprouting. Del's in Auburn has a separate dumpster. Wear a mask because it's dusty, gloves, & bring your own garden fork to pull it out to put into garbage bags or cans.
-use the PEP soil preparation bagged material from Home Depot for about $4 a bag. Mixed with the other mulch materials it will decompose nicely into good soil

Just last week at in-laws we gave up trying to remove the thick grass & sod from one bed and removed the plants instead setting them inside cardboard boxes in shade.
-mowed the grass as short as possible
-covered with overlapping layers of wet cardboard
-replaced plants with root balls right on the cardboard to group them together instead of the checkerboard pattern previously planted
-added lots of coffee grounds (cleaned out the stash at a local coffee company that keeps it available for customers to come scoop) + soil from other beds in those spots lifting plants up just a bit off the cardboard
-filled in the rest with Whidbey's $9 cu yd mulch (shredded wood debris that has dirt mixed in from the piles) + our kitchen compost scraps from the week.

Neighbors enjoyed watching & came out to comment several times. One asked, "Where did you get all the plants?" By removing the high grass, you could actually see the plants. We did add a few from home & some from other beds around the property, but not many.

Enjoy the easy way to garden!

    Bookmark   May 4, 2011 at 12:33PM
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Tyler86

"There are many ways to prepare your site for your intended purpose, but it should be made clear that Roundup is not "terrible for the Willamette River". While some pesticides commonly present off site movement risks and problems, Roundup is not typically one of them. Its property of binding tightly to soil particles as well as other factors are well known and distinguish it from easily moved herbicides such as atrazine. This is one reason glyphosate based herbicides are commonly used for invasive plant removal in sensitive areas such as streamsides."

This may be true but glyphosate stays in your soil for years and a correlation has been shown between exposure in the womb and reduced cognitive development. Why go through the effort of growing your own food if you are going to use the same destructive farming methods used to grow the crap you can buy at the grocery store?
http://ehp03.niehs.nih.gov/article/fetchArticle.action?articleURI=info%3Adoi%2F10.1289%2Fehp.1003183

" Posted by mdvaden_of_oregon West Side of Oregon (My Page) on
Sat, Jun 6, 09 at 23:39

That's odd.

We have had frogs at our present home and past two homes, and still used Roundup.

Guess my technique of using it in moderation at slightly diluted rates works after all. "

Just because all the frogs in your area didn't die doesn't mean there weren't less obvious effects such as lowered birth rates (infertility) such as we are seeing in the livestock industry (where animals are fed lots of genetically modified soy/corn with high levels of glyphosate (roundup) residue). If you shot yourself up with heroin and didn't die would you then conclude that heroin must not have any negative effects?! This is very poor logic indeed.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2012 at 2:56AM
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kitch215

I've read through this thread and found lots very interesting. My "problem" is that the sod in my backyard has that godawful netting as a backing and I am wondering whether that netting would make it almost impossible to use if I want to dig down to plant, e.g., a small tree or bush. My plot is about 100' long and ideally, I'd like to pull up enough to make all 100' a bed of an average of about 4'or more in depth. Here in Lakewood, the soil is glacial till and is full of rocks which makes the idea of berming up very appealing. A friend had suggested renting a sod cutter, but they look pretty forbidding, especially for a woman.

As for RoundUp, it's just not an option.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 5:31AM
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tanowicki

I used a sod cutter and they are pretty big but manageable. The biggest problem was getting it on and off the truck - you have to use a ramp. The other problem was then pickup up all the sod. That stuff is heavy.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2012 at 9:43AM
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marcel1

I have st augustine grass and removed the top six inches. If I now cover the area I cleared with 3 feet of soil to make a raised bed garden will the existing roots die off completely or will they still grow up and invade the plants in time? I would l think no sun it would die but st augustine is more of a weed. Thanks

    Bookmark   May 12, 2013 at 6:31PM
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OregonGrape

Using Roundup sparingly to remove invasive growth from one's yard is not at all comparable to the mass overuse of glyphosate in the agricultural industry. Such comparisons are silly.

Glyphosate does not have adverse affects on the symbiotic fungi and bacteria that native plants use for nutrition and protection from pathogens. I know of one prominent native plant nursery that actually endorses its use. My one caveat with Roundup is to use the original formula, and not the newer extended-release formulation.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2013 at 9:00PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Few things are not clear to me:
1- What kind of square footqge is involved? with , say 50 sqr-ft, I can do that just by shaving it off by a shovel.

2- How high a raise is involved. Is it going to be a raised bed?

3- six inches or even 8" of compost alone would not do with newspaper underneath. Because, for example, if you want to plant a tomato , you will have to dig a hole deeper than 6" and you will hit the old grass and theymight grow right up.

I liked the idea of covering the area with clear plastic on sonny days and letting that grass sizzle and die. Then I would cover it with cardboard or news paper, top it with topssoil+compost . If you dont disturb it for a while the grass will completely die. I am talking about native grass here, not things like bermuda gass of course.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2013 at 10:43PM
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