How do you reduce your lawn?

singleton165(z5 NH Seacoast)June 10, 2012

I feel the need to greatly enlarge garden beds and would like to know everyone's preferred method for creating gardens over lawn area.

My plan is to map out an enlarged bed, dig and amend holes where I plan on planting, plant, then cover the rest of the area lasagna style (ok, just with newspaper and mulch). I'm sure I'll be adding plants occasionally before the original grass has been composted, but will deal with that as it comes. I've created/expanded beds with this method...but this will be a larger project.

On the other hand, I could remove all the grass, but that seems like such a daunting task all at once.

How would you do it?

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We've tried removing all the grass and since we have ancient sod filled with quack grass and other awful weeds, that meant removing more than 6" and frankly, we used a backhoe. The old sod went to a compost/fill pile. I much prefer the lasagna method. I just did a large bed similar to what you are thinking about but it's for winter squash. It doesn't matter how much the surround area flattens over the months. That's the problem I think you might have with a perennial bed. My very first lasagna bed had time to compost over the winter so it shrunk by at least half. That bed was dutifully built with different layers of brown and green per the book. Those beds are now level with surrounding sod. I think that shrink factor might cause you problems. Your bed will end up being very uneven if you start with holes of compost surround by lasagna mulch. I did a small bed for about 4 blueberry plants the way your are thinking and the plants ended up with partially exposed root balls by spring. So, it's worth a try and something I am contemplating because I need another bed! But this time, I would pay special attention to how the bed looked in the fall, maybe add some extra compost around the plants to avoid exposed root balls during the winter.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 7:40AM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

My DH handles sod removal. Then the beds get dug over, with rocks removed and manure added. If I'm lucky, they balance each other out. Often, the rock pile is much bigger than the manure pile. Yes, it's a big job, but once it is done, it is DONE.

If this is going to be a perennial bed, it really does help to have the whole thing dug and amended, since before I did that, absolutely every time I tried to plant anything I hit a rock. A big rock. That took me half an hour to get out of the ground.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 8:21AM
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Time is your friend if you have the luxury of waiting until fall to plant (and often you can get things on sale at much nicer prices then.) I typically make a lasagna bed with well-composed manure spread out on the surface several inches deep, covered with newspapers or cardboard to prevent seed germination and wood shavings as mulch, and then let it sit for at least a month or two, and up to a year before planting much other than large items like shrubs. This means that all the grass is dead and I don't have to worry about it coming up around my plants. I wouldn't remove the grass unless you don't have enough organic matter and newspaper to make your lasagna layers thick enough to really smother the grass since the dead grass will add organic matter. Since you want to add other plants at some point, I would amend the whole thing now, not piecemeal as you plant since it's better for the plants not to have to transition from amended holes to unamended soil as roots grow sideways. I used to dig in the manure, but I've found that the plants do just as well with it added on top. It gets mixed in some as I plant, but I think the various soil-dwelling critters do most of the work.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 8:52AM
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tree_oracle(z6b MA)

Just mark off the parts of your yard that you want to use for beds and spray those areas with RoundUp. That will weeds, grass, everything in those areas. Once everything has shriveled up, you just rake off the dead plant material, till up the soil and plant whatever you want to plant.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 12:03PM
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I wouldn't plant into holes dug in the native soil - I tried that when I was a new gardener, and the results were not good. The grass will quickly grow into the holes, looking for that good soil, and there could be serious drainage problems - if your native soil is anything like mine. Your plants will perform much better if the soil's been worked thoroughly, all through the bed. Grass grows in incredibly lean, tough soil, and perennials require - and deserve - something much better.

If you really don't want to dig, you can use the lasagna method, but that does require a thick layer of organic material all over the area, not just newspaper and mulch.

I still do sometimes cheat, if I'm planting a large area, and don't prep as thoroughly as I would in a smaller space. Eventually, I always regret that approach, and inevitably I swear I won't do it again.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2012 at 12:43PM
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From my experience, I'd have to agree with NHbabs: go with lasagne method
NOW, and add some of you larger shrubs in the Fall. . .by next Spring, you
should be able to start adding other perennials. Last Fall, I buried my entire front lawn this way, and started adding shrubs this Spring - by Fall, I'll add a
few more perennials. For this season, I've added even more shredded leaves
and manure, and clumps of annuals around the shrubs. The grass between the street and sidewalk is now a lush bed of Vinca minor, with a bench added by the curb so passers-by can sit and look at the former-lawn-become-garden. At least now I don't have to constantly keep up with all my neighbors and their obsession with "perfect" (read: unnatural) lawns. . .

Let us know how the project turns out!


    Bookmark   June 12, 2012 at 12:55PM
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I'm lazy and have been known to start an entire bed right in the grass in early summer and then newspaper/mulch it out. Not the proper way, but I have health problems that preclude me from doing it properly(I'm not really lazy).


    Bookmark   June 12, 2012 at 11:27PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Ditto lasagne style beds. Last year I made a brand new vegetable garden the super easy way. I marked off the bed, dug planting holes, mixed compost in the holes, and planted the veggies and some herbs - tomatoes, kale, swiss chard, etc. Then, I laid down layers of newspaper in between the veggies, and covered that with several inches of compost. The newspaper smothered the grass and weeds that were in between the veggies. I didn't have to dig the whole bed, and this cut down significantly on weeding, and the newspaper/compost/mulch helps retain moisture. And no removing sod!

You can also try turning the sod, by digging down deep and flipping the clumps upside down, so the grass is on the bottom and it will die and decompose. And then add compost on top, cultivate a little, and plant. But this is a lot more work.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2012 at 11:41PM
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singleton165(z5 NH Seacoast)

Thanks all for the advice!
My BF is willing to dig out the sod, so I might as well let him! :)
I have large ornamental grasses to divide and a lot of plants to put in (divided from other areas in the yard), so I might as well amend the whole thing at once, adding compost.
I have used the true Lasagna method before, giving it time to compost and it worked wonderfully...I could dig holes in it with just my hands, so I know that works great. I'll just have to plan better for the next projects.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 10:23AM
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Planning is highly overrated!

I still do it, mainly to while away the hours in winter. After heading to the new garden with my carefully drawn plan - which includes all the plant names/heights/colors/bloom times/foliage texture info - I still end up with the most random plantings, because of impulse buying, conditions "on the ground" (like tree roots), mis-labeled plant varieties, and ... mother nature.

Hang onto that BF! I've just finished removing the clumps of grass that somehow outlasted the cardboard and newspaper I'd laid under thick wood chip mulch in a new 12*16 area of what used to be lawn. I know it will be back, but at least now that the area is fairly clear, I can think about what I'm going to do with the space. DH is not interested, although he'll lay brick, or, when pressed, mow the lawn. A sod-busting BF is just what I need.

    Bookmark   June 16, 2012 at 10:59AM
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diggerdee zone 6 CT

Even if BF is willing to remove the sod, I would still do a lasagna bed over the new area and plant in the fall. This will help the existing soil, which I don't think I would plant directly into (at least not in my yard!).

I usually do my lasagna-making in the fall, but I just came in from working on extending a bed around a big, 3-trunk oak tree. It's taking me a while to gather materials for some reason this spring, so I'm doing it kind of piece-meal, but I won't be planting in the new part till fall anyway. In the meantime I've stuck a few annuals in the lasagna part to add a bit of color.


    Bookmark   June 17, 2012 at 1:42PM
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