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Remove Grass for a Garden Bed: Top Methods From Hand Digging to Herbicides (2023)

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how to remove grass to start a gardenYou’re ready to start that garden you’ve always dreamed of. We’ll walk you through clearing that pesky grass so you can plant the veggies, herbs, and flowers that will liven up your yard.

Removing grass takes some work, but the rewards are sweet. Dig out grassroots by hand for a small area or use a sod cutter or tiller for larger lawns. Smother grass under layers of cardboard or newspaper if patience is your virtue.

With the right tools and techniques, you’ll wipe out that grass in no time. Then add compost to enrich the soil and edge around your new garden bed. Before you know it, you’ll have filled your bare patch with corn stalks, tomato vines, and marigolds.

This year, make your green thumb dreams a reality.

Key Takeaways

  • Dig out grass roots by hand or use a sod cutter or tiller for larger areas.
  • Smother grass with cardboard or newspaper to kill it over time.
  • Consider the environmental impact of using herbicides for quick removal.
  • Prepare the soil by adding organic matter, improving drainage, and sterilizing tools.

Steps to Remove Grass for a Garden

Steps to Remove Grass for a Garden
Soak that patch o’lawn, then trace your dream garden’s shape before rippin’ up the turf to enrich your soil.

Visualize the layout, then prep the site and strip that grass so you can boost your beds.

Outline the space with stakes and string, angle-cut the edges, and peel back the sod.

Smother remnants with cardboard to snuff out regrowth.

Shred the strips for compost or reuse elsewhere.

Deepen and enrich the bared beds with organic matter like aged manure, leaf mold, and compost.

Blend in fertilizer and turn the soil to improve drainage and aeration.

Sterilize tools to prevent spreading disease.

With the grass gone and soil prepped, you’re ready to plant your bountiful garden.

Prepare the Area

Prepare the Area
After marking off the area, it’s time to get the site ready. This involves some key steps:

  • Inspect for any underground utilities. Call 811 to have lines marked before digging to avoid damage.
  • Remove any existing fence sections or other structures that are in the removal area.
  • Check for sprinkler systems and cap any lines in the garden space.
  • Examine the soil and remove rocks, roots, and other debris. Add compost or topsoil if needed.
  • Water the grass well a day or two before removal. Moist soil is easier to dig and till.

With the prep work done, you’ll be set to take on removing the sod using your chosen method like smothering with cardboard or newspaper, solarizing with plastic sheeting, herbicide spraying, or good old-fashioned manual labor with a shovel or rototiller.

Manual Grass Removal Methods

Manual Grass Removal Methods
Getting rid of grass by hand or smothering are two tried and true ways you can remove turf to start a new garden bed. For quickest results, use a sharp shovel or sod cutter to slice into the ground and peel back the sod in strips.

Or simply cover the grass with sheets of cardboard or layers of newspaper – this cuts off light to kill the grass over time. After 4-6 weeks, you can plant right through the dead material into the soil underneath.

Remove the Grass by Hand With a Shovel

Dig in those heels, soldier, for the sod wars have begun! Every clod overturned is a victory against the invading turfgrass hordes. Wield that spade like the swift sword of justice to liberate fertile soil for your noble veggie allies waiting to be seeded.

Method Timeframe Difficulty
Hand Digging Immediate Hard Work
Smothering Weeks to Months Easy
Solarizing Summer Months Easy

With preparation and perseverance, you will conquer the lawn and reclaim the land for abundance.

Use Cardboard or Newspaper to Smother the Grass

Ready for simpler gardening satisfaction? Spread cardboard generously; your burdensome turf is done for. Smothering grass with layers of cardboard or newspaper starves it of light and moisture until it dies.

Overlap sheets to block all sunlight. Weigh down with mulch or soil. Be patient as this method takes months, needing rain to soak and soften the grass. Keep the area moist if dry. Once dead, cut sod edges, till remains into the soil.

Then plant your garden directly into the enriched blanket of organic matter, skipping digging.

Renting Equipment for Grass Removal

Renting Equipment for Grass Removal
Looking to remove grass and start a new garden area? Renting specialized equipment can make the job much easier compared to manual digging. Consider renting a sod cutter, which quickly and efficiently slices under the grass for easy roll-up and disposal.

Rototillers are another option to churn up and break apart the grass and root layer, adding organic matter back into the soil. Just be aware that tillers can have difficulty on rocky sites and compacted clay soils.

Rent a Sod Cutter

You can quickly strip away sod by renting a power sod cutter.

  1. Rent a self-propelled walk-behind or tractor-mounted sod cutter.
  2. Set blade depth based on grass thickness and soil conditions.
  3. Make straight passes across the removal area, then stack or dispose of sod pieces.

A sod cutter slices under grass roots for fast, efficient removal. Wear heavy-duty gloves and check for buried utility lines first. Lay weed block fabric over the exposed soil before adding compost and planting garden beds.

Use a Rototiller

Try cranking up that rear tine tiller to churn the turf under fast. Follow subterranean contours and reverse passes to till past crops deeply for a clean slate. Adjust working depth, throttle speed, and tine sharpness to master torque, swath width, and fuel consumption.

Fine-tune the tines and trajectory to pulverize roots without scalping the soil. With experience, you’ll till hard sod to perfection and prepare a smooth seedbed in no time.

Applying Herbicides

Applying Herbicides
When killing grass with chemicals, heed all warnings lest your garden dreams become nightmares.

  1. Read the entire product label before purchasing and applying any herbicide.
  2. Wear protective clothing like gloves, long sleeves, pants, and goggles.
  3. Only apply on a calm, dry day to avoid drift onto other plants.
  4. Consider alternative removal methods if concerned about wildlife impacts.
  5. Maintain a grass-free buffer zone to prevent overspray damage.

Applying herbicides carelessly can harm people, pets, and the environment. Follow all directions exactly and only use these chemicals as a last resort if other removal methods fail. With proper precautions, herbicides can quickly prepare your soil for a bountiful garden.

Considerations for Soil Improvement

Considerations for Soil Improvement
After pulling up the grass, blend in organic compost to replenish the soil’s nutrients for planting.

Factor: Drainage

Why It Matters: Excess water can drown roots and promote disease.

How to Test: Dig a hole and fill with water. If it doesn’t drain in 1 hour, drainage is poor.

What to Do: Add compost to improve drainage. Consider raised beds.

Factor: pH

Why It Matters: Extreme acid/alkaline soils limit nutrient availability.

How to Test: Use an inexpensive soil test kit.

What to Do: Add lime to raise pH or sulfur to lower it.

Factor: Nutrients

Why It Matters: Healthy plants need nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.

How to Test: Send a sample to the lab for testing.

What to Do: Based on results, fertilize with organic or synthetic options.

Factor: Organic Matter

Why It Matters: Boosts nutrient and water retention.

How to Test: Look for dark color and crumbly texture.

What to Do: Mix in several inches of compost before planting.

Getting the soil right from the start will pay dividends with healthier, more productive plants.

Adding Garden Edging

Adding Garden Edging
Mark your edges neatly with pavers for a crisp, finished look to your garden’s layout. Edge your new garden bed with decorative edging like stone borders, wood timbers, or landscape pavers for a professional finish.

Rigid metal edging is another option that delineates the bed clearly while preventing grass from creeping in. Whatever edging material you choose, installing borders helps define the garden visually and makes maintaining the edge much simpler.

Pavers and timbers can be reused if you later expand or reconfigure your planting space.

Level and tamp a gravel base first, then set edging pieces end-to-end, leaving no gaps for weeds to sneak through.

Planting the Garden

Planting the Garden
After you’ve framed the edges of your new garden space, it’s time to start planting. Focus first on timing your initial garden preparations right. The best planting schedule matches seed sowing and transplanting to your region’s average last frost date.

Once your crops are planted, consistent weed control keeps them thriving. Apply mulch after seeds sprout and consider compost side-dressing for a nutrient boost.

Water young plants daily at their bases until their roots establish. Soak established plants deeply and allow the soil to dry between waterings.

Consistent best practices like these will help your garden flourish from the very beginning.

Safety Tips and Equipment Considerations

Safety Tips and Equipment Considerations
Use ergonomic tools and stretch judiciously to avoid injuring yourself while removing sod. Renting equipment like sod cutters for extensive projects can minimize bodily strain.

  • Wear sturdy gloves, eye protection, long sleeves, and closed-toe shoes as personal protective equipment.
  • Select the proper tools for the job; electric is faster, but hazards exist.
  • Take breaks, rotate tasks, and stretch to minimize fatigue.
  • Before starting, walk the area and mark tripping hazards and utilities.
  • Ensure electric tools are double-insulated and keep cords away from water.

The wise gardener works deliberately to avoid injury during the sod removal process.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What time of year is best for removing grass to start a new garden?

The best time to remove grass for a new garden is in the fall. This allows the sod to decompose over winter before spring planting.

How long does it take for grass to fully die after using cardboard/newspaper to smother it?

The grass dies fully in 1-3 months when using cardboard or newspaper to smother it. Be patient as the layers block light and stop photosynthesis, depriving the turf of energy until it perishes.

Should I amend my soil after removing the grass? If so, what amendments should I add?

After removing the grass, you should absolutely amend the soil. Add compost to retain nutrients, peat to boost moisture, and topsoil to replenish what’s lost.

Will tilling damage my soil long-term or bring up new weed seeds?

Tilling can damage soil structure and bring up weed seeds. Consider sheet mulching with cardboard or newspaper instead – it smothers grass without harming your soil.

How do I dispose of or reuse the removed grass and sod?

When removing sod, reuse it or bag it for curbside pickup. For example, you could lay the removed sections grass-side down to create pathways in another part of the yard. Chopping up the sod and adding it to a compost pile will create rich organic matter over time.

Just be sure to remove any remaining grass pieces before using the finished compost in planting beds.


Starting a new garden can seem daunting, but with proper planning and persistence, your hard work will pay off. Though removing grass takes time and effort, the end result of a thriving, productive garden is well worth it.

Remember that the average household vegetable garden produces $600-$700 worth of produce each year – that’s a lot of tasty, homegrown food! As long as you utilize safe and effective grass removal techniques, amend the soil properly, and mulch well, you’ll be harvesting fresh fruits, veggies, and herbs before you know it.

So go grab your shovel and get ready to transform that patch of grass into a bountiful garden – your taste buds will thank you!

Avatar for Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim Sweileh

Mutasim is a published author and software engineer and agriculture expert from the US. To date, he has helped thousands of people make their yards lush and thick.