Lawn maintenance takes a lot of time and energy, not to mention water, fertilizer, seed, and all the other resources required to keep a lawn looking neat and healthy.
While it might sound on the surface like maintaining a garden would take more effort than keeping a lawn in good condition, the opposite is true.
Sure, you’ll need to tend to your flower beds, but this is generally less strenuous and resource-consuming than mowing and fertilizing a lawn.
However, if you’d like to transform a section of your lawn into a garden, you will have to remove the grass to create flower beds. You have several different options for removing grass to create a weed-free space for your garden.
Read on to find out how to remove grass to start a garden, including tips for choosing the perfect spot and keeping the area free of weeds!
How To Choose A Garden Location?
Before you can get started with the process of removing the grass from your lawn to make your garden, you’ll need to decide where you want your garden to be.
This is a lot more important than most people think because it’s not just an aesthetic choice – if you place your garden in the wrong spot on your lawn, it might not get the nutrients it needs, and your garden project could fail.
First and foremost, make sure you’re actually allowed to create a garden in front of your property. If you live in an urban area, there are likely to be rules in place about which gardening projects are allowed, so it’s best to check beforehand.
After all, it would be a shame to go to the effort of planting a garden just to be told you need to undo all your work again.
The best thing to do is call a notification center in your area that will take the details of your suggested gardening project and run them by the relevant authorities. This way, you can get a clear answer quickly and free of charge.
Basically all plants need some water now and again, even those that are accustomed to dry, desert-like conditions.
Some flowers will need watering pretty frequently, meaning that the last thing you want to do is walk long distances with a watering can each and every time you need to water one of your plants.
Therefore, one of the most important things to verify before you start removing grass for your garden is whether there’s a source of water available close by. Speaking of water, you should also take note of terrain.
We’re going to be talking about this in more depth later, but it’s best to avoid areas that slope significantly, and also areas that collect water easily. Sloping ground tends to get too dry, whereas low ground that water can run down into may result in a flooded garden.
One thing we all know about plants is that they need sunlight to varying degrees for the process of photosynthesis. The amount of sunlight your garden will need will vary depending on the types of plants you’re considering adding to your garden.
However, a good rule of thumb is to find an area of your lawn that gets 6 to 10 hours of sunlight (ideally, full as opposed to partial). This is because flowers and vegetables tend to prefer full sun, whereas grass is able to thrive in the shade.
We mentioned earlier that the terrain you choose to plant your garden on will determine how much water your plants are likely to receive. However, it’s important to consider the factor of terrain more extensively than looking at whether it’s sloping.
For example, rocky terrain is not generally hospitable for flowers and vegetables. Some plants have shallow root systems and don’t need a lot of nutrients or water, and these plants may not have a problem with rocky terrain.
For example, baby’s breath, coneflower, thyme, aloe vera, and sage are all plants that can survive in rocky ground. Unless you’re planning on planting only these kinds of flowers, though, you should avoid positioning your garden in a rocky area.
You can’t have a garden without any soil, and that soil needs to be good quality so that your vegetables and flowers are able to get all the nutrients they need.
Loam soil, which is made up of either clay, silt, or sand, is usually best for plants because it’s sticky and gritty, which means it is able to keep hold of nutrients and water more than other types of soil.
With that being said, different plants have different nutritional needs, so it’s best to decide which plants you want to include in your garden beforehand and check what they need in terms of nutrients and water. This way, you can make sure that the soil you choose will meet those needs effectively.
When you start growing a garden, you will find that you end up with garden waste that needs to be disposed of. Remember, you’ll need to trim and prune your plants from time to time, and this means you’ll need somewhere to put those trimmings.
Having a compost heap near your garden is a convenient way to dispose of your garden waste in a way that will be useful to you over time.
Ideally, you’ll probably want your garden to be both accessible and visible from your house. After all, you’re going to the effort of removing the grass and planting a garden, so it’s rewarding to be able to look outside and see the fruits of your labor.
With that being said, try to make sure your garden isn’t too close to your house, because the building could potentially block out sunlight that your plants need in order to thrive.
Options For Removing Grass
So, you’ve chosen a location for your garden. Now you need to remove the grass, so you can get started on the actual planting part. But what’s the best way to remove grass to start a garden?
Well, there are 4 main methods of removing grass to start a garden. The most common method is simply digging up the grass, but you can also smother your lawn, solarize or scorch the existing grass, or use herbicides.
There are pros and cons to all of these methods, so we recommend considering each one carefully and making your decision based on your personal priorities.
The Digging Method
Most people who want to remove grass to start a garden will dig up the grass, and this is the method we prefer, especially if you only need a relatively small space for your garden.
It’s true that physically digging up your lawn requires a fair amount of physical labor, and depending on your level of mobility, this may or may not be a negative for you.
However, one of the main benefits of digging up your grass compared to some of the other methods is that it’s much faster (you can start planting your garden straight away), and it’s also better for the environment than the herbicide method (more on this later).
You don’t need to use any electrical equipment to dig up your grass, so there’s no need to worry about finding a nearby power outlet, and you also won’t be disturbing your neighbors with loud machinery.
With that being said, if you’re working with a large plot of land, digging the grass up by hand probably won’t be the best method for you because it will be very tiring.
Additionally, there’s always the possibility that you could disturb some deeply-buried weeds and cause a germination issue, which will lead to problems later down the line. You will also need to be prepared to replace the organic material that you dig up in the process of removing the grass.
The Most Effective Way To Dig Up Grass
If you’re going to physically dig up the grass to make space for your garden, you will need to make sure you do this as effectively as possible to lessen the amount of physical labor you need to do and ensure that your garden remains weed-free.
First, mark the portion of lawn you want to dig up. You can use a rope or even some spray paint to circle the area. It’s best to start the process a few days before you want to do the actual digging, because ideally, you should water the area 2 to 3 days ahead of time.
This will make the soil nice and moist, making it much easier to dig through. With that being said, you should also avoid overwatering the area, because there’s nothing messier than digging through muddy soil. You can use a variety of different tools to dig up your lawn.
A flat-head shovel works well, but you can also use a regular garden space. Scrapers and trowels also work, but the task will probably take longer with these smaller tools. Try to choose something with a sharp edge to make the physical digging easier.
If you don’t want to dig up your lawn by hand, you can use a power tool such as a sod cutter or tiller. However, these can be both expensive and noisy, so if you’re on a budget and don’t want to annoy your neighbors, this may not be the best idea.
Whatever tool you choose to work with, you should start by dividing the sod into strips of about 20 feet squared. These strips can then be rolled up and moved. If you do choose to have a compost heap near your garden, this can be the first addition to your pile.
Now that the grass is out of the way, you can get to work removing anything that might prevent your plants from growing healthily, such as rocks, pests, and stray roots. Once you have done this, you should be able to start planting right away.
Many people view applying herbicides to their lawn as a quick and easy way to remove grass, and in some ways, it is.
However, in some cases, using herbicides can create more problems than they solve, so it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons carefully before going this route. It’s true that herbicides will kill the grass in the area very quickly.
If you don’t have a lot of time on your hands, this is one way to get rid of your grass without much effort. That said, it’s important to remember how detrimental herbicides can be to surrounding plant life, as well as animals and even people.
Herbicides can leave residue in your soil for long periods of time. Sometimes, the residue hangs around for weeks, and other times, it may remain present for years.
If you’re going to grow vegetables or edible plants in your garden, we definitely don’t recommend stripping the grass with herbicides because you don’t want to be consuming traces of these harsh chemicals.
Bear in mind that herbicides can also get into your water supply and contaminate it. Plus, herbicides are not cheap. You’ll need several applications to completely get rid of all your grass, and this will not be easy on your wallet.
Using Herbicides Safely To Remove Grass
If you do choose to go with herbicides as your method of grass removal, make sure that you choose the right kind of herbicide for your lawn. Not all grass and weeds will respond in the same way to herbicides.
It’s also very important to read the instructions carefully. Adding too much product or using it incorrectly could have dangerous consequences. The instructions should include the safest way to dispose of the herbicides and affected plant material.
Never dispose of your waste without checking the recommended disposal methods, as this could cause harm to the environment. Make sure to wear the proper safety gear when working with herbicides.
These harsh chemicals can be damaging to your eyes and skin, so wear gloves and goggles, and try to cover up as much of your skin as possible with long sleeves and pant legs.
Additionally, wearing a mask will stop you from breathing in or accidentally ingesting any herbicides. Watering your lawn before applying herbicides will make the product more effective, but you should wait for the grass to dry before continuing with the process.
Otherwise, the chemicals won’t stick. If possible, do this during the summer so that wind and rain don’t affect the efficacy of the herbicide. It should take a week for the herbicides to finish working.
You’ll know when this is the case because the grass should be brown and dead-looking. If it doesn’t look wilted after a week, you might need to reapply the herbicides. Read the instructions on the bottle to see when it’s safe to start planting on ground that has been exposed to herbicides.
Smothering The Grass
Smothering, also known as sheet composting, doesn’t involve any digging, so if you struggle with a lot of physical exertion and don’t want to cover your lawn with chemicals, this might be a better option for you.
This process basically involves putting sheets of newspaper or cardboard over your lawn to stop the grass from getting sunlight. This eventually kills the grass, after which you can cover the area with organic matter and begin planting your garden.
A lot of gardeners love this method of grass removal because it doesn’t require physically removing any of the sod or disturbing the structure of the soil.
You also won’t be removing and replacing any organic matter, and since there are no herbicides involved, there’s no environmental damage.
Admittedly, if your ground is sloping, covering it with cardboard might be tricky, but we generally recommend against planting a garden on sloping ground anywhere.
If you’re planning to turn a large area of your lawn into a garden, you will also need to make sure you get enough materials to cover the entire surface.
How To Smother Grass With Great Results?
Start this process in the fall if you can. Smothering grass takes quite a long time, so if you want to be able to plant your garden in the spring, you need to start early.
Covering long grass with newspaper and cardboard can be difficult, and it will take longer to smother, so the first thing we recommend doing is cutting your grass as short as possible so that it’s flat.
Remember, the goal is to essentially starve the grass of nutrients, including sunlight, so one or two layers of newspaper is not going to be enough. Instead, we recommend using at least ten layers, if not twelve. This way, sunlight will be blocked out completely.
It may seem counterintuitive to water over the top of the newspaper because you’re trying to deprive the grass of what it needs to survive.
However, watering the newspaper will help to speed up decomposition and will make the newspaper heavier so that it stays in the same place. Just don’t add so much water that the layers end up tearing.
Once you have watered the layers of newspaper, you should add some compost on top, and you can add some food scraps, grass clippings, or even manure as well.
This may not be a good idea if you have nearby neighbors, though, as you don’t want to create a smell throughout your entire neighborhood.
The final method you could use for removing grass to start a garden is solarizing, also known as scorching your lawn. While the previous method involved starving your grass, this method works by basically burning your lawn until the grass dies.
One reason this method is popular is because in addition to killing the grass, it should also get rid of weeds and pests, which are common garden enemies.
This is a great way to remove grass from your lawn without chemicals or physical labor, even for large areas of grass. However, it does take quite a while, and your lawn will not look particularly appealing while the process is ongoing.
It’s also important to bear in mind that this method works best on loam or clay soil that is heavy and holds water well, because this type of soil is the best at producing steam.
Solarizing Your Lawn For Grass Removal
Get started with solarizing around late spring or the beginning of summer to increase the temperature levels. Solarizing in the winter probably won’t work.
Before you can solarize your lawn, plants and debris in the target area will need to be removed. It also helps if you cut your grass and water it thoroughly before getting started.
Next, take a layer of tarp or plastic (if you have a large sheet of glass, this works, too) and cover the designated area. Just make sure whatever material you use is clear, if possible, because this will work much better.
Also, try to use a thick layer of your chosen material to avoid damage over time. UV-resistant plastics are your best option. Hold down your covering with stakes or rocks, so it doesn’t move. Don’t be conservative with this.
If your material gets blown away, it might undo all your progress, so you should make doubly sure that everything is secure.
It will probably take about 8 weeks for the grass to be fully solarized, but be patient because the results are worth it. You will need to do some digging after this 8-week period to make sure the roots of the grass are completely dead.
At this point, you’ll be able to take away the covering and till the few inches of soil at the surface so that it’s loose and ready to receive seeds.
All four of the methods of grass removal outlined in this guide will help you to remove grass to start a garden. While we usually don’t recommend the use of herbicides, it is lower-effort than a lot of the other options.
Digging is the fastest, but most physically strenuous method. Meanwhile, both solarizing and smothering take quite a long time, but they don’t need a lot of effort on your part, and they won’t be as damaging to the environment compared to herbicides.
The method you choose is ultimately up to you. Just make sure to start at the right time of year (this varies between methods) and take the necessary precautions to make sure you execute your gardening project safely and effectively.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is The Best Tool For Digging Up Grass?
You can use a variety of tools to dig up your lawn, but a flat-headed spade or shovel will be very effective.
If you would prefer not to exert yourself so much, you can also use a gas-powered machine called a tiller, which breaks up the soil using blades. This is more expensive than a shovel, but it’s also much faster.
Do You Have To Remove Grass To Make A Garden?
You might not need to remove grass from under a raised garden bed, but if you’re planning on planting in flat beds, you will need to remove the grass first because you need enough grass-free soil for your plants to be able to root.
What Are Some Non-Toxic Herbicide Alternatives?
If you are tempted by the ease of removing grass with herbicides, but are worried about the environmental impact, you can try using white vinegar. White vinegar (which you can apply with a spray bottle) is able to kill weeds without harming pets and children.
However, it will not be as effective compared to the harsh chemicals in most herbicides, and you will probably need to apply a lot of vinegar over time in order to get results with this method.