There are many effective ways to remove your lawn, but choosing the proper method for your site will depend on a close analysis of what type of turfgrass you have, which will most likely be mix of perennial grasses and the inevitable presence of different weed species. The best way to identify what you will be working with (or against) is to dig out a sample and take it to a landscape professional (nursery, contractor, CNPS plant sale) to help ID your sample.
Perennial grasses and weeds that are particularly difficult to eliminate: Bermuda grass, kikuyu grass, St. Augustine grass, nut sedges, bindweed, and Bermuda buttercup. The presence or absence of these will help determine which of the following methods or combination will work best.
Sheet mulching minimizes weeds, improves soil structure, increases plant health, eliminates gas emissions, produces zero green waste
Pros: Simple and effective. Minimizes weeds, improves soil structure, increases plant health, no gas emissions, no hauling of green waste. Can be done anytime of the year.
Cons: Requires advance planning and can be time-consuming.
Sheet mulching is a layering system that removes your lawn, creates a weed barrier, and fortifies your existing soil all without having to haul material off to the landfill. The layers consist of an organic weed barrier, compost (optional) and a thick layer of mulch (4” thick). It can be done any time of the year, but optimal effectiveness is achieved when the lawn is actively growing.
Pros: Relatively quick and effective. Sterilizes top 1 – 1 ½ “of soil so several years of weed seed bank destroyed.
Cons: Kills beneficial soil life, and does not work well in cool climates – needs direct sunlight in order to raise temperature. Takes several months with plastic covered yard. Not effective at eliminating burr clover, vetch, sweet clover, nut sedges, Bermuda grass, or bindweed.
Heating the soil by covering it with a clear plastic tarp for 4 to 6 weeks during a hot period of the year. The plastic sheets allow the sun’s radiant energy to be trapped in the soil, heating the top 12 to 18 inches and killing a wide range of soilborne pests, such as weeds, pathogens, nematodes, and insects.
Pros: Inexpensive and environmentally friendly. Great physical activity.
Cons: May take a long time. Disturbs soil, and may remove important top soil and biology.
Using a flat-end shovel to dig out strips three to four inches deep.
Kick Sod Cutter
Pros: Clean and easy
Cons: Cut sod and soil will need to be disposed of. Disturbs soils, and removes important top soil and biology.
A mechanized version of “Physical Removal” described above. Instead of using s shovel, you can buy an inexpensive tool, like a plow, to help speed the process. A kick sod cutter has two long handles anchored with a cross bar. There’s a roller and a flat blade at ground level, and you can adjust the level of the blade to one that works best with your project. You use the cutter by kicking the cross bar to move it along as you cut. You can use this type of cutter to remove long, narrow strips of sod you can roll up and remove.
Motorized Sod Cutter
Pros: Clean and easy
Cons: Mechanical petrochemical based engines. Cut sod and soil will need to be disposed of. Disturbs soils, and removes important top soil and biology.
If you plan to remove a large area of sod, you may be able to rent a mechanical sod cutter at a local tool supply house. It requires some strength and control to run, and you may want to hire a professional if your turf area is large enough to warrant its use. If you want to do the job yourself, each motorized cutter comes with its own operation manual that contains specific directions for using that machine. So, always read those directions before you begin.
Pros: Retains organic matter. Is quicker and easier than digging. Planting can begin immediately.
Cons: Heavy soil disturbance. May make certain grasses worse, such as Bermuda grass. Is difficult on rocky sites and in wet or clay soils. Turns up weed seeds, and propagates certain weeds.
Plowing the soil with a mechanized device, which can be rented for short terms. The soil is turned over in place, and theoretically this kills grass because it tears up the underground stems of rhizomatous plants like Bermuda grass, nut sedge, and Oxalis. But in general practice, this method promotes and spreads these very plants. It may, in the short term, alleviate soil compaction of the surface layer, but it also negatively affects the soil biology. Soil stays in place and can be mounded. Breaking up sod with a tiller requires strength and persistence, especially in clay and heavily compacted or rocky soils.
Pros: May be necessary for removal of certain grass species, such as Bermuda or kikuyu grass.
Cons: Kills soil biology. Has negative, long-lasting effects on our wildlife, watersheds, and oceans.
Generally not recommended. Herbicides have long-term consequences: killing soil biology, indiscriminate downstream effects from runoff, and an over-reliance on man-made chemicals that negates the healthful benefits your native plant garden is meant to create.
Although other options should be considered before choosing this option, in some cases, such as the presence of Kikuyu or Bermuda grass, this may be the only feasible option. Carefully monitor the site the first year or two and pull every stem that appears.
Latest news and stories
Tish learned from CNPS how to replace a hillside with 30 year-old ice plant to a flourishing native plant garden. She loves all the birds that now visit her garden.
This gardener has spent the last few years learning what plants truly grow best in his area. See his garden's beautiful transformation since 2014.
Patricia's native plant garden is a wild escape featuring a waterway and a diversity of habitats that attract a variety of wildlife.