How to Remove Your Lawn

Are you ready to transform your water loving lawn into a drought resistant landscape?

You’re not alone. Many people are making the switch these days. Not only do they want to lower their water bills and conserve our dwindling water supply, but they are also rewarded with a fresh and unique new landscape filled with vibrant colors, pleasing smells, and interesting textures. Some are even lucky enough to take advantage of a lawn removal rebate (see our post on San Luis Obispo County lawn rebates for more info on that).

So how do you go about actually taking all that grass out? Well, there’s a few ways. The method you choose will depend on the circumstances.

Method 1: Excavation

If you want that lawn out quickly, your best bet is to use excavating machinery. You can use a tiller, bobcat, tractor, or sod cutter for this. When deciding what equipment to use, you’ll need to consider a few things. What type of soil do you have? If your soil is sandy, a tiller will break up the turf more easily than heavy clay soil. But if you have mesh underneath your sod, it will get bound up in the tiller blades. In this case, a sod cutter may be just the ticket. If you have a large lawn, you may want to use a bobcat or a tractor to scrape the turf off. Gather up the removed grass and compost it or take it to your nearest green waste facility.

Method 2: Solarization

This is a less labor intensive method of killing your grass, but requires waiting several weeks. First, mow the grass down as low as possible. Then you basically just cover the lawn with black plastic sheeting and wait. This passive method uses the sun’s heat to kill the grass for you. After waiting six weeks or so, uncover the now dead lawn and build your new landscape. Apply heavy mulch to keep any residual weeds from coming up. One thing to note with this method is that it has the potential to kill beneficial microorganisms in the soil. Those microorganisms are necessary for healthy soil (see our post here to learn more about that). Although we don’t think this is the most sustainable method, it could be better than using heavy machinery to rip up the lawn, depending on the situation. If you do go this route, make sure you take steps to replenish the soil afterward.

Method 3: Sheet Mulching

Why does it seem like the slowest method is always the best? As far as lawn removals go, if you have the time, sheet mulching is definitely one of the most sustainable and effective methods. First, you want to put down a thick layer of a biodegradable weed barrier such as cardboard or painter’s paper. Next, spread a thick layer of compost over the weed barrier. Finally, add a few inches of mulch over the compost. Make sure to wet every layer with a hose before adding the next layer. You’ll want to keep the whole thing moist to make sure the materials break down in a timely manner. The weed barrier, compost, and mulch will kill the lawn by not letting sunlight through and by not allowing upward growth. We recommend waiting at least a few months before planting. During this time the materials you used will start to break down, leaving you with well amended, healthy soil. If you really don’t want to wait several months to plant, it is still possible use this method by leaving out the compost layer and cutting through the cardboard to put in your plants. Keep in mind that anywhere you cut through the cardboard, it will give grass and weeds an opportunity to come up. The sheet mulching layer is good because it effectively kills the lawn while building healthy soil, leaving you with a nice fertile planting area.

Using the sheet mulching method to remove a lawn

With any of these methods, you will need to be diligent about removing any stray grass and weeds that pop up after the lawn conversion. Some grasses, such as Bermuda, spread by their roots. This can be especially problematic, since it’s difficult to remove or kill every last piece of root. You may need to use a combination of methods for these types of grasses, such as excavation and sheet mulching. Keep a close eye on your new landscape and pull up any weeds as soon as you see them.

We hope this information was helpful to you as you begin to think about taking your grass out. If you decide you would like to go ahead and have a professional do the work for you, or if you’d like help with designing your new landscape, give us a call and we’d be glad to come out and take a look. Lawn removals are one of our favorite types of projects. It’s truly rewarding to see the transition from lawn to landscape. If there is a silver lining to this drought, it’s that our neighborhoods are changing from flat expanses of unremarkable lawns, to varied and delightful landscapes that use less water and are easy to maintain. And instead of hearing the roar of lawnmowers, we see people sitting on their patios enjoying the colors, the smells, and the hummingbirds as they zip from flower to flower.

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