Whether your yard has been overrun with pesky weeds or you’ve simply decided that it’s time to change the type of turfgrass in your lawn, there comes a point when you need to know how to remove grass.
Discover the pros and cons of each grass removal method so that you can decide which option is best for your yard based on how much time, money, and sweat you can devote to your lawn.
Before you remove your grass
Removing grass can be an intensive project, so before you get started, there are some things you should do to make sure you stay safe and avoid any unfortunate mishaps along the way, including:
- Flag your sprinklers to prevent accidental damage. You may want to reuse your sprinkler heads for your new lawn, or you can convert existing sprinkler locations to a drip irrigation system for a more eco-friendly landscape.
- Call 811 at least three days before you dig so a team can come out and mark underground utility lines. You don’t want to accidentally cut off your (or your neighbor’s) internet!
- Check your homeowner’s association and city government regulations to see if there are any restrictions on turf removal practices.
4 ways to remove your grass
For quick and relatively easy grass removal, herbicide or sod-cutting will do the job. However these methods can be expensive and harsh on the environment, and they often require tilling and weed-killing.
If you want to save money and protect your local ecosystem, sheet mulching or solarization will get rid of your grass without chemicals or heavy-duty equipment. However, the process will be slower and more involved.
Best if: You’re in a hurry and don’t want to sweat it out in your yard.
Although it isn’t the most eco-friendly option, a non-selective, post-emergent broadleaf herbicide is a quick, easy way to kill grass. Simply spread herbicide on the grassy area you want to get rid of and wait about a month. Then reapply if needed.
Buy an herbicide with glyphosate as the active ingredient. These herbicides have fewer residual effects than other herbicides (though they’re also more expensive). They are less likely to impact non-target plants, contaminate groundwater, or harm beneficial insects.
The easiest way to apply herbicide is to buy a pre-mixed variety and apply it to your lawn according to the label’s instructions. Premixed herbicides are more expensive, but they mean you won’t have to put on your chemist’s coat.
For a cheap herbicide application, choose concentrates and mix them yourself before spreading the solution over your lawn. This is a money-saving solution for larger lawns.
Avoid “extended control” or “season-long” herbicides like the plague. Their residue will kill anything (including your new grass seed) that tries to grow for four months after the initial application.
How to apply herbicide to kill your grass:
- Water your lawn for two weeks, and let your grass grow to a height of 6 inches.
- Spray your unmowed lawn with herbicide. Wear protective clothes, gloves, glasses, and a mask when applying it.
- Wait 14 days, letting your lawn absorb the herbicide.
- Rake up dead grass and weeds.
- Mow and water the area to stimulate weed growth. This will kill off the stragglers.
- Wait 14 more days.
- If no new sprouts appear, you can begin the planting process. Use a dethatcher, sod cutter, or tiller to prepare the area.
- If your weeds are putting up a fight, reapply herbicide and repeat the process before planting.
Pro tip: Don’t apply herbicide if rain is expected in the next 48 hours. The herbicide-filled runoff will wash into local streams and rivers, so your grass won’t die but friendly neighborhood fish might.
Pros of herbicide
✓ Fast grass removal method.
✓ Easy and effective.
✓ Not as labor-intensive as other methods.
✓ Good for killing resilient grasses like Bermuda and Kikuyu.
Cons of herbicide
✗ Herbicide chemicals can harm the environment and local aquatic ecosystems.
✗ You still need to dethatch or dig up your lawn after killing your grass (though it’s easier to remove dead grass than live grass) because weed seeds in the soil continue to germinate.
✗ Herbicides and residual chemicals damage soil biology, which can lead to long-term growth problems.
✗ You may have to apply multiple rounds of herbicide if your grass is well-established. Your 28-day project could turn into a 54-day one.
✗ Wind can blow herbicides into gardens and neighboring lawns, killing grass and plants.
Although herbicides are effective grass killers, it’s recommended that you avoid using herbicides as much as possible. They are not eco-friendly, so only use them as a last resort in situations where herbicides are the only way to effectively get rid of the grass in your yard.
How much does herbicide grass removal cost?
The cost of an herbicide treatment for your yard will depend on how large your lawn is. But on average, an herbicide application will cost $60 to $120. Keep in mind that it might require multiple applications to fully rid your yard of grass.
2. The dig-it-up method
Best if: You’re in a hurry but you want to keep your lawn chemical-free (and you’re not afraid to break a sweat).
You can dig up your lawn manually with a flat shovel or mechanically using a motorized sod cutter or rototiller. If you have a small lawn, strong arm muscles, and a free afternoon, a shovel may suffice.
For larger lawns, a motorized sod cutter or tiller is the way to go. You can rent one for a few hours or a full day from your local home improvement store.
How to dig up your lawn using a shovel
- Mow your grass on the lowest mower setting to scalp your lawn.
- Water your grass so the soil and grass are easy to work with. Then wait two or three days before moving to the next step.
- Use a spade or edger to cut your turf into long strips 4 inches deep.
- Dig with your shovel at one end of the strip, sliding your shovel underneath the sod and cutting grass at the roots.
- Water again, so that the remaining weeds raise their heads.
- Monitor the area. In one to two weeks, dig up weeds that have reappeared.
How to dig up your lawn using a sod cutter
If using a sod cutter, follow steps one and two above, then move your motorized sod cutter across your lawn. Turn around at the end of each cutting pass like you would with a lawn mower. With a sod cutter, you cut the lawn into strips and then remove the strips.
- To operate a sod cutter, turn it on and then slowly push it over the section of lawn that you want to remove.
- Your sod cutter will create 12- to 18-inch-wide sections of sod.
- Roll up each section and either compost it in another location or lay it over your lawn, grass-side-down, to return nutrients to the soil.
- Spread a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost over the grass-side-down sod.
- Once the sod has died and turned completely brown, till the soil with a rototiller (or hoe for smaller areas) to mix sod soil into your yard.
Pro tip: Motorized sod cutters can be difficult to maneuver and they shake as they move. If you’re not sure about handling heavy-duty lawn equipment, it may be better to let a lawn care pro do the sod-cutting for you.
How to dig up your lawn using a rototiller
If using a rototiller, follow steps one and two, and then use your rototiller to dig down 5 to 6 inches into the soil.
A tiller is like a high-speed blender for your lawn: The gas-powered machine churns up grass and topsoil, so all you need to do is keep a firm grip on the handlebars and move across your lawn.
- Give your lawn at least two passes with the rototiller, overlapping each pass.
- Spread an inch of compost and till it into the soil.
Pro tip: Watch out for big rocks, as they can seriously damage a rototiller. Before you start tearing up your grass lawn, check the area for rocks and remove any large stones you see in the yard space. This step will help prevent your tiller from being damaged.
Pros of the dig-it-up method
✓ It’s the quickest method to remove grass: It only takes a day.
✓ No herbicide is required except for persistent weeds.
✓ Decomposing sod returns nutrients to the soil.
✓ Inexpensive if using a shovel.
Cons of the dig-it-up method
✗ Not effective for deep-rooted grass like Bermuda or weeds like nutsedge, dallisgrass, or bindweed (which require herbicide and several months of monitoring).
✗ Shovels and sod cutters can damage tree roots.
✗ Very labor-intensive.
✗ If you live in a warmer climate, it can take up to six months to make sure that weeds won’t return. In the meantime, you’ll have to hand-pull persistent growers (or use herbicide).
✗ You’re removing valuable, nutrient-rich topsoil. Bare soil requires an application of compost or planting mix before grass can grow.
✗ Frequent tilling accelerates soil erosion and runoff.
✗ Renting rototillers can be expensive.
✗ Motorized sod cutters and tillers require gas, which is an added financial and environmental expense.
How much does the dig-it-up method cost?
Cost varies depending on the type of equipment you need to remove your grass:
- A shovel typically costs $20 to $65.
- Renting a sod cutter for one full day costs about $90 to $115. Renting a sod cutter for 4 hours will cost about $60 to $75.
- Renting a rototiller for one full day costs between $45 to $160.
Best if: You live in a sunny, warm region like California and have at least four weeks to wait.
Solarization is the process of cooking your grass until it dies, using the sun’s rays as your heat source and clear plastic as a steam oven.
It sounds a bit medieval, but solarization is effective and relatively fast. It also means you won’t have to worry about weeds for a long time. You just need clear plastic sheeting and something heavy (like bricks, rocks, or soil) to anchor it down.
How to solarize
- Mow your lawn on the lowest lawn mower setting to scalp it.
- Water your lawn thoroughly.
- Cover your lawn with clear plastic sheeting (1 to 4 mil painter’s plastic) and anchor it down with soil or rocks.
- Leave your lawn covered for four to eight weeks, depending on how hot and sunny your location is. The hotter and sunnier it is, the less time your lawn needs.
- Remove plastic sheeting when the grass underneath is dead.
- Voila! You’re ready for a new lawn.
If you live in a cooler or coastal climate, you can use black plastic instead of clear plastic to block sunlight and prevent photosynthesis. This process, known as “light exclusion,” is best for areas that don’t get hot enough for clear plastic.
Pro tip: If plastic sheeting rips, use clear packing tape or duct tape to patch the holes.
Pros of solarization:
✓ Quicker than sheet mulching.
✓ It’s not labor intensive since there is no tilling involved: You can (and should) plant right into your freshly solarized lawn. Disturbing the soil can bring weed seeds to the surface.
✓ Speeds up the breakdown of organic matter improving soil structure so plants have more nutrients such as nitrogen, calcium, and potassium.
✓ Destroys several years’ worth of weed seeds beneath the soil surface.
✓ Plants grow faster with higher yields after solarization.
✓ Steam produced from solarization sterilizes your soil, killing weed seeds, pathogens, fungi, and insect eggs.
Cons of solarization:
✗ Covering a large area takes time, labor, and a lot of plastic.
✗ It needs direct sunlight (six to eight hours per day) and warm weather to work.
✗ Takes a couple of months of treatment, meaning you will have to keep a plastic-covered yard for multiple months.
✗ Kills beneficial bacteria and insects.
✗ Cloudy, cool weather slows down the process.
✗ You must remove the plastic at the end, which can be time-consuming.
✗ Doesn’t work for all plants: Often won’t kill clover, vetch, nutsedge, bermudagrass, or bindweed.
✗ The area cannot be walked on while it is being treated.
How much does the lawn solarization process cost?
A clear plastic sheet costs about $10 per square foot.
4. Sheet mulching
Best if: You want nutrient-rich, herbicide-free soil and have at least five months to spare.
Don’t cover your lawn with your best bed linens! Despite its name, sheet mulching, also called lasagna gardening, is actually a sustainable technique of smothering grass and weeds by layering paper, cardboard, and other organic materials over your existing lawn.
By covering your grass with cardboard or newspaper, you deprive your grass of sunlight. When your grass isn’t able to receive enough exposure to sun and fresh air, the smothered grass eventually suffocates and dies off.
Sheet mulching gives your lawn a feast of nutrients, leaving the soil ripe for growing fresh grass or a new garden. You’ll just need a wheelbarrow, a shovel, and lots of compost.
How to sheet mulch
- Mow your lawn on the lowest setting to scalp it.
- Hand-pull tough weeds (like blackberry, thistle, and bindweed).
- If needed, aerate the soil with a garden fork.
- Add a light, 1-inch layer of compost.
- Water your lawn.
- Spread a layer of newspaper (8-10 sheets) or cardboard (1-3 layers) over the grass.
- Add a 2- to 3-inch layer of compost on top. The top layer should be a 3- to 4-inch layer placed over the cardboard layer.
- Water, weed, and wait for organic materials to decompose.
This process can take a very long time. It can even take up to 6 months to break down in dry climates.
Pros of sheet mulching
✓ Improves soil structure and builds organic matter.
✓ No heavy-duty equipment required.
✓ Easy DIY project.
✓ Sustainable and eco-friendly
✓ Can be done in a large or small space.
✓ Recycles readily available materials like grass clippings (which you probably already have).
✓ No herbicides required.
✓ Increases soil moisture and water retention.
✓ Excellent for establishing a xeriscape.
✓ Affordable and inexpensive removal method.
✓ Avoids disturbing the soil.
Cons of sheet mulching
✗ Requires patience and planning.
✗ Takes at least five months for organic materials to decompose.
✗ Does not work well on slopes.
✗ Requires a lot of organic material, which can be costly if you’re not using your own.
✗ A more involved process than cutting sod or spraying herbicide.
✗ Some weeds still emerge and require hand weeding.
✗ The process often needs to be repeated in weed-prone patches.
✗ It can be a time-consuming task to set up so many layers around your yard.
How much does sheet mulching cost?
You can usually find newspapers and cardboard around your house. Standard cardboard moving boxes cost $1 to $4. However, you might be able to find cardboard for free at local stores.
Mulch costs about $45 to $130 per cubic yard. Depending on how thick you layer the mulch, a cubic yard of mulch usually covers approximately 108 to 324 square feet. Keep in mind that thick layers of mulch will cost more.
When to remove your grass
Dig up your lawn in the spring or summer, when grass is actively growing.
Solarize in the summer, when days are hot and sunny.
Sheet mulch in the fall to give your organic material the entire winter to decompose. That way, your yard will be fresh for spring planting.
Reasons to remove your grass lawn
Normally, removing your entire lawn isn’t something you are going to do. After all, the whole idea behind lawn maintenance is to keep your grass as happy and healthy as possible.
However, there may come a time when your lawn needs to be completely regrown, which requires removing your old lawn first. Some instances where lawn removal is necessary include:
- Weeds have overrun your yard. Removing your grass sounds drastic, but it can kill off many years of weed seeds and give your new plants a healthy start without competition from aggressive older plants. It prevents weed barriers from sprouting up in your lawn.
- There are many bare patches on your lawn. If bare spots are speckling areas that were once lush and green, it may be time to start your yard from scratch.
- Homeowners want to reduce lawn maintenance. Many homeowners replace their grass lawns with native plants, garden beds, or drought-friendly xeriscapes. Depending on where you live, you can even get a rebate for xeriscaping your lawn.
- You want to add a flower bed or hardscape. If you’re preparing for a yard upgrade and installing a hardscape such as a patio or expanding your landscaping to include a vegetable garden, you need to know how to remove grass.
What to do after you remove your grass
Once you’ve bid your grass adieu (or said “good riddance!”), it’s time to get your lawn healthy and thriving so you can overseed new grass or add new plants to your landscape.
- Test your soil quality and amend it based on the results, so new plants can get the nutrients they need. A soil test gives you a full profile of your soil’s pH level, organic matter, and salinity. Call a local cooperative extension office to find soil testing near you.
- Even out your lawn. Fill in that frustrating low spot where water always pools. Lower the grade on that hill so it doesn’t erode every time it rains. Now is the time to give your landscape a drainage upgrade and resolve issues with the sloping hills in your yard.
- Weed as needed. Bare soil is a breeding ground for weeds, and you don’t want them re-emerging before you’ve planted new greenery. When you see a weed, pull it out. Also, search for weed roots or any signs that weeds might sprout up again in your yard.
- Get rid of pests. Check the bare earth for larvae and insect intruders, and apply synthetic or organic pesticides as needed.
FAQ about removing your grass lawn
Where can I find mulch for sheet mulching?
You can find high-quality wood mulch at garden centers. There are also plenty of resources to obtain free mulch, including neighborhood arborists or your local parks service.
Fresh wood mulch is great for landscaping on a budget, but avoid applying it when you’re planning a vegetable or annual garden. Organic mulch ties up nitrogen at the soil surface and can cause nitrogen deficiencies in young plants.
How safe is glyphosate?
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does not consider glyphosate a health risk to humans, but some scientists and recent civil cases raise concerns about glyphosate toxicity. It’s best to wear protective clothing, glasses, and a mask when applying any synthetic herbicide.
Will vinegar kill grass?
Vinegar is an acidic liquid that can burn grass blades. However, it doesn’t target plant roots, so vinegar won’t be enough to remove your grass lawn.
Spraying regular applications of concentrated vinegar onto grass can work as a nonselective herbicide that might kill some grass), but it won’t eradicate your grass completely.
Make lawn removal a reality
Whether you’re making the switch to an eco-friendly, grass-free lawn or just want to get your yard healthy for fresh new seeds, removing grass is a practical first step.
To remove grass, you can buy herbicide, rent a sod cutter or rototiller, or get plastic sheeting from your local garden center or home improvement store. Or if you’d rather enjoy a fresh new lawn without sweating it out, call a local lawn care team to get rid of your grass in a snap.
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