Methods for Removing Lawn

Start converting empty, useless lawns into spaces that’ll help restore native animal communities and gardens by using these methods for lawn removal.

| May 2019


Some methods for removing lawn are more climate-wise than others; anything that minimizes soil disruption and doesn't burn fuels has a smaller carbon footprint. Options include:

Stop Mowing, Fertilizing, and Watering

In some drier climates, the turfgrass will die on its own when all its artificial support is removed. In more diverse lawns, some plants may survive and (unless they are known invasives for the region) you should let them grow. Add other native meadow plants such as attractive bunching grasses and drought-tolerant perennials or freely seeding wildflowers.

Smother the Lawn

Leaves, wood chips, or other readily available organic materials, laid over the lawn about six inches deep, will block the light, and, if left for six weeks or more, should kill most  of the plants grow­ing in the lawn. (Use a much thinner layer under trees so their roots are not damaged by lack of oxygen.) This treatment is climate-wise because there is a minimum disturbance of the soil, and the dead plants under the layers create another layer of mulch.

Solarize the Grass

Cover the lawn area to be removed with plastic sheets and weigh down the edges with bricks or rocks to keep the sheet in place for at least six weeks­ summer is the best time of year for this treatment. After removing the plastic, add a thin layer of compost (about½ inch) to revitalize the soil's ecosystem and help decompose the dead lawn.

Physically Remove Turf

This can be done manually, using cultivators, shovels, and rakes; or mechanically, using a plow, rototiller, or specialized sod-cutting machine. Manual removal is recommended for areas up to 30 feet around established trees, so their roots are not harmed too much. If the sod is removed, it could be used in a compost pile where it could be layered with dead leaves or other brown materials to build a hot compost. The advantage to this method is that it's quick-given the right tools and enough workers-and the replanting can begin right away. The disadvantage of this method is that soil disturbance will release CO2, and the use of fossil-fuel-based tools will emit CO 2 as well.

Last Resort

Apply herbicide. For some projects, particularly large ones, lawns can be eliminated with an application of a nonselective herbicide, like glyphosate. Before applying any herbicide, be sure to read and follow the instructions.

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