4 Ways to Remove Lawn Grass

A lawn where grass has been removed

Everyone loves a manicured lawn, but you’d rather your yard give more pièce de résistance than uniformity. Save the manicuring for your fingers and toes, and give your classic landscape look the low-maintenance, eco-friendly upgrade you’ve been dreaming of. But how exactly do you get rid of your lawn? We’ve rounded up a list of four ways to remove lawn grass.

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Whether it’s installing an in-ground garden bed, laying down gravel landscape features, or putting in a pond surrounded by native plants, you’ll need to remove your turf grass first by physical removal, solarization, sheet mulching, or herbicide. Let’s take a look.

4 Ways to Remove Grass From Your Lawn

1. Dig it up the old-fashioned way

A person removing grass from his/her lawn
Photo Credit: Shutterstock

But before digging, call 811 to reach utility marking services so you don’t accidentally take out the electricity, cable, internet, natural gas, or water lines while you DIY. Once you know where you can and cannot dig, select your tool of choice: 

  • Shovel 
  • Sod cutter 
  • Rototiller

For the most economical and eco-friendly route, the shovel is your best bet. After dampening the area where you’d like to dig, use the shovel to create strips to remove. Once you’ve edged out a strip, lift that strip out of the ground, being careful not to take too much topsoil with it–– 1 to 2 inches of soil is enough, along with all the grass roots. 

Sod cutters perform the same function as a shovel but can cut out larger strips at a time. They can also be super heavy (they weigh about 300 pounds), costly, and not very user- nor environmentally-friendly (they typically run on gas). Sod cutters can also remove more topsoil than necessary, so you may need to scrape off any excess from your strips.

Rather than removing swaths of grass at a time, a rototiller churns soil and grass together, and it’s best for use on small sections of land. Unlike a shovel or sod cutter, though, you’ll need to re-level the area the tiller jumbled up. You’ll also need to smother the tilled area with mulch, newspaper, cardboard, or plastic to kill any grass or weed seeds in the mix.

Benefits of the dig-it-up method:

  • A shovel or sod cutter can fully remove patches of lawn neatly
  • A shovel or sod cutter maintains a flat surface
  • A shovel or sod cutter is great for large areas
  • With a rototiller, there are no grass strips to discard/no need for lugging a wheelbarrow

Disadvantages of the dig-it-up method:

  • More labor-intensive and time-consuming
  • Equipment rental can be costly; not eco-friendly
  • Rototillers can disturb the soil too much/help spread grass and weed seeds
  • Could possibly remove too much topsoil along with grass

Details: As with any method of turf grass removal, you’ll need to section off the area where you want your grass removed first. If going with a shovel or sod cutter, place all cut-out strips into a wheelbarrow, so you can easily relocate the strips to the trash or your compost bin.

Cost: Depending on the method you pick, the cost can vary greatly. If you already own a shovel and wheelbarrow, there’ll be no cost to you. Otherwise:

  • Shovels run between $20 and $65
  • Wheelbarrows range between $75 and $200
  • Full-day sod cutter rental is about $115
  • Full-day rototiller rental is between $45 and $160

2. Harness the sun’s power with solarization

Not all that into manual labor but want the same turf removal results? Solarization works when clear plastic or black plastic sheets (which can be found at a garden center near you) are laid across your lawn, heating the soil so much it kills the grass underneath. 

Benefits of solarization:

  • Heat also reduces pathogens in the soil
  • Not labor-intensive
  • Relies on natural energy from the sun

Disadvantages of solarization:

  • Eliminates everything, including soil nutrients
  • Doesn’t work on certain clovers, weeds, or Bermudagrass
  • Takes away from curb appeal
  • Can take several months to complete
  • Doesn’t work well in cooler climates

Details: Best for use during the summer, solarization can take a few weeks to several months to finish; you’ll know the process is done when there’s dead grass underneath the plastic sheets. 

Cost: Expect to pay between $30 and $40 for a small area and $130 to $170 for a larger area.

3. Smother grass via lasagna composting

Lasagna composting
Photo Credit: naturalflow / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

Lasagna composting, aka sheet mulching, is a method of grass removal that can be set up in an afternoon but requires several months for the full process to complete on its own. During the warm summer months, the higher temperatures and layers on layers (get it, “lasagna”?) of organic matter can help move the composting along. You can also begin this process in the fall and spring.

Benefits of lasagna composting:

  • Not labor-intensive
  • Easy to DIY
  • Good for small and large areas
  • Inexpensive

Disadvantages of lasagna composting:

  • Applying the layers can be time-consuming 
  • The process takes several weeks

Details: Check out the step-by-step how-to on sheet mulching below.

  1. Gather supplies, mark any sprinkler heads, and edge around any hardscaping.
  2. Mow the area, and then water it.
  3. Overlap with clean cardboard or layers of newspaper.
  4. Top the cardboard or newspaper with a layer of compost.
  5. Cover the compost with organic material like shredded bark, grass clippings, or leaves.
  6. Water periodically; you don’t want the area to dry out.
  7. Wait a few months for the cardboard, newspaper, and other matter to fully decompose. Then, you’re ready to plant your new flower or vegetable garden.

Cost: To save money, use your own compost and recycled newspaper or cardboard. You can also get cardboard from grocery stores for free. If you need to purchase organic matter, like mulch, for instance, that can run you between $17 and $68 per cubic yard. One cubic yard of mulch typically covers 108 to 324 square feet of space, depending on how many inches of layering you use.

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4. Kill grass with herbicides like glyphosate

Odds are, if you’re choosing to remove your grass in favor of a more environmentally friendly lawn alternative, you’re not going to want to use a chemical to do it. Plus, this option is not ideal for large areas, anyway–– it can get super expensive and time-consuming. That being said, if you’re only looking to clear a small portion of grass, and you do opt for this route, use glyphosate (commonly known as Roundup). 

Benefits of herbicide:

  • Won’t last in the soil for years, continuously killing plants
  • Low toxicity to humans
  • Binds well to the soil, preventing leakage into the local water supply
  • Not labor-intensive

Disadvantages of herbicide:

  • Eliminates nutrients in the soil
  • Nonselective, so it kills all plants
  • Leaks can negatively affect land and water ecosystems
  • Low toxicity doesn’t mean zero toxicity; it can irritate skin and cause other illnesses if not used properly

Details: This nonselective herbicide is highly poisonous to most plants and grasses, but its toxicity to humans is pretty low. Additionally, there won’t be as much concern about glyphosate seeping into your water supply because the chemical clings so well to the soil, being broken down by soil bacteria in as little as a few days and as much as six months.

Cost: Prices vary depending on the size of the area and the amount of glyphosate needed. For a large area, plan to spend a few hundred dollars; a small area may only cost around $20 to $40.

Why Would Homeowners Want to Remove Their Lawn Grass?

The history of the front lawn as we know it is an interesting one that dates back to 17th-century England. Basically, these large bowling greens were created in the front or back of a property to show off a person’s wealth. That idea was brought to America in Colonial times, and a variation of it still exists today.

But now, ecologists are recommending homeowners transform parts of their lawns into more natural areas to better support biodiversity and save many species of plants, animals, and insects from extinction. (Plus, mowing can be a chore, and the less grass you have, the less water you need to keep it alive.)

FAQ About Removing Grass

Is removing grass really necessary?

It depends. If you’re preparing to plant an in-ground flower or vegetable garden, or you’re looking to install a water feature, your best bet is to remove grass first. Getting rid of grass prior to starting such a project ensures no grass or weed seeds break through your garden or water feature. 

On the other hand, lawn removal is something you can probably skip if you’re aiming to build raised garden beds, a deck, or a paved walkway. The assembly of each will smother the grass on its own.

Do homeowners need approval from an HOA to remove grass?

If your neighborhood has a Homeowners Association, it’s always a good idea to check with them before making any changes to your current landscaping. Forgetting that step may cause you to inadvertently be out of compliance with your HOA, potentially leading to fines and other consequences.

What are some other post-lawn removal landscaping ideas?

Besides a new garden or water feature, you may want to consider the following:

xeriscaping (a drought-tolerant type of landscaping)
ground cover lawn replacement
rock garden
artificial turf (for a no-mow grass alternative)

When to Hire a Professional

Removing grass is a pretty simple DIY job and is definitely worth it if the area isn’t overwhelmingly large. However, if you would like to remove a sizable amount of turf grass, consider hiring a landscaping pro.

Hesitant to part ways with your grass but can’t bear the time spent mowing? Maybe grass removal isn’t what you need, but instead, a lawn care professional who can do the lawn chores for you. 

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Main Image Credit: Pxhere

Andréa Butler

Andréa Butler

Andréa Butler is a writer and editor who loves crafting witty turns of phrase and informative, compelling copy on various topics. She especially enjoys sharing her knowledge of landscaping and pest management to help others create the outdoor spaces of their dreams.