How to remove a lawn

Ready to save water and get rid of your grass? Here’s how to get it done right

Johanna Silver

Whether you’re looking to grow a front-yard farm, a native plant oasis, or a meadow of ornamental grasses, a whole new world awaits you—just as soon as you figure out how to remove that thirsty, chemical-dependent lawn. “Anytime is the right time to get rid of your lawn,” says Kathy Kramer, coordinator of Bringing Back the Natives Garden Tour (http://www.bringingbackthenatives.net/), an organization that helps homeowners remove lawns in California’s Contra Costa and Alameda counties. While you might have heard of using plastic sheets to smother lawn, this process kills the soil biology—not a great start for a new garden. Instead, try one of these two methods:

Sheet mulch it: This method is best if you have a less-invasive grass and not a pernicious variety such as crabgrass or Bermuda grass. It involves smothering the lawn with layers of cardboard, compost, and mulch, which eventually decompose into a well-amended soil, perfect for planting.

Put down several 2 to 3 layers of cardboard. You can buy it in rolls or use old boxes. Rolled cardboard is thin—easily punctured by a wheelbarrow tire—but very manageable for larger expanses. The other option is to recycle old boxes. Be sure to remove any tape or staples. Bicycle and furniture shops are great places to check for discards. “No matter how much you think you’ll need, you’ll need more,” says Kramer.

Prevent sprouts two ways: Whichever type of cardboard you use, with either rolls overlap the layers 6–8 inches. Also, create a trench 3-inches wide and deep wherever grass meets concrete, such as driveways.

Next, top with a 2-inch layer of compost, followed by a 4-inch layer of woodchips. It might be useful to work in small sections to prevent the cardboard from blowing away. 

Wait 6 months—“The perfect amount of time to plan your new garden,” says Kramer—and then plant. 

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