4 Ways To Kill Your Lawn

Smother the lawn Smother the lawn

Everyday I read about the benefits of killing your lawn and converting turf to a more drought tolerant landscape.  However, even my friends  who claim to have no green thumb at all still have a hard time killing turf.  So if you are ready to channel your inner Norman Bates and kill your lawn,  this post provides four ways to help you.  Just remember it might resist more than you expect, and what we need is turf reduction not turf elimination.  Reduction will be much more palatable to most property owners.

The Easy Way Out – Poison

Killing your existing lawn by applying a nonselective herbicide, such as glyphosate,  (trade name Roundup) over the entire area is one of the easiest methods. Glyphosate is a post-emergence herbicide that effectively kills turf and weeds in the turf. Glyphosate spreads rapidly in actively growing plants. For best results spray your turf when your lawn is actively growing. Do not water after treatment, the grass will absorb the herbicide rapidly.  Depending on the type of turf you have it may take up to a week after the application for the grass to show signs of dying.  Temperature plays a role as well and it might take as long as two weeks for the entire lawn to die.  In some areas you may have to repeat the application.

Smother the Lawn

One of the best ways to smother a lawn is the sheet composting method or what I like to call making lawn lasagna.  Mom did not teach me this recipe.  I like to make a four layer lasagna.  The first layer is nitrogen for the soil.  This can be in the form of grass clippings or manure or a nitrogen rich organic fertilizer. We are removing turf, but we also want to replace the turf with a vibrant drought tolerant landscape so we want to start with fertilizer.  The next layer needed is a  weed barrier.  Cardboard works great as a weed barrier and so does layers of newspaper.  This weed barrier has to be thick because so you might have to use many  layers of newspaper if you select this method. The next layer ideally should be a good growing medium, a layer of compost, or manure would be great. You can also use leaves or garden trimmings.  The key here is to make sure what you are using is weed free.  Otherwise those weeds (grass) are going to grow in your new yard. Finally the last layer should be a layer of mulch.   This will be aesthetically pleasing and help keep your bed from blowing away.  Roots from your new plantings will be able to work through the cardboard or newspaper to find nutrients and water.

The Hatchet Job

Another effective albeit labor intensive way to remove turf is to dig it out.  You can attempt this yourself or hire a crew, either way the labor is tough, but you will see the results almost immediately.  Do this process in the winter when the temperatures are lower make this much easier.  You can use a shovel or fork for the removal. I recommend cutting the turf into workable strips and slide the shovel or spade under the turf cutting through the roots and pry the turf up from the soil.  You will have workable strips you can roll up and remove.  Unfortunately you will be removing a lot of soil nutrients with the turf, but just think how much you will save on a gym membership.

Hire Muscle

In this case the muscle is in the form of a mechanical sod cutter.  These can be rented at places like Home Depot for less than $100 a day.  You will probably need to rent ramps and have a truck to transport it.  Using the sod cutter is a lot like mowing the grass except you are going to stop every few feet and roll and remove the strips the cutter has made.

Finally, remember to make changes to your irrigation.  The time to do this is right after you kill the turf.  Most turf areas are irrigated with sprays and this  is the ideal time to change those sprays to drip or something else much more water efficient than sprays.  I am sure you have other effective methods as well and I look forward to hearing your best practices for removing turf.

Many thanks to Seth Van Der Linden, currently a student at Cal Poly Pomona in Landscape Architecture with minors in irrigation and regenerative studies, and irrigation intern at ValleyCrest in our Oceanside Branch.  Seth supplied much of the research for this article and is headed back to school soon.  We hope he enjoyed his internship as much as we enjoyed working with him this summer.

Learn More About Richard Restuccia.

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Richard Restuccia

Richard Restuccia is a water management evangelist. He believes passionately in water efficiency and sees the financial and social benefits far too often to keep a secret. Richard is a spokesperson at industry events and on the Hill to provide direction and insight on landscape water management best practices. Richard puts his words into action through service on various boards and committees. Currently he serves on the Irrigation Association’s Board of Directors. As a board member, Richard serves in a variety of capacities, including government/public affairs. He is the liaison between the board and its marketing committee on the best ways to promote water efficiency and educate industry professionals on new technologies, products and services. Richard is also a regular contributor to Lawn & Landscape Magazine.


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  1. Tuesday, 4:10 Mike

    We killed part of our lawn this spring…using the muscle method. Whew! I wish we’d have read this then. Thanks. Oh, by the way, why no fb link?

  2. Wednesday, 3:56 Richard

    Hi Mike, thanks for the comments. That is truly hard work. I’m not sure what you mean by no FB link? Let me know. Thanks Richard

  3. Tuesday, 3:02 Rob Anthony

    I am a turf lover, and although I understand the need to do whatever we can to conserve water, I hate the trend to reduce turfgrass. It has so many environmentally positives that removing it is not a big benefit as far as I am concerned.
    Lastly, please do not use the word “poison” when referring to Round-up or generic glyphosate! Poison, and chemical, have become negative words in our business and it certainly does, not apply to an extremely safe, and non-poisonous, total vegetative killer like Round-up. That word is totally inappropriate and only serves to unnecessarily scare the average person who has little knowledge of the products we use daily in our business.

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