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Turf Grass Removal: Physically Cutting It Out
This week we tackle the topic of tearing out turf (a.k.a., grass)! There are a number of options on how you can remove grass and we’ll talk through some of the bigger considerations and tradeoffs. We picked methods that residents could do on their own, but don’t forget that you could always hire a professional and apply for rebates to offset the cost! This week we’ll talk through the quickest method of grass removal: physically cutting it out. Physically removing turf grass gets the job done quickly, but it doesn’t work for all grass types.
Identify your grass type to see if physical removal will be successful.
Persistent perennial grass, like Bermuda grass, has roots that go down several feet into the soil. Because it only takes an inch of root for grass to grow back, physically removing the top few inches won’t cut it and you’ll have to rely on slower techniques (like covering the turf from sunlight) that we’ll talk about next week. To identify other grass types, check out this article.
Identify your target turf grass to remove.
If cutting out turf grass is an option, next identify the area of grass you want to remove. A large span of turf grass is going to be a lot of work and you’ll want to either hire a professional or rent machines to do the bulk of the work. If you decide to tackle a small patch of turf grass first, you can try manual alternatives such as using a flat shovel. Even if the patch is small, your job will be a lot easier with a sod lifter (more on that below).
Identify the right tool for the job.
At many home improvement stores, you can rent a sod cutter and get help understanding how to safely and effectively operate it. A sod cutter cuts the lawn into easily movable strips that can be rolled up and moved to compost.
You can do the same thing as a sod cutter with a flat shovel, but it requires quite a bit more effort. The shovel method might be a good test for key overwatering zones, or narrow strips of grass between a sidewalk and the curb. These areas tend to be small, straight, and more manageable for turf removal.
Here’s a great tip from one of our experts:
I removed turf myself from both parkways and my whole front yard and it is sooo much easier with a sod lifter.
First, my “sooo” is catching on. Second, what is a sod lifter? A sod lifter a sort of modified spade designed for removing sod. Every job is easier with the right tool! They aren’t the most common tool so they are easier to find on the internet (search for “sod lifter” and you can’t go wrong) than in home improvement stores.
Get down to work removing turf grass.
You’ll want to remove the top few inches of the turf using either the sod cutter or the flat shovel method. Flip the turf upside down to expose the roots and move it somewhere you are willing to let it decompose and turn back into healthy soil. Cover the turf with a layer of newspaper (4-6 overlapping sheets), a few inches of compost, and a few inches of mulch to top it off. A few months later, your former turf grass will be great soil.
If you’re interested, you can heap your removed grass into a mound to incorporate terrain into your landscape. The turf will take a little while longer to breakdown on the inside of the mound, but your landscape will have rolling hills.
The space where you removed the grass will be a few inches lower than the surrounding area. You can fill it with new soil or mulch and plant it with California Friendly plants and rock gardens. Alternatively, you could fill it with the turf grass you just removed! Flip the turf, cover with newspaper, add compost, and top with mulch as above. For a few months, you’ll have a mulch covered mound, but by early fall you’ll have great, weed-free soil ready for California Friendly plants. Either way, you won’t have to worry about trying to aim sprinklers at that patch of grass ever again!
If you’re inspired, send me a note and let me know how it goes! I’m always happy to hear from my gneighbors and can even help fill out rebates to make sure you get the best bang for your buck!
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