Before You Get Started

When considering how to remove your lawn, you’ll find that there are a few methods that require time, money, and effort. Impacts on the environment, association and neighborhood restrictions, and budget are considerations before you get started. Make sure there are no homeowners association rules or local ordinances that could affect your plans. If you have an underground irrigation system or any kind of utilities, note the location by making an appointment by calling 811. 

Georgia 811’s comprehensive notification and education services exist to prevent utility line interruption and damage as well as personal injury before a dig begins. 

How Do I Remove an Existing Lawn?

There are three main ways of getting rid of an existing lawn without chemicals: Smothering, Digging It Up, and Solarizing. The one you use will depend on your lawn, location, and how quickly you’d like to remove your lawn. 

Removing a Lawn by Smothering

Smothering your lawn kills it and allows it to compost in place, adding organic matter back to the soil. This method is the most sustainable. 

Pros: The layers add organic matter. Use soil right after the process is completed. There is less manual labor. Best option for small areas. 

Cons: The process takes 6 to 9 months. The area may look unsightly. It’s not a good option for large areas or steep slopes. 

Start by mowing the grass closely. Cover the lawn with a minimum of six layers of black-ink newspaper or cardboard cleaned of tape and stickers (don’t use color ink because it contains heavy metals). Overlap the layers well so light doesn’t get through to the lawn. Wet the layers and cover them with at least 4 inches of grass clippings, compost, or other organic mulch. In addition to adding organic matter to the process, this material will retain moisture and hold down the layers. The newspaper, cardboard, and organic material won’t increase heat in the soil like plastic sheeting would, but will block out light and stop photosynthesis, killing the grass. 

Removing a Lawn by Digging It Up

Removing the lawn by using a tiller, sod cutter or shovel. 

Pros: Plant immediately once grass is removed. 

Cons: Using heavy equipment or a shovel is labor intensive. You may be removing organic material such as topsoil that will need to be replaced. Seeds, deep in soil, may be disturbed and germinate. Rental fees and fuel cost may not be in your budget. The process contributes to CO₂ emissions. Invasive grasses, like Bermuda, may require professional help.

Buying or renting a tiller will make the work easier, but you’ll need a heavy-duty, rear-tine model. You can rent a heavier grass-removal tool, such as a sod cutter, which will cut under the turf and slice it into strips. Roll up the strips for use elsewhere or just turn the sod upside down and let it compost. You can remove grass manually with a shovel, but the process is very labor intensive and best for small plots of grass. 

Removing a Lawn with Solarization

Solarization is a non-chemical method for controlling soil borne pests using high temperatures produced by capturing radiant energy from the sun. Solarization kills the grass by heating it until it dies. 

Pros: Not too strenuous. The process will kill pathogens or disease in soil. 

Cons: Direct sunlight and high temperatures are needed for success, so solarizing is best only in summer. You will create more plastic waste. The plastic isn’t attractive to look at for several weeks. The process kills beneficial organisms in soil. Cooler and cloudy days will slow down the process. 

Mow the grass as closely as possible and water it thoroughly. Cover the grass with clear, thick plastic sheeting and leave it covered for six to eight weeks. Thick clear plastic is more effective than opaque varieties, allowing more sunlight to reach the grass and heat it more quickly. As an alternative, you can use black plastic to trap heat in the soil. Black plastic will also block sunlight, preventing photosynthesis. Use bricks, pavers, or fabric staples to hold down the plastic. 

Once the grass is dead and you take up the plastic, remove the dead grass or let it act as compost. Dead grass should be relatively easy to remove, but you’ll be getting rid of important organic matter. If you leave the grass in place, plant directly into it or till it into the soil to a depth of 1 or 2 inches. Don’t till too deeply because you may bring up soil that still has viable roots, weed seeds and pathogens. 

After the Lawn is Removed

Now that you removed your lawn, it’s time to help our indigenous species thrive! Here are a few reasons to consider planting a native garden. 

Indigenous species planted in your garden will become established quickly and will naturally be hardy. Native plants have evolved over thousands of years and have learned to thrive in their native areas. When native plants thrive in their original environment, they create a natural habitat for wildlife that is both beneficial to the environment and adds life to your outdoor space. Also, you will be supporting disappearing pollinator populations which include birds, butterflies, moths, beetles, and bees. 

Native plants require much less watering, fertilizer, and pesticides. In fact, they can prevent water run-off and improve air quality. Because they are low maintenance, they can help decrease pollution because they eliminate the need for mowers and other equipment.