Grow Your Own Food Challenge: Turning Lawn Into Garden

3. Remove Sod with Heavy Equipment, Then Till

This method is a hybrid of the first two methods. Removing the sod before tilling prevents grass from growing back and allows you to plant your garden immediately.

To get started, rent a sod-cutter and a heavy-duty rototiller from a farm or hardware store. Or, if you’re planning a large bed, consider hiring a landscaper to do the sod-cutting step because rolled-up strips of sod can be extremely heavy.

Use the sod-cutter to remove the sod. If you lose a lot of topsoil during the process, you can replace it with topsoil attained from your local garden store or landscaper. Layer topsoil, compost, and any other soil amendment over the exposed ground. Next, incorporate the new topsoil and amendments into the soil with the tiller.

Although removing the sod before tilling will cut back on future weeding by preventing grass from growing back, tilling might still bring weed seeds to the surface.

Pros: Quicker and easier than digging; prevents grass from growing back; permits immediate planting.

Cons: Renting heavy equipment and replacing topsoil can be expensive; tillers don’t work well on rocky sites, in wet soil, or in clay soil; tilling propagates weeds and disrupts soil structure.

(Image courtesy of elvisripley via a Creative Commons license.)

Up Next: Smother the Sod with Lasagna

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4 thoughts on “Grow Your Own Food Challenge: Turning Lawn Into Garden”

  1. if you strip the sod properly, you really shouldn’t lose much topsoil at all. no more than an inch (if that) of the root systems, soil, etc.. should be taken. anymore than that and the sod strips are way too heavy and also very messy. if you only had an inch of topsoil in the first place, you probably live in a brand new subdivision and needed to add some more anyway.
    important note….before using a mechanized sod stripper, do a very thorough check of your garden area for bunnies that might be nesting. they will not get out of the way of the stripper and the cutting blade will kill them. hound dogs are, of course, the suggested tool for spotting these hard to see nests. if you find a nest, wait a week or so for them to grow up and leave.

  2. Hi Rachel,
    I envy that you have lots of land for your garden! I grow food at my suburban home, but we manage to have a great supply of veggies and fruit after taking out the lawn in the front and back yards.
    You may want to plant a cover crop such as red clover or alfalfa wherever you are not putting in beds, as they bring up nutrients from the soil and can be used as “green manure” to prepare your soil for the future.
    I tried sheet composting at our home this fall- knocking down weeds at the sides of our house then layering cardboard, newspaper and green material, finished with some soil on top. It is turning into a beautiful composted strip to plant in (takes a few months). This may be too difficult on large spaces, but you may want to try it in some spots- don’t have to dig!

    Happy gardening
    Urban Artichoke

    1. I assisted many years ago the head of the Tilth Society in Portland and her ecological sustainable use of newspapers and wood chips was miraculous. Lay the papers, first,then lay over the wood chips, dig into that day and plant trees, bushes, or perennials and nature does it’s work breaking down the weeds, brambles, black berries, ivy,and lawn. Who would ever want to dig all that sod up and do what with it It is full of nuturients. It will decompose by cutting it off from the sun and the hotter the area the faster this occurs. I grant you – one might would have to wait till the next year to start a vegetable garden.

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