Ask a Question forum: Getting rid of a large area of lawn

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Name: Natalie
North Central Idaho (Zone 7a)
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Natalie
Mar 23, 2014 9:10 PM CST
Hello everyone!

I am going to be removing a large area of lawn, to convert to a flower and veggie garden. My plan is to cover the area with cardboard, and then with compost. I live way too far from the nearest city that rents sod removers to go that route. I have a tiller, but I don't like the idea of tilling it up. I saw a couple of bindweed plants in the area last year, and don't want to take a chance of making a million more bindweed plants. The area is way too large to shovel the grass out by hand. So, I'm going with the cardboard and compost method. It's easy, I moved last year so I have plenty of cardboard, and it doesn't involve more work than I can handle.

I'm just wondering how long it will take for the grass to die. I have used this method before on small flower beds that I've made in the middle of lawns, but I always had a rock border, and filled the area up with dirt, so that I could plant right away. I can't haul in enough dirt for this area in order to do that. I just cut through the cardboard and plant in a few areas, but I have no idea how long it takes for the grass to actually go away! Any ideas on that?

Thanks for any help!
Natalie
Name: Deb
Pacific Northwest (Zone 8b)
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Bonehead
Mar 23, 2014 11:48 PM CST
Sounds like an ambitious project, keep us posted with pics. I'm no help with the timing, seems it will likely depend on the weather and how thickly you mulch the cardboard.
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Name: Natalie
North Central Idaho (Zone 7a)
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Natalie
Mar 24, 2014 12:21 AM CST
Thanks Deb. My DH was so nice, and put up a big fence around the area to keep the dogs out, since apparently that is the only way I'm going to be able to grow anything around here. Found out yesterday that the pup can crawl right through the metal tube gate, so I put field fence on the bottom half. Worked like a charm! It worked so well that my DH was using the new garden area as a big dog run today, since the pup also couldn't get out. Hilarious! I just need to remember to take before and after pictures.
Natalie
Name: Carole
Clarksville, TN (Zone 6b)
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SongofJoy
Mar 24, 2014 4:18 AM CST
The type of grass you have will make a difference as well. Do you know what kind it is?
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Name: Tara
NE, Florida (Zone 9a)
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terrafirma
Mar 24, 2014 5:09 AM CST
Tee beat me to it!!! Big Grin When I first read your post…My 1st question was, what kind of grass/weed are you wanting to kill out?
Name: Rob Duval
Mason, New Hampshire (Zone 5b)
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robertduval14
Mar 24, 2014 5:43 AM CST

Plants Admin

How big of a bed are we talking about here?

Either way, I'd still recommend removing the sod first. There are lots of hand-tool sod cutters out there that will get the job done fairly quickly for a fraction of the cost of a gas-powered sod-cutter.

There are two type of readily available 'hand' type sod-cutters...

Full hand...
Thumb of 2014-03-24/robertduval14/b58027

and kick-type...
Thumb of 2014-03-24/robertduval14/de2a99

The kick type makes it a lot easier to get uniform strips of sod rolled up that can actually be placed elsewhere much the same way a gas-powered sod-cutter will. The full-hand one, if kept sharp, just gets the job done without so much concern for being neat about it.


Barring all that, if you do plan to just lay down cardboard and compost, it really does come down to what exactly is growing in the area you wish to convert. It could be as quick a a week or two (not likely) to much longer for full kill.
[Last edited by robertduval14 - Mar 24, 2014 7:11 AM (+)]
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Name: Hetty
Sunny Naples, Florida (Zone 10a)
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Dutchlady1
Mar 24, 2014 5:47 AM CST
Maybe spray roundup on it first?
springfield MO area (Zone 6a)
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Frillylily
Mar 24, 2014 6:01 AM CST
I think it could take weeks to kill it out. Grass can go dormant and then when it gets water and light again it magically comes back to life, that is my experience anyway. All the beds I did from scratch like that, I used round up on it initially to kill the grass. Then after a few days you can plant in it and be sure to mulch it heavily or new grass/seeds will come up everywhere. You may keep cardboard down on the path areas between rows to keep the weeds out there. I mulched my past beds with straw. A large bed like that is way to big to strip sod off. I have never stripped the sod even on small beds. You lose alot of nice top soil that way. Of course if you have a compost going, you can keep that soil replenished as you go. Do not buy your roundup in a ready to spray bottle, buy it in a concentrate and mix it-it's much cheaper that way. Then in the future once you get the bed going, if you have a tough weed, like bindweed, or poison ivy ect sprout up in there, you can just apply the round up directly on that weed to get rid of it. Round up is nothing you want to use regularly in your vegetables.
Name: josephine
Arlington, Texas (Zone 8a)
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frostweed
Mar 24, 2014 7:04 AM CST
I converted my entire front yard which had an established lawn, and planted native Texas plants. it is a beautiful garden now.
I used 8 sheets of newspaper instead of cardboard, and put chipped tree mulch on top, which I got from the local tree trimmers for free.

Cardboard will work just as well, but be sure to wet it after it is down, and do a small area at a time, so it doesn't slide around. It is crucial that you have a good overlap on the pieces of cardboard, if you don't the light will reach the grass and it will grow between the seams. Also if you try to tackle too large of an area before you put the mulch down it will probably get blown and slide around.

Mine took about three months to completely die, but I never had any problem with the grass coming back.
After the grass was dead, I planted the plants by pulling the mulch aside and making holes through the newspaper and then putting the mulch back.
Don't rush your planting, or you will be fighting that grass for a long time.
Good luck with your project, it is very worthwhile. Smiling
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Name: Hetty
Sunny Naples, Florida (Zone 10a)
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Dutchlady1
Mar 24, 2014 7:15 AM CST
@Natalie - I think you have your answer from Frostweed!
Name: Rob Duval
Mason, New Hampshire (Zone 5b)
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robertduval14
Mar 24, 2014 7:29 AM CST

Plants Admin

I was under the impression that she wanted to use it sooner than that. Heck, if you have months you could also use a thick black plastic that's just staked down for the time being. Blocks light and creates a ton of heat to help speed the process up a bit.

@frostweed
Do you ever have problems with stinkhorn or other molds growing in the chips?
Name: Ken Ramsey
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drdawg
Mar 24, 2014 7:42 AM CST
When it gets warmer, and the grass has begun growing again, simply placing a sheet of plastic over the area and weighting it down, will kill the grass extremely quickly. Here in the south, as early as April/May, this can happen in a week's time. Be sure your grass has greened up, the temperature should be at least 80 F for maximum effectiveness, and spray that area well with water before covering it. It really doesn't matter whether the plastic is clear or black. In fact, the clear is probably better, allowing the sunlight to penetrate and then creating the heat on the grass. The "steam" generated plus the lack of oxygen is what kills the grass, not the lack of light.

After the "heat-treatment" I would rake up what dead grass you can and then cover that area with cardboard or newspaper to retard seed/root rhizome growth.
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drdawg
Mar 24, 2014 7:45 AM CST
Oh, IF you use Round-up, be sure you use the formulae that is short-acting and kills on contact. Otherwise, you won't be able to plant ANYTHING for quite a while. There are formulas that retard growth for 6 mo. and one that retards growth for a full year (though you might not be able to find the year-retard formula). These formulas remain in the soil.
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Name: Anne
Summerville, SC (Zone 8a)
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Xeramtheum
Mar 24, 2014 7:57 AM CST
For future reference .. When I know I want a new bed for next year, in the Fall I buy bags of cheap topsoil and lay down newspaper in the shape I want the bed then leaving the soil in the bags lay the bags down on the newspaper side by side til the whole area is covered. Come spring I just open up the bags, pull out the plastic and Voilà! Instant bed. Works really well.
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[Last edited by Xeramtheum - Mar 24, 2014 7:58 AM (+)]
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Name: josephine
Arlington, Texas (Zone 8a)
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frostweed
Mar 24, 2014 8:06 AM CST
Well, some things can't be rushed, the grass tops may die sooner, but the roots take longer to die, especially if there is Bermuda grass in the mix. You should be able to check and see when the right time is for you situation.

I don't have problems with fungus in the mulch, it is rather dry around here, I reapply the mulch once a year.

Yes black plastic will kill the grass but it does nothing for soil improvement, and it blocks the water. I like the fact that paper and cardboard will decompose and add organic matter to the soil, the worms love it.

I guess we all have to do what seems best for ourselves, I have never been bothered with the grass coming back and it has been three years now.
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Name: Dave Whitinger
Jacksonville, Texas (Zone 8b)
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dave
Mar 24, 2014 8:20 AM CST

Garden.org Admin

I do this for every new bed I make, too. I lay down thick cardboard right over the grass, and cover that with as much organic matter as I can find. Compost, old hay, bags of leaves, garden soil, etc. I usually then plant pretty soon right into all that organic matter. I've never had a problem with the grass coming back.
Name: Debra
Garland, TX (NE Dallas suburb) (Zone 8a)
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lovemyhouse
Mar 24, 2014 9:01 AM CST
A few weeks ago, I laid out a healthy chunk o' overlapping cardboard over a never-to-be-sufficiently-@#$% section of Bermuda grass, set a 4' x 4' raised bed frame over the top, laid some more cardboard inside so the flaps came up the sides, then dumped a bunch of twigs and mulch to hold it down. Last week, it was filled in with soil and a slew of crushed egg shells. Just a few yards down from there, the roots of this stuff have survived six months being buried by bags of mulch, so I do have concerns about the grass growing back up and into the bed. So, I guess my question to tie in with Natalie's is how thick of a layer of cardboard do you all put down?
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Name: Carole
Clarksville, TN (Zone 6b)
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SongofJoy
Mar 24, 2014 9:07 AM CST
Yes, Bermuda grass is a bear to get rid of due to the underground runners. It takes a long, long, long, long time to smother it out ... and then it is likely to pop up elsewhere.
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Name: Ken Ramsey
Starkville, MS (Zone 8a)
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drdawg
Mar 24, 2014 9:16 AM CST
Thus the two-step method - bake it with steam and then cover it with cardboard and/or newspaper, a very thick cover for Bermuda. I have lots and lots of newspapers (I use them whole and shredded when shipping tropical plants), so that's what I use. I will use 6-10 layers of newspaper over Bermuda. I don't know how long the newspapers last, but I would guess that it holds up for a year or so. Any grass that sprouts later can be spot-treated with contact Round Up to kill it.
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Name: Natalie
North Central Idaho (Zone 7a)
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Natalie
Mar 24, 2014 10:18 AM CST
It is just plain old lawn. There is no Bermuda grass, and it's not tough grass, as it hasn't held up all that well to our three dogs pounding it. I live out in the sticks, so there is nothing too fancy or manicured out here! The lawn is growing well already because we have had a lot of rain, and if I wait another week, it will be time to mow it. I have to haul in the compost from the city, which is an hour drive each way, so I'll do what I can to get it thick enough, but it will take several trips. I'm not willing to use Round-Up on it, even though I know that would kill it fast, or should, if it was warmer. But, I don't want to use any chemicals. We're saving chemicals for our battle with the yellow starthistle that is trying to take over the rest of our land. That horrible weed is in an area that I'm not plating food in.

Like I said before, I've had great success doing this in the past, but I've never know how long it takes for the grass to die, since I have never dug into the cardboard. It's too large of an area to fill deep enough with dirt to plant in, and if I want veggies this year, I'm going to have to dig into the area eventually.

I appreciate all of the suggestions! @frostweed answered my question perfectly! Thanks! I'm an obsessive mulcher, so in the areas that I do need to dig into before it's dead, the mulch should easily help to smother out any grass still growing!
Natalie

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