Best way to Remove Sod to Grow a Garden

There is a trend across the U.S. to eliminate grass yards both in the front of houses and in the backyards to grow a garden that produces vegetables, herbs, fruit, and flowers.

Grass can also be a real nuisance when it grows in your garden or you wish to grow a garden where grass has grown.  Roots from grass can grow beyond the existing perimeter of your yard and grow in your garden and flower beds.

First, let’s answer Why people are making this change

There are several reasons your neighbors are making this change, the cost of maintaining beautiful, lush green grass is very expensive.  Water costs are rising and there have been water shortages making it even more difficult to keep them green when you are limited to what and when you can water your yard.

If you have a sprinkler system installed you can expect to spend thousands of dollars and the cost of yearly maintenance to keep it functioning properly.

To keep it weed free and growing well you will need to spend money on fertilizer and equipment to spread it on your lawns.

If you hire someone to maintain your yard that is another monthly expense that you can avoid.

There has been a movement across the country to eliminate harsh pesticides and fertilizers that are used to keep your lawn green and weed-free so by eliminating a yard you can help to improve our water supply.

With the high cost of living for vegetables, fruit, and herbs people are turning to growing their own food.

There has also been a huge increase in store-bought vegetables and fruit having bacteria that cause illness and in some cases death, and by growing your own you can be sure to protect your family from this outcome.

Growing organically your own food gives you control over what your family eats and you can do it costing much less than buying organically grown foods.

Especially since the world has been going through this pandemic people are at home much more and have realized how relaxing gardening can be providing you a calming wellness while growing your own food.

There has been a movement toward homesteading even if you live on an average lot size, people have learned you can grow your own food, including raising chickens.

Along with this homesteading movement, there has been a move back to preserving as much food as you can for your family to eat year-round by canning, freezing, and pickling the food they grow.

Now that we have answered the Why, let’s discuss How to eliminate grass yards for garden space

Best way to Remove Sod to Grow a Garden

There are several options you have to eliminate the grass to start growing a garden.

Ideally, the best time to remove the sod is in the Fall when the grass tends to die off from the summer heat and goes dormant.  The weight of the soil is much less also making it a little easier to handle the sod once it is removed.

Removing Sod with Sod Cutter

Using a sod cutter to remove the top sod is a good way to prepare the area for a garden that you wish to plant the same year.  It is a physically demanding job since the sod can be very heavy.

The sod cutters run between $100.00-$200 per day to rent.

Before using the sod cutter you should cut the grass as short as possible.

By removing the sod you will also remove some beneficial bugs, like worms that usually live just under the surface of the grass.  Usually removing sod is taking the top 1.5 inches to 3 inches of the soil.

It is a good idea at this point to take several samples of soil and test the Ph levels to know what you may need to add to the soil.

There is a significant loss of organic matter that will need to be replaced for the garden to grow well. t You should either add a thick layer of compost to the area to be tilled in or you can add the compost on top add into the holes you will be planting in mixing the current soil with the compost.

Since the area may have compacted soil underneath the sod it will most likely need to be tilled or turned over several times to allow good drainage and good soil for the roots to grow in.

Using a pitchfork to loosen up the soil is a good idea before adding a layer of compost if you are not going to till the area.


This process for removing the sod is the quickest.

Removing the sod with a sod cutter will be the most permanent way to remove the grass and roots.


The cost can run from $100-$200 per day to rent the machine and you must dispose of the sod at an additional cost.

If you do this yourself it is a very physical job especially, lifting the sod for disposal.

If you hire the sod to be removed it can be very costly.

You will still need to add compost on top of the soil to till in since the ground under the sod most likely is compacted.

Removing sod by Hand

This is a project that will take longer than using a sod cutter but it will save you several hundreds of dollars up to $1,000 if you pay someone to remove it or to rent a sod cutter.

The best tool to remove sod by hand is an edger and a cleanout shovel, this is a great tool to cut under the sod once you have cut the sod with the edger.  I would recommend cutting the sod into 4-5 inch strips to use this tool.

Corona SS 64104 General Purpose Trench Shovel, 4-Inch

To remove the sod the best way is to cut the sod with an edger in the width of the shovel so that you will remove strips the width of the shovel.  You can cut each strip with the shovel to make the sod pieces smaller and easier to handle.

After cutting the sod the most difficult job is to load it and dispose of the sod.


This method of sod removal will save you up to $1,000 to hire someone.

Using a gas or electric edger will save you a lot of physical work.


This method is still more physical than using a sod cutter.

It will take you longer to physically remove the sod by hand vs using a sod cutter.

Lasagne Layer method

If you have lots of time before you are going to put a garden in you can do what is called a lasagne layer placing cardboard or newspapers on the grass and then layer with compost, leaves, and grass clippings until you have about a 6-inch layer on top of the cardboard or newspaper.

The cardboard and newspapers will smother and choke out the grass.  Using brown and green materials in the layering will help the decomposing process.

This process will take 6-12 months to allow you to be able to plant your garden in the area.

If you are removing grass that has grown beyond the borders of the yard this is a good way to eliminate the grass around existing plants.

To use the lasagne layer method you should cut the grass as short as possible.

Lay cardboard or newspaper over the area and be sure it is a thick layer.

Add layers of green materials such as the grass clippings you just cut (This will add nitrogen), brown materials like leaves, small branches, straw(with no Grazon), and organic materials like compost building up to a depth of 6-10 inches.


This is very inexpensive if you have the materials and the labor is less physical.

This process is also very good for the environment.

Using this method will allow the soil and worms to continue to improve the soil conditions.


It takes many months to decompose and be ready for planting, as much as 6 months.

Does not look very attractive while you are waiting for the area to be ready for planting.

It can also smell a little strong while everything is decomposing.

Laying plastic over the sod

This is a long process that can take 6 months to a year to kill the grass but it is also good allowing the nutrients to stay and decompose into the soil and retain the worms working in the soil.

It is not the most pleasant thing to view for that long a period of time so you really need to think about this before laying the plastic on the grass.

You can use 2-6 ml black or clear plastic sheeting to kill the sod, the clear will heat the area under the plastic at a higher temperature and speed up the process.

Before you lay the plastic on the sold you should cut the grass as short as possible.

You will need to secure the plastic with some type of heavy blocks or rocks or use stakes that you can pound into the ground.


The plastic will kill the grass by heating up the sod and causing a lack of photosynthesis.

The process kills weeds that have deeper roots and fungi.


Cost of the plastic can be expensive, be sure to shop around for the best pricing.

If you remove the plastic there might be some weeds that will need to be pulled that have survived.

Plastic can be very slippery for you and your pets during the winter months.

The disposal of plastic is not good for the environment.

What I would recommend not to do when removing the sod

Cons without pros

This is probably the fastest way to remove grass but it is the one that I would discourage you from using since the ground will be contaminated for some time, and the pesticide can runoff to other areas killing plants that you did not intend to kill.

If you are growing an organic garden these sprays will make the area toxic and it will take years for you to be able to grow organically in the area.

There are many other ways to accomplish the removal of grass in an environmentally healthy way with a little more effort but I would not recommend using these chemicals.

Remove sod with a rototiller

A rototiller can be used after a sod cutter is used to till the soil deeper removing the deeper weeds and grassroots, or a tiller can be used alone to cut the grass and deeper layer of soil to remove the roots but I would not recommend tilling the sod under since you will have a problem with the roots remaining.

Either way, you will either need to rake the area to remove the grass, weeds, and roots in preparation for a garden.


Using a tiller will get deeper roots that may come up later


Physically this is a lot of work and there will be several tasks that will be needed to prepare the area.  Both tilling and raking the area

The cost of a rental for the tiller, if you do not own one, will add to the cost of removing the sod.

Tilling the soil can kill one of the most valuable bugs in your garden, worms that help to loosen and break the soil up can be killed by tilling the area.

Recommendation based on facts above

I believe the best option for eliminating sod is to use cardboard or newspapers using the lasagne method, with mulch layers to kill the grass and weeds since it is the best for the environment if you have the time.  Otherwise, I would recommend cutting by hand using an edger and shovel since I am always looking for ways to do these types of jobs on a budget and since I am retired and have time.

If you can afford to rent a sod remover it will take a lot of the physical work out of the task and save an enormous amount of time.

Best Way to Remove Sod to Grow a Garden was a task that I personally accomplished this year to put in a beautiful new garden for my vegetables expanding what I can grow.


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