Q: The summer has been so dry and water prices keep going up, so I’m thinking of removing some of my Kentucky bluegrass lawn. What’s the best way to take out grass?
A: Lots of people are considering downsizing their lawns and replacing the grass with low water plantings or vegetable gardens. Lawns are one of the largest consumers of water, according to the EPA, using 30-60% of urban fresh water. Some of the benefits of removing lawns includes spending less money on water bills; using less fertilizer and chemicals that impact the environment; contributing less waste to landfills from grass clippings; enhancing biodiversity with native or xeric plantings; saving time and money on lawn maintenance; and growing plants that will feed your family or wildlife.
How to start
The first step is to draw up a plan of your yard. Where do you spend the most time? Do you have children or pets that use the grassy areas, or do you only walk on the grass when you mow it? Consider removing the least utilized areas of the lawn first. Is there an area that receives at least 4-6 hours of sun where you could put a vegetable garden? Can you eliminate grass around the perimeter of the lawn and create beds for trees, shrubs or flowers? Is there an underperforming area of the lawn that you have been fighting to keep alive? These areas are all candidates for lawn removal.
How to remove the grass
Option 1: Dig it
A strong back and a good shovel are all you need to remove small areas of lawn. Water the lawn a few days before digging to make it easier to cut into the sod. If you are creating a bed, map out the area by tying string between stakes. A straight edged shovel or spade can cut along the string line and give you a clean edge. Cut the grass in parallel strips and pry it up from one end, cutting through the roots and lifting the sod. Shake off as much soil as you can. Roll the sod up as you go, cutting across the strip when it becomes too heavy. For larger areas, rent a sod cutter, a tool to make cutting the sod easier. Consider using the sod rolls to replace underperforming grass in other areas of the yard. Rake the underlying soil to remove rocks and large roots. Add compost or soil amendments, level off the area, and it is ready for planting.
Option 2: Smother it
Probably the easiest way to kill grass is to smother it. Cover the grass area you want to remove with several layers of newspaper, at least 6 sheets thick. Use the black and white sections only. Cover the paper with compost or mulch. The newspaper will block sunlight, killing the grass underneath. The grass and newspaper will decompose over a couple of seasons, adding nutrients to the soil. Water the area from time to time to accelerate the process. You can poke holes in the newspaper to plant flowers or shrubs.
Option 3: Kill it with herbicide
Use an herbicide to kill all vegetation in the area. Choose an appropriate product designed to kill grass and not just weeds, read the label and follow the directions. Be careful with this approach, as the spray can get on other plants in the area and kill them too. Don’t use herbicides when it is windy or there is a chance of rain. Apply the herbicide every two to three days or until all the grass is dead.
What to do with your new space
Consider native plants for the new beds. Native plants are well adapted to the region and will attract birds and wildlife to your yard. Many native plants are drought-tolerant. Or just consider a low water zone planting area with low water perennials (native or exotic). Xeriscaping incorporates water conservation techniques. For more information and classes on xeriscaping, go to www.csu.org and click on xeriscape or visit the Xeriscape Demonstration Garden at 2855 Mesa Road.
Contributed by Valerie Smith, Certified Colorado Gardener
Photo courtesy of Carey Harrington