So you want to get rid of your lawn to save water and resources. Here’s the conundrum though… It will take effort, money and resources to remove a lawn and replace it with new plants. If a landscaping business is too much on a budget, consider the following methods and resources.
Determine what type of grass you have: cool season or warm season. Cool-season grasses, such as tall fescue, are green year-round and tend to require more water. Warm season grasses, such as Bermuda grass hybrids, do best with less water in warm months and become dormant/brownish in winter months. Certain removal methods work best for each type of grass, so knowing before you start will help you save time and choose the best methods.
Don’t forget to call 811 “Call Before You Dig” to have your buried utility boxes located to avoid damaging them.
Old fashioned elbow grease a little at a time:
Without glamour, you can dig up your lawn using a shovel, pickaxe or Maddox. You can work to your time (and energy), scraping off small sections at a time and placing them in your green bin.
If your soil is rock hard, watering small sections where you are working will help loosen the grass. If you have warm season grass, once you are done, water again several times to re-grow the grass.
Advantages: inexpensive, fitness, ideal for small areas, easier for cool season grasses.
Cons: very physical and long process, neighbors think you are mining gold.
Sheet mulching is a way to apply a thick barrier to the lawn that will kill grass, roots and all, over a period of 6-10 months. What’s left is a “Blank Mulch Area Slate” that you can plant with any type of plants you like.
- Prepare the site by scalping the lawn with weedkiller or mowing on the lowest setting.
- Water the lawn thoroughly.
- Apply cardboard or 5-8 sheets of newspaper, overlapping each layer a hand’s width. Do not use magazines or glossy printouts.
- Spread mulch 5 to 6 inches thick on top. You can order mulch delivered or you can also get “free mulch”/green waste by contacting local tree trimmers. Avoid walnut and eucalyptus as these allelopathic species inhibit plant growth. Water the mulch thoroughly afterwards.
- Wait 6 to 10 months (Cool season grasses will have a shorter time. For warm season grasses, be prepared to dig or use herbicide on surviving grass that crosses)
- Plant your new landscape in the mulch, cutting the cardboard as needed.
Advantages: less physical method, area ready for planting, better appearance sooner.
Cons: Advanced planning required, warm season grasses take longer and tend to come back more vigorously.
Tractors are available for rent at most home improvement stores as well as local equipment rental companies. The sod cutter will remove the turf in strips which you can then easily remove by hand. They are easy to use, although they also tend to be unsightly and jittery, especially in hard ground.
Mark and/or remove obstructions, such as sprinkler heads, utility boxes and running boards. Grass under treetops will need to be removed by hand to avoid damage to surface roots.
Advantages: removes a lot of grass quickly, the machine does the job.
Cons: Initial rental cost.
Herbicides ~ the scorched earth option.
For many, this might be the first thought that comes to mind. But spraying an entire lawn is not recommended as there are potential downsides:
- Increased exposure risk – As the area treated and the amount of herbicide used increases, your level of health exposure risk also increases.
- Overspray and Drift – This is more pronounced in hot or windy weather. Herbicide droplets are carried by the wind or vaporized by heat and absorbed by surrounding plants. You can inadvertently kill plants that you want to keep. This includes the line of bush roses your neighbor is now asking you to replace.
Herbicides are best used in conjunction with the previous methods to kill any grass that persists or if other noxious weeds are present. For example, if you covered your lawn 6-10 months earlier with leaf mulch, you will spray or pull anything that reappears before replanting.
Please read all herbicide labels. If you remove all lawn and vegetation, a non-selective “kills everything it touches” herbicide will work. A grass-selective herbicide such as ‘Grass Getter’ or ‘Grass B’ Gone’ is very useful in killing unwanted grasses in or near desirable vegetation. For example, if Bermuda grass is growing inside your new or existing plantings, you can use a selective grass herbicide to kill the grass and not your plant.
Apply for financial assistance
Although not available in all watersheds, there are public incentive programs that will help defray the cost of removing your lawn and replacing it with a water-efficient landscape. Go to “Save Our Water” https://saveourwater.com/ to find your local water agency. Rebate programs are usually either clearly listed or just a phone call away.
The application process is detailed, so be prepared to submit planting plans, measurements, before and after photos, and have someone visit your site in person. You may choose to hire a professional landscape company to develop plans for submission and help organize the approval process.
Do not start your project or buy anything until you are 100% sure, cleared, “cleared” by your rebate program. You will pay for the landscape project up front out of pocket and be reimbursed afterwards with a final inspection. Rebates typically pay a fixed portion or amount per square foot, but not the full cost of the project.
Benefits: The rebate can reimburse your labor costs (if needed) and help pay for plants to replace the lawn.
Cons: You always have to bear the costs and wait for reimbursement, you have to be organized with paperwork and follow all the rules.
Master Gardeners will be available to answer your questions in a few select locations over the next few months!
Visalia Farmer’s Market – 1st and 3rd Saturday, 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., 2100 W. Caldwell Ave (behind Sears)
Hanford Farmers Market – 4th Thursday – 5-9pm
Call us: Master Gardeners in Tulare County: (559) 684-3325, Tuesday and Thursday, 9:30-11:30 a.m.;
Kings County: (559) 852-2736, Thursdays only, 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m.
Instagram on: @mgtularekings