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posted: 5/24/2013 6:00 AM

Options for removing lawn to create gardening bed

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By Mary Boldan

Q. How can I remove a large section of lawn that I want to turn into a garden bed?

A. Many people use herbicides for removal because it is quick and easy. However, herbicides can be dangerous not only to other plants in your yard, but also to yourself. Instead of using to herbicides, try one of these safe and effective techniques:

• Dig it up: While this is a quick method, it requires hard work. When digging up the yard, cut the lawn into strips with a sharp spade so it is easier to remove.

You may want to roll the strips up, and possibly use them elsewhere.

• An alternative to digging is to till the land. This helps retain the organic matter when the sod is turned through the tiller. However, tilling can cause grass to sprout again from the cuttings of the tiller as well as weed seeds to germinate.

• Layering and smothering: This is the easiest process; however, it does require more time. Lay newspaper or light plastic over the areas in which you want to create the garden. Cover the newspaper with a layer of compost or mulch to keep the sheets of newspaper in place. In about two months, the grass underneath the sheets of paper will be dead and you can dig through the compost/mulch and plant into the soil, without needing to remove the paper.

Instead of newspaper, you can also use light plastic. While this will shorten the time you have to wait, plastic is not biodegradable and eventually has to be removed.

Q. Is it necessary to add "compost additive" to my compost pile? What about adding fertilizer or lime?

A. Compost piles must be big enough (at least 3 feet by 3 feet and 4 feet tall) to retain heat before they will maintain rapid decomposition. Add small pieces of material to the pile as the smaller the size, the more surface area provided on which microbes can work. Chopping up leaves with a lawnmower or leaf shredder before they are added to the pile aids considerably. Aim to keep materials slightly wet since they will decompose quicker than dry ones. The pile should have the moisture content of a wrung-out sponge. Since microorganisms need oxygen to function, periodic turning will help keep oxygen in good supply. Turn the compost pile once a week when adding new materials. Be careful about adding lime to your compost, especially if your compost will be given to acid loving plants such as azaleas, rhododendrons, potatoes or blueberries. Adding lime to a compost pile is generally not advised.

People sometimes add nitrogen fertilizer to their compost pile if their Carbon to Nitrogen (C:N) is excessively high in carbon. Compostable materials such as wood chips, paper, and sawdust, for example, have a very high Carbon to Nitrogen ratio. These materials are often known as the "browns" in the compost pile. Some gardeners will add nitrogen fertilizer to help break down the carbon faster in the "browns." Another method is to simply add more organic materials with a much lower Carbon to Nitrogen ratio with "greens" such as vegetable waste, grass clippings, and other green plant matter. For more information on the Carbon to Nitrogen ratio and other tips on composting, visit the following Web site:

• Provided by Mary Boldan and Mary Moisand, University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners. Master Gardener Answer Desk, located at Friendship Park Conservatory, 395 Algonquin, Des Plaines, is open 9 a.m. to noon on Wednesdays. Call (847) 298-3502 or email

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