Methods of Removing Old Turf from Your Lawn

Backyard with old weedy turf on lawn

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When planting a new lawn, the first step is to kill and remove any poor-quality turf. This process can be accomplished through several methods including solarization, heavy mulches, hoes or sod cutters, and herbicides. When selecting your method, keep your lawn and climate conditions in mind, as some methods may be a better fit for your lawn than others.


Cut the old lawn as close to grade as possible before you begin.  Solarization kills grass, weeds, and weed seeds by overheating them under a layer of clear plastic.  During warm weather, securely anchor the plastic over the area you want to clear.  You will need two months to achieve the desired effect.  Do not attempt solarization in shady areas, or if you have cool summer nights.

Heavy Mulches:

Cut the old lawn as close to grade as possible before you begin. During warm weather smother the ragged turf with heavy mulches, such as old carpeting or 6-inches of wood chips. You can also achieve the same effect using several layers of newspaper or large pieces of corrugated cardboard covered by 3-inches of wood chips.  You will need two months to achieve the desired effect.  Do not attempt heavy mulches in shady areas, or if you have cool summer nights.

Hoe or Sod Cutter:

For small lawns, use a grape (grubbing) hoe. On average, two people can remove and haul away up to 300-square feet in an hour.  For large lawns, consider renting a sod cutter. A sod cutter slices under the grass, enabling you to pull up strips of old turf.  Using a hoe or sod cutter will be easier if your lawn soil is moist.

  1. Remove old lawn after heavy rain or deep watering.  First, make 2-inch deep cuts in the turf every 2-feet using either a manual or a power edger.
  2. Use a grape (grubbing) hoe to remove small sections of lawn.  This job will go faster with a helper.
  3. Slice the turf just below the grade.  Let the weight of the tool do the work of chipping away at the grass.
  4. Rent a power sod cutter if you are tackling a big area.

Follow up with tilling to alleviate compaction and to prepare the soil for amendments.  If you have the time, also use the solarization technique described above to kill any weed seeds that remain in the soil.


To kill unwanted grass and weeds to the roots select an herbicide that degrades quickly (does not last long in the environment), such as glyphosate (Roundup).  Mix according to the manufacturer’s directions, and then completely cover all grass plants and weeds. Take care not to spray on garden plants.  Apply on a sunny, windless day when the temperature is above 60°F.  If the turf has not completely died after four weeks reapply the herbicide and then wait one week after the last application before tilling the dead turf into your soil.