How to Remove Sod

Wondering how to remove sod? Whether you're planning a patio, flowerbed or vegetable garden, you'll need to remove sod to get at the soil beneath. Basically, you can choose between a fast but strenuous method or a slow and painless technique.

How To Remove Sod From Your Yard

  • Preparing the soil. Before you begin to remove sod, water the area thoroughly to moisten the soil. You don't want to saturate the soil, which will make it heavy, but you want to get it to the point where it will be easy to work. Running a sprinkle in the area two or three days before you begin working should be plenty.
  • Marking territory. Mark the area to be removed with string, landscape paint or construction chalk so you'll know where to work After all, there's no sense removing more sod than you absolutely must.
  • That's a lot of holes! For small areas, the simplest and quickest way to remove sod may be to just dig it up in chunks. With a round blade shovel, dig up areas of about 3" deep by 8" square. Bang each chunk against your shovel to dislodge as much dirt as possible and the compost or dispose of the leftover plant material. This method is quick and will leave behind as much of the soil as possible.
  • Becoming one with the shovel. For large areas, cut the space into 12" strips with a power edger and then, working from down each strip, cut a 2" deep section out with a square shovel. Position the shovel almost horizontally and shove it under each strip to loosen the sod. Roll the strips up, cutting them into small rolls that will be easy to lift and manage. Replace the strips in other sections of your yard to repair damaged areas. While this method is good for large areas of sod, you'll need to amend the soil afterwards to replace the loss of organic material.
  • Sod busting. If you have a really large area or just want to save your back, consider renting a gas-powered sod cutter. A half-day rental should be enough to clear a good-sized patio or vegetable garden footprint.
  • A tilling development. Another gas-powered tool that can make short work of sod is a tiller. You'll need a fairly large, rear-tined model to effectively remove sod and you may have to make more than one pass over the area, removing clumps of plant matter as you proceed.
  • The big cover up. The least labor intensive (but most time consuming) method of sod removal is to smother the grass using newspaper. Cover the area to be removed with several layers of black-ink newsprint and then cover the newspaper with a three-inch layer of mulch. You'll need to leave this blanket in place for two to three months, but at the end of this period, the grass will have died back to the ground.
  • A word on herbicides. Although it may be tempting to blast sod "back to the stone age" with herbicides, you need to consider the effect such a plan will have on the rest of your yard. Herbicides can leach into the water table and shouldn't even be a consideration in areas where you'll be following up with a planting of vegetables.
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