University of Illinois Extension
Turf Removal - Bed Preparation and General Maintenance - Stepping Stones to Perennial Garden Design - University of Illinois Extension

Turf Removal

This is always a big question. It is important to remove existing turf. Your lawn is a vigorous ground cover that will compete with your tender young perennials for water and nutrients. There are two recommended practices. One uses manpower and the other uses chemicals. It is your decision as to which one to use. Both effectively remove turf and weeds.

Sod removal - Rent a sod removal machine or use a flat edge spade to lift the turf, severing the roots just below the soil line. Shake off any excess topsoil. These sod pieces can be planted elsewhere in your yard. If you are going to lift your turf, don't do so if the soil is excessively wet or dry. This job will turn into a muddy mess if wet or be a much more difficult task if the soil is bone-dry.

Chemical removal - Spray the area with glyphosate, an herbicide found in several products available at the garden center or nursery. Read and follow all label instructions. Glyphosate is a nonselective, systemic contact killer that is taken up by plants, moving throughout, eventually killing them. It needs to be applied to green actively growing plants. Some tough perennial weeds may need a second application. This process can take up to 10 days and if your garden is in the shade, you may have to apply the herbicide twice. The treated area will turn straw colored. The dead grass can then be roto-tilled into the soil, adding future organic matter. Glysphosate will not harm future plantings.

Placing newspapers or plastic over the turf to kill it is a time consuming and unsightly procedure and often doesn't totally eliminate the plant material.