4 Ways to Get Rid of Your High-Maintenance Grass Lawn

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(Image credit: Winkie Visser)

I grew up in inland L.A., where every house had a perfectly manicured lawn. Back then we didn’t think of water as a precious resource. Now I live in drizzly Seattle, but my lawn is choked by dandelions and moss. Grass has become more of an accent than a dominant feature in recent years, a landscaping trend that shows no signs of reversing. I can’t wait to cut back on mine. But how?

Grass is incredibly resilient and hard to kill. You can ignore it for months and it just won’t die. It might look dead, but it can bounce back. If you’re looking to remove turf permanently, you need to hatch a plan. These are the four most popular methods.

(Image credit: Heather Keeling)

Spraying: Herbicides are a surefire way to get started — if you’re comfortable with chemicals, that is. Roundup, the household-name herbicide, is absorbed by the plant and roots, and doesn’t have a soil residual. Check the weather forecast and choose a sunny, windless day (the sun will dry the product quickly; you don’t want wind, as wind can cause it to blow onto other greenery). Water 24 hours before you spray to plump up the lawn. Spray the lawn evenly and thoroughly. You may need to repeat after a few days. After a week or two, your grass should be dead. A caveat, however: although Roundup, made by Monsanto, claims to be safe and non-toxic, many studies suggest otherwise. Here’s an article to consider from the Washington Post. A more eco-friendly solution? I’ve heard vinegar works wonders on weeds and grass.

(Image credit: Arthur Garcia-Clemente)

Excavation: Ready for some back-breaking work? Excavation can be effective, but only if done correctly. Many landscaping crews simply destroy the top layer of lawn, leaving the root system intact, which means your lawn will be making a comeback. And rototilling certain types of grass, like Bermuda, which grows from the stems, will simply replant it. Before excavating, let your grass die off. When it’s so brown your neighbors are giving you the stink eye, it’s go time. You can use a shovel or manual kick-plow sod cutter if you’re tackling a small area and have serious muscle power. Or you can rent a self-propelled sod cutter from a local home-improvement store.

(Image credit: Marisa Vitale)

Solarizing: Let the sun do the hard labor. First, pretend you’re a military barber and crop that lawn as close as you can. Then water it until it’s totally soaked. Cover it with a plastic tarp, and let the turf sweat to its untimely demise. This takes at least six weeks, which means six weeks of staring at an ugly tarp.

(Image credit: Jacqueline Marque)

Layering: Also known as lasagna composting, this is almost certainly the method I’ll use on my lawn. Think of it as a twofer: As you kill off your grass, you’ll be building rich soil. Start by covering the turf with six or more layers of newspaper or cardboard. Top that with four to six inches of organic mulch and water thoroughly. The layers prevent light from getting in and growth from pushing up. This takes about two months, but at the finish line the paper should have broken down enough that you can dig right through it and plant whatever your heart desires. This may not be the best method for large expanses of lawn, but its increasing popularity is a testament to its efficacy.

What are your tips for removing grass? We’d love to hear some success stories!

This post was originally published on May 3, 2013, and was last updated on May 14, 2019.