HOW to Get Rid of Turf

by Renee Roth, RainScape Designs

To get rid of turf, you first need to know is what kind of grass you have.  The UC Davis Extension web site can help you identify what type of lawn you have.  If your lawn has been neglected, it is usually a mixture of Bermuda or Buffalo grass and weeds that have invaded the cool season turf that was originally installed. More info on how to ID your type of lawn is below.

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Here is an article to help you identify what type of turf you have (there is probably some warm season turf in the mix since it is invasive and takes over).,0,3287669.photogallery?index=lat-la-hm-lawns-photos-la0016699930-20140403

HINT: cool season turf (tall fescue, Kentucky bluegrass or perennial ryegrass) typically use lots of water (more in the summer when it is hot, less in the cooler winter months) but is much easier to remove, warm season turf (bermudagrass, kikuyugrass, and St. Augustine grass ) use less water in the summer,  go dormant in the winter and are more challenging to remove.  

Do not use weed barrier fabric, it doesn’t work and eventually wears through! More info here 


Here is a link to Bay Friendly Gardening sheet mulching instructions:

First, identify the type of turf you have:

    • Cool season grass: Fescue, Marathon, Kentucky Bluegrass, Rye – Clumping grass blends that stay green in the winter
    • Warm season grass: Bermuda, St Augustine, Zoyzia or  Kikuyugrass – any rhizomatous grass that is brown in winter

a.  Determine how much water you are currently using in the landscape, summer vs winter? Do you want to lower your summer water bill?
b.  Determine your grass type (Cool or Warm season turf or mixture)
c.  Season of growth vs removal – Rainy season it is hard to remove dormant warm season grass, cool season grass OK, plant NEW in fall or spring when its cooler)
d. Timeline (3 months, there is lots to plan so be patient!)

• Mark and cap off sprinkler heads, identify irrigation for drip conversion kit attachment
• SHEETMULCH–Water lawn,apply compost or compost tea, apply a thick layer of cardboard and lots of mulch (4-6 inches) See Handout on Sheet Mulching –OR –
• Strip and flip using a sod-cutting machine and smother turf, add compost tea, layer of cardboard or newspaper, then mulch (4-6 inches)
• Water it in, allow the critters to do the work.  Herbicides are not necessary with cool season grasses.  Wait Patiently.

• Mark and cap off sprinkler heads, identify irrigation for drip conversion kit attachment
• Seasonal- most effective to remove and fastest when plants are metabolically active in hot weather (July, August, September for warm season turf)
• Use a Sod Cutter, roll up and remove sod, water-in remaining rhizomes to grow, kill, remove by hand, repeat, repeat, repeat until gone
• Continue hand removal/watering by digging out new roots (difficult and slow process)
• Exhaust stored food reserves in their extensive root systems by repeated cycles: water, grow, remove by hand
• Premature planting of your new garden will mean years of follow-up hand pulling so patience and diligence are required to eliminate these types of grasses.
• Follow up with Sheet Mulching (see Handout) if you can’t wait.
• Herbicide- controversial, how are you going to heal the soil?

4. SOLARIZE – Warm Season Grasses: EASY TO GROW, Hard TO KILL, SLOW TO REPLACE (this one doesn’t look good to the neighbors)
• Seasonal- most effective and fastest when plants are metabolically active and hot weather (July & August for warm season turf)
• Cut your lawn very short and water thoroughly
• Cover with 1-2 mil UV protected plastic sheeting,  weigh down edges with dirt, bricks, sandbags or stones to keep air tight seal
• Wait 6 weeks for the sun to do the dirty work
• Dig out roots (what’s left) and dispose in trash
• Will need to remediate soil by adding compost or compost tea when planting

(adapted from experience with G3 – Green Gardens Group and Surfrider OFG workshops)

1. Take a picture of your lawn in case a Turf Removal Rebate Program comes to the Ventura River Watershed, and will reimburse you for expenses!
2. Call Dig Alert (811) or other service that will mark where electrical, plumbing, and cable lines come onto the property.
3. If lawn is cool-season turf, mow to lowest height, leaving clippings in place, water deeply and proceed to #3. If lawn is warm-season turf, like Bermuda grass, remove as much of the organic matter as possible by hand. If hand removal is not practical, use a sod cutter to remove the upper growth. Water remaining soil, and dig out new rhizomes by hand (yes, by hand).
4. Flag and cap off all sprinkler heads. Remove soil around them. Identify source for drip irrigation conversion kit that sets 1 gph emitters next to each plant.
5. Remove the soil next to hardscape surfaces (ie side walks or driveway), and cut away at least 12” wide x 8-10” deep. Be careful of irrigation lines that might be placed against the hardscape surfaces. This prevents grass roots from finding sun, air, water.
6. Pour Aerobic Compost Tea or good compost or worm castings into the surface for cool season grass or top soil for removed warm season turf area.
7. Cover the soil with Painters’ Paper or cardboard, being careful to overlap any edges by at least 6” – 8”. Leave no gaps, even at the trenched edges!
8. Water the soil and paper/cardboard thoroughly so it is completely wet. Be careful not to step on the paper/cardboard and rip it (patch it up as you go).
9. Cover immediately with 4” – 6” of mulch (fresh tree trimmings comprised of both wood and leaves, predominately no larger than 1” -2” ). No green waste products.
10. Water mulch thoroughly so it penetrates to the bottom layers.
11. Let this area alone for 2-3 months, and check it, watering occasionally when the mulch dries out.
12. Every 30 – 45 days, check progress of decomposition. If the lawn is not decomposing, add worm castings, good compost, or Aerobic Compost Tea, water thoroughly, and cover with another 1-2” of living mulch.

Benefits of Mulch Called a gardener’s best friend, mulch helps soil retain moisture, stifles weeds and beautifies your garden. Made up of organic material like shredded or chipped tree bark, leaves or branches, a three-inch layer of mulch spread over bare soil will enhance the health of your garden in many ways, including: