Is your lawn absolutely overwhelmed by weeds? Or are you simply unhappy with the way it looks and wonder whether you should start from scratch? If so, you may be wondering about when killing a lawn and starting over is the best choice. Whether by solarizing your lawn or spraying it with herbicide, you have options when you choose to re-do your lawn from scratch. In this article I’ll help you to determine if starting over is for you, and share the best options to successfully re-doing your lawn.
What to Consider Before Killing a Lawn and Starting Over
You can make some big mistakes and make a bad lawn look even worse if you try to re-do your lawn but take the wrong approach.
I don’t want you to waste your time, money, or make your neighbors angry. There are certain things that you need to consider and instructions you will have to know if you decide to proceed.
I’ll discuss those here.
Repair or Re-Do Your Lawn?
Killing a lawn and starting over can be a viable option if more than half of the space is occupied by bare spots and weeds.
Look carefully at your lawn, and if more than half of it is grass, then consider taking steps to repair and improve your lawn rather than plow it under.
It’s necessary to kill an existing lawn so that you can completely start over if you don’t want to deal with the expense of turfgrass and would rather go with an alternative.
Be Realistic About the Work Involved
It takes quite a bit of money, time, and sweat equity to kill a lawn so that you can begin anew.
You should also be aware that certain methods can negatively impact the environment, so keep this in mind when making your decisions and be mindful about how you proceed.
Make sure to find out whether your homeowner’s association (if you have one) or local environmental agency has any rules with regard to this process.
Also it’s wise to check-in with your neighbors. I’m a big believer that following proper lawn care etiquette and being respectful of the people you live near is worth the time and energy.
You will need to strike a balance between all the competing factors and requirements. This won’t be a perfect process, and you can’t make everyone happy, but making the effort to do things the right way and to be respectful of your neighbors and the environment is worth doing.
Be aware that you can use a variety of methods when killing a lawn and starting over, and that you use different approaches on different parts of your lawn, depending on your needs and preferences.
Homeowners who have an underground irrigation system should know where all their pipe and sprinkler heads are on the lawn, in order to try to prevent damage during the digging and tilling processes.
Best Methods to Re-Do a Lawn
There are three tried and true methods for killing a lawn and starting over. These are:
- Kill the Lawn with Herbicide
- Dig up the Lawn
- Solarize the Lawn
Each of these methods has pros and cons.
I’ll discuss all three below so that you can choose the approach that will work best for you.
Post-Emergent Herbicide Method
You can kill a lawn by using a nonselective, post-emergent herbicide. You would apply this herbicide to the lawn areas you plan to re-do.
When choosing a herbicide for your lawn, you need to know what kinds of plants the herbicide kills, in order to ensure that it is appropriate for your purposes.
If you’re going to spray chemicals all over your property, you want to be sure that will actually work.
Choosing the Right Herbicide
When choosing a post-emergent herbicide, you may select from concentrates that require being mixed. These are typically more professional-grade products. You’ll probably have to order them online.
Alternatively, you could go with a ready-to-use, premixed type. These are more geared toward weekend warriors and you can find them at your local box store.
It’s an easier process to use a premixed variety. However, if you have a large lawn and want to try to save money, you might want to do the mixing yourself.
It’s vital to your safety and the well-being of your property that you carefully read and follow all the label instructions on the herbicide you use on your lawn.
Use all the necessary safety precautions, including wearing personal protective equipment.
Also, make sure that the lawn you want to kill is in active growth when you apply the herbicide — that’s a requirement for most of these products, and if your grass is dormant they won’t work properly.
How Long Does it Take?
After application of your herbicide, wait between seven and ten days.
The grass should die during this time.
It’s possible that you will have to apply the herbicide more than once if the lawn still hasn’t died. This might happen with very well-established lawns, and it’s one reason why I encourage you to repair lawns that are in decent shape.
Be aware that if you misuse herbicide, it can be quite dangerous and can damage the environment.
It could be best to look for an herbicide with glyphosate as its active ingredient, as it will have less serious residual effects than other herbicides might.
Consider the Weather
Another drawback of using herbicides to kill your lawn and start over is that herbicides are heavily dependent upon the weather.
A rain can wash away all the herbicide before it’s able to destroy the grass.
If this happens, you will have to apply more herbicide. Also, rain can lead to chemical runoff.
Wind can also cause problems. The herbicide could end up blowing onto your neighbor’s lawn or into your eyes, nose, or mouth.
Be aware, too, that even if you apply herbicide, weeds could still be able to germinate. Also, even after the grass is dead, you will have to dig it up.
This is a common misconception – people think that spraying an herbicide to kill your grass will be the fastest, lowest-effort approach.
You’ll still have to get dirty and dig up your turf.
I will say, however, that the herbicide method tends to be less challenging than trying to dig up a lawn that is still alive … so there’s that.
Digging Up Live Lawn Method
If you decide to dig up your lawn without killing it first, you will need specific power equipment, and a plan for where you’ll dispose of your old sod.
You should have a tiller, preferably a rear-tine, heavy duty type rototiller. Look into renting equipment that’s a bit on the heavier side, and I highly recommend that you rent a sod cutter. This tool will be able to cut beneath the turf and cut your old lawn sod into strips. This is a necessary part of the process and will make the whole process go faster.
Removing the Old Lawn Turf
After taking a pass with the sod cutter, roll the strips up and dispose of them.
I like to use old sod to fill the bottom of my raised garden beds. I turn them upside down so the grass dies, and then cover them with a 50/50 blend of compost and loam from my local nursery.
If you aren’t adding a garden to your property, see if someone in your neighborhood could use the old sod, or find a brush dump or composting facility nearby.
If you don’t rent a sod cutter, you can use a sharp, flat shovel to remove the grass manually.
I don’t recommend this method for large lawns. It is a very difficult process and is really only practicable for a small area of lawn.
Replacing the Topsoil You’ve Removed
When you remove all the sod, you’re also removing organic material.
This must be replaced.
Failing to do so will result in a weak lawn that struggles to grow and which could be even worse than it was before.
Your local nursery will probably offer bulk delivery of some great topsoil and compost that will be weed-free and which will set your new lawn up for success.
Planting Your Grass Seed
You will then need to get the soil ready for planting your grass seed.
Once you’ve spread your new topsoil:
- Grade and level your lawn properly
- Spread starter fertilizer (I use this one from Scott’s)
- Spread grass seed (I recommend 1.5-2x the spread rate the manufacturer recommends for a new lawn)
- Use the back of a leaf rake to gently rake in the starter fertilizer and seed to achieve excellent soil contact
- Spread a thin (1/4 inch) layer of compost or peat moss over the seed to retain moisture and tell birds the buffet is closed
- Water your grass seed the right way
And if you are impatient, you may be interested in my guide about laying sod.
Solarizing Your Lawn Before Starting Over
Solarizing your lawn is a good way for homeowners to kill grass and weeds without using harmful chemicals and without the heavy labor of removing living grass/sod.
Essentially you use the heat of the sun’s rays to cook the plants, weed seeds and more in the upper layers of your soil.
There are different approaches you can use, but laying plastic over your lawn is probably the most popular method.
Summer is the best time of the year to solarize your lawn, and fall is the best time of year to plant a new lawn in most parts of the country.
This works really well – solarize in August, plant your new lawn in September, enjoy a brand new green lawn in the spring.
How to Solarize Your Lawn
- Start by mowing your lawn very short – on the lowest setting of your mower. Bag the clippings if you can.
- Water your lawn heavily. You want to get the soil saturated at least 1 foot deep.
- Cover the lawn with clear plastic (I like to use long rolls at 4mil thickness like this one on Amazon). I recommend you extend the plastic about a foot beyond the edge of the lawn areas you plan to solarize (the edges don’t get as warm). If you need more than one sheet of plastic, overlap the seems for the same reason.
- Use wood planks, rocks, brickes, etc. to anchor the plastic and keep it from blowing around the neighborhood.
- Double check that your in-ground lawn sprinklers are off (yeah, that’s kind of a big one).
- Answer questions from your neighbors for the next 6 weeks.
- Remove the plastic. Note that plastic without UV inhibitor will probably just fall apart as you remove it, so plan for that.
Be aware that if you don’t remove your grass and you begin watering your new grass seed, you might not like what grows.
What Approach Do I Recommend When Killing a Lawn and Starting Over?
For me, renting a sod cutter and removing your old turf is the best way to go, and it’s the approach I recommend.
I don’t like spraying herbicides on my lawn. I worry about run-off, my kids, my dog, and the rest of my neighborhood, so I avoid that whenever possible.
There’s also a lot of waiting around for the lawn to die.
Solarizing is a much more natural approach, but it still requires a lot of waiting and a lot of plastic all over your yard. Not ideal.
While using a sod cutter and removing your turf is labor intensive and expensive (to bring in more topsoil), you can get a new lawn established within 2 weeks from seed, and in a long weekend if you’re getting a sod delivery.
Anything worth having is worth working for, and a fabulous lawn is one of those things.
You’ll appreciate your lawn more if you broke a sweat earning it.
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