Digging out your lawn is a tough job, but I’ve discovered there are ways to make it somewhat easier.
Right now I’m nearly finished removing all the grass in the backyard, almost 2,000 square feet, to make way for new landscaping. And I’m doing it all by myself with a shovel.
In the beginning it seemed like an endless task until I got a system going. Read on to find out the easiest way to dig up grass.
Landscaping your yard? Call 811 before you dig.
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Backyard “before” photo
There’s not much going on this backyard. The grass is doing nothing except feed the gophers, which is my main reason for wanting to get rid of it. In its place I’m going to create an urban garden with sitting areas, raised beds and planters.
The little yellow flags along the left side are there to mark the gas line. I won’t be planting anything in that section.
Save money and do the digging yourself
Want to find out how much you can save by doing the work yourself? Check out the link below.
- Cost to Remove Lawn—2014 Cost Calculator (zip code based)
How much does lawn removal REALLY cost? Get the average cost per square feet to remove a lawn in your area. Learn what should be included in a fair lawn removal bid or job quote. Get the real cost facts for lawn removal—instantly.
Protect your body before digging
- Wear two pairs of gloves. This is crucial. I started getting blisters fast when I was just wearing one pair of regular gardening gloves. So I looked around and found a pair of soft white cotton gloves. They fit very snugly. I started wearing them underneath my garden gloves to prevent friction, and that kept my hands from getting new blisters.
- Cover up from the sun. Make sure to wear long sleeves and long pants so you don’t get fried.
- Use sunscreen or a large hat to protect your face. If you’re going to wear sunscreen, I recommend one with zinc oxide. Or you can do what I do and wear mineral makeup as sunscreen.
- Wear sunglasses
- Drink water before and keep water handy. This seems like it would be obvious, but the first day I didn’t take any water outside with me and didn’t drink enough later. By the end of the day I was a little dehydrated and my kidney started to hurt.
Wearing two pairs of gloves will help prevent blisters
Tips for the easiest way to dig up grass
- Work in sections about 5 feet long going across the width of the yard
- Cut strips about 12 to 14 inches wide using a spade
- Dig all around the strip with a shovel, about 6 inches deep to get all the roots
- Roll up the strip of grass
- Shake off the excess dirt while rolling up the grass
Step by step photos for removing grass
Step 1: Work in 5′ long sections
A row in progress.
Step 2: Cut a strip of grass
Ideally you would use a spade for this. I didn’t have one so I found this handsaw in the garage. It works just fine.
Step 3: Dig all around the cut strip of grass
Be sure to dig down at least 6″ to get the roots.
Steps 4 and 5: Roll up the strips of grass and remove excess dirt
You need to remove the large dirt clods as you go along to make rolling the grass easier. My soil is very heavy clay and I chopped at the clods with the shovel or used the handsaw.
At this point the yard is about half done
You can see the rolled up grass along the newly dug up rows.
Leave the rolled up strips of grass at the end of the row
Let the grass dry up. Afterwards, you can compost it, throw it out or chop it up and dig it back into the ground to improve the soil.
Backyard “after” photo. Mission complete! No more grass.
Altogether, it took about three weeks for me to dig up this large backyard by hand. The next step is to install pavers, gravel and plants. The little mounds you see in the photo represent my landscape plan “drawn” with dirt.
To make an overwhelming task seem more manageable, I set daily goals for myself. For example, I would try to do one 5 foot long section per day. Then I broke that down into smaller goals.
In the morning I would decide to tear out four strips of grass before taking a break. Later one I would come back and do four more, etc. Sometimes I felt good enough to keep going. Altogether I worked about four or five hours a day.
Should you dig up your grass or kill it first? Depends on the type of grass. Get these answers and more in this video.
Removing your lawn will save you money with lower water bills. And you can even get paid to do so. Most communities have a program which will reimburse you up to a certain amount. Check with your utility company for more information.