Are you thinking about re-landscaping your yard or adding a vegetable patch? Now is a fantastic time of year to remove sod and prepare beds for easy Spring planting.
There are several ways to reduce your lawn area and make way for landscape or vegetable beds:

Unfortunately a lot or homeowners and landscape professions are still using chemicals to kill grass lawns. This may seem like an easy approach but the hidden costs are hefty. These toxic chemicals not only kill your lawn but all the good organisms and healthy mycorrhiza that live in the soil. These organisms help to build the framework for a productive garden – you can’t have a healthy garden without healthy soil. My advise is don’t be tempted by the story of a quick fix and sacrifice the long term heath of your soil nor risk the health of your family, pets and all the little critters that live in our urban wilds. The other downside to using chemicals is that you often have to wait months before you can plant in the treated area because the chemicals linger in the ground and will kill anything you try to plant.

Another option is to manually remove the lawn with a sod cutter or shovel. It’s a bit of a job but the nice thing about this method is you can plant immediately so it’s instant gratification. Sod cutters are fast and can be rented by the hour but they are heavy and a bit cumbersome so be prepared for a  core workout ! Removing lawn by hand is a chore, you can try to look at it as a labor of love but it’s still a lot of work so be realistic about how much you take on at once. Some jobs are worth hiring a professional for or at least bribing friends into a pizza/garden-work trade. After removing the grass the soil will need to be turned with a shovel or rototiller because of compaction, it is also a good idea to spread compost or new top soil to help build up the soil. You also need to take into account what you are going to do with all that leftover sod. If you use a sod cutter you can often find someone on craigslist who will come pick it up but having it hauled off can be expensive.

My favorite approach is called sheet mulching or lasagna composting. It’s organic, relatively low labor, inexpensive and produces the most beautiful healthy soil.
Here’s how:

– Mark the outline of your new garden area with twigs or a garden hose so you can visualize where everything will go.

– Mow the area as low to the ground as possible and rake off seed heads.

– Spread at least 3 to 4 inches of hot compost or manure on top of lawn and water it in well. (The company you order materials from can help you figure out how much you need based on the square footage of garden beds you are adding)

– Add a layer of cardboard and be sure to overlap each box so that there are no open spaces. Regular old corrugated is best – don’t use stuff with a heavy gloss finish as it won’t break down as well.

– Next add 2 to 4 inches of compost materials like dried leaves, chipped tree prunings, or lawn debris (that is weed and seed free). If you don’t have these things available from your own yard you can use a 2 inch layer of compost delivered from a soil company.

– Finally add a decorative cover layer like wood chips, bark or plant a cover crop of vetch, lima or clover that will winter over and give you something to look at. If using bark be sure to use a composed variety that is sliver free.

The beds will have to remain damp in order to break down the grass but this is never really a chore in Portland winters. In about 3 months (just in time for Spring planting season) you will have beautiful healthy worm ridden and microbe teaming soil!