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Removing Turf Is a Key Step in Creating a New Water-Saving Home Landscape

LifeRemoving Turf Is a Key Step in Creating a New Water-Saving Home Landscape

Landscape with turf removedRemoving turf is a key step in creation of a water-saving landscape. Photo by MK Digital Products via Pexels

Eleventh in a series republished with permission from the San Diego County Water Authority‘s website.

Once you’ve finalized your plans for a water-saving landscape, you’ll have some demolition work ahead of you, including the existing turf you plan to remove or replace.

Removing turf presents choices about the best way to accomplish this task. Learn more about turf removal options and understand the steps before you begin.

Reclaiming an area of unwanted turf requires diligence. No matter what method of turf removal is used, plan on routine maintenance, including weeding or herbicide application, as often as every two weeks for the first three months after your take your turf out. Some tenacious warm-season grasses might give you a battle for even longer.

Options for Turf Removal

Natural turf removal. A natural way to remove turf and preserve the soil’s ecology is to strip the turf and water the area for the next two weeks to encourage grass to re-sprout and hand pull all new growth.

Sheet mulching. Rather than removing turf and taking it to the landfill, you can compost it in place. First, remove several inches of turf and soil from the edges near your hardscape. Wet the turf area and cover it with several layers of newspaper. Water again and cover with cardboard. Water again and cover with three inches of shredded mulch.

If you can invest the time, allow several months for the soil microbes to decompose the turf and turn it into friable soil for plants.

Solarization. Another alternative is solarization. This works best in the spring or summer. Turf areas are covered with rolls of plastic. Sun exposure heats the soil and kills the turf and weed seeds. The cover must be airtight with no holes and left in place for six to eight weeks. However, this method will also kill beneficial soil microbes. Using this method, you must follow up and apply compost or other soil amendments to restore the soil’s healthy biology.

Turf removal with herbicide. If you choose to use an herbicide, consult with your local landscape supply store and read the manufacturers’ label for best use practices and safety considerations. Since Bermuda grass and some other grasses are dormant in the winter, they must be treated when actively growing in the remainder of the year (May to October).


When the turf is removed, you need to grade your property.

Set the soil level to direct water away from the house. To help slow down water runoff from your garden, try creating small depressions away from structures, walls, or paving where water is allowed to pool and slowly percolate into the soil.

The more you slow the water down or hold it on site, the more you improve water quality in your area and downstream at local beaches.

Remember that runoff carries with it soil particles and pollutants. Reduce runoff by using mulch.

Prep For Success

Now that you have removed unwanted turf and other plants, it is time to condition your soil.

Soil amendments should be selected based on your soil analysis recommendations. Till them into the top layer of soil. Compost (15-30% by volume), gypsum and fertilizer are typical amendments in arid climates like San Diego County.

The goal is to achieve healthy soil containing microbes which feed plants, improve drainage, and increase the natural water holding capacity of the soil.

The San Diego County Water Authority offers programs, resources, and incentives to improve water-use efficiency for residential, commercial, and agricultural users. For more water-use efficiency resources, go to WaterSmart.SD.org.

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