Too much lawn

woodswalker88(6)May 19, 2011

I moved to a house that has about 1/2 acre of lawn. The neighbors spend ALL their time on their riding mowers. Meanwhile I don't want to use a power mower because it is bad for the planet. We have been using a hand mower but we are exhausted with that.

I want to eliminate as much lawn as possible and convert it to garden (I'm a newbie at that too.)

What's the best /quickest/easiest way to get rid of lawn grass WITHOUT using herbicide? (I don't believe in's bad for the planet.)

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You won't want to use a sod cutter cuz that's a hefty piece of gas powered equipment so must be bad for the planet. You could layer the area with newspapers and then mulch, but bringing in enough mulch (not to mention all those papers) to cover half an acre would require a large dump truck or three, so THAT'S gonna be bad for the planet too. And once you've managed to kill off all that lawn, you are going to need to replant with something and that means trips to the nursery or garden center......bad for the planet. Not to mention wasting all that water keeping it alive!!

The point're going to have to make some compromises along the route regardless of what you do. Unless you let it go back to nature.

Unfortunately, despite our best intentions, humans are bad for the planet. You just need to evaluate your lifestyle and your environmental consciousness and figure out how to blend them to minimize the impact.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 9:08PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Make a large veggie garden; you can tell yourself that's good for the planet -- but gardengal's trade-offs will apply there also. However, the veggies will be fresher than store-bought, and will taste wonderful -- and you'll have a sense of accomplishment (when not feeling fate, bugs, fungus, and the weather are out to get you).

If you don't mind using plastic, you can kill grass by covering it with sheets of clear or black plastic. I use black and leave it for two months (depending how visible the area is, the neighbors may be amused or irked). I reuse the plastic on the next set of beds. You'll need stones, bricks, or garden staples to keep the plastic from blowing away.

Besides veggies, you can also replace the lawn with berry bushes and fruit and nut trees. Then if you're into crafts, you can grow gourds, various flowers and seeds for crafts, etc. Pretty soon that half-acre will seem woefully small....

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 9:29PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Anything you do other than grass will be more work than mowing with a push mower, unless you pave it. Uncovered ground attracts weeds which, unless you pull them, beget more weeds. And then they will infest your neighbours' lawns, leading to more use of herbicide!

If you're a newbie at gardening, do a bit to start with and see how you do. You might hate it, or be really lousy at it.

Unless you have an objective for the space, I'd be very careful about removing lawn, very, very careful!


    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 10:44PM
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All of the above, or - mow selectively. Leave a large circle of tall grass in the middle. That might win you some time for planning the garden.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 4:35AM
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feijoas(New Zealand)

How about planting trees? You could grow fruit and nut trees, as well as utilising the understory for berries and such. If that sounds interesting, goggle 'permaculture' and 'forest gardening'.
I'm a big fan of sheet-mulching to kill lawn: I smothered a very pernicious running grass with layers of cardboard topped with a ridiculously thick pile of chipped tree mulch.
The worm and bird populations have exploded.
It would be useful if you added your climate zone.
Also, any idea what kind of grass you have?

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 6:37AM
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mdvaden_of_oregon(NW Oregon)

Woodswalker88 ...

Since you are concerned about how your practices affect the environment abroad, how about a piece of information about paper and cardboard in case you have an inkling to try sheet-mulching or lasagna gardening.

Recycling 1 ton of cardboard saves 46 gallons of oil and 6.6 milion Btu's of energy. Recycling 1 ton of paper spares 17 trees, 7,000 gallons of water, 79 gallons of oil, 587 pounds of air pollution and 4,077 Kilowatt hours of energy. Recycled paper produces 73% less air pollution.

All things considered, Lasagna no-till gardening can have a larger carbon footprint and cause more pollution. It's what I call the Dark Side of Lasagna Gardening.

It really depends on whether or not you have local recycling. If not, then laying the paper under mulch can be the optimum choice, and your own way of locally recyling. If you have local cardboard & paper recycling, then lasagna gardening or sheet mulching causes the waste mentioned in the bold letter paragraph, proportionate to however many pounds of paper you remove from the recycling pool.

Generally, I find that just laying like bark mulch alone, say 3" deep, smothers 90% of grass.

Another practical option that uses minimal fuel, is to rent a sod cutter one time. Cut the sod, return the machine, and flip all the sod upside down. That generally smothers 98% of the grass.

M. D. Vaden

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 11:17AM
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I smell a disaster. A lawn is a lot easier and less time consuming to maintain than a similar area planted up as a garden. Sure it can be done and maybe less bad for the planet, had you thought of sheep?

    Bookmark   May 20, 2011 at 11:54AM
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Thanks for your suggestions. I realize a garden needs maintenance, however, physically I am much more able to dig weeds & water, than to pull that string and start a power mower or haul a hand mower around. (I'm not a strong young guy.) Yeah I also realize everything we do is bad for the planet, but I have read that lawnmowers are way more polluting than cars and that in some areas a haze of pollution surrounds some suburban areas on a saturday afternoon. It seems to me that an essential part of having outdoor space is to at least try not to harm the environment that we are enjoying!

A lawn has its place, but a vast one is just too big for esthetic as well as environmental reasons. There is a big boulder in my front yard and I have been planting perennials around it. Then I started trying to expand this garden by putting down things that will stop grass growth: plywood slabs & shelves (from old furniture demolition), tarps, plastic. Would a big pile of mulch help? Also if I turn over the turf & bury it with mulch, will the uprooted grass resurrect itself and re-root?

My other plan is to plant large bushes on the hilly areas (who wants to drag a mower up a hill.) Also ground cover or wildflower seeds. (I do have to eliminate lawn for that.) I would really like to try a "meadow" for the largest area. And a couple of shade trees, but they will take many years to mature.

Another idea I have is to mow the areas that are closest to the road and most visible; leave the less visible areas and let them grow taller...put bordering stones around it to make it look like it is supposed to be a "meadow". I actually prefer the look of taller grass with dandelions & seed heads. Why is the Carpet Lawn the standard of beauty?

I love your sheep question. My daughter wants to get goats. I told her "goats are more work than a lawn. You have to build them a shed, clean up their waste, build a big fence, etc.)" There actually is a family with goats down the road. I wonder if they'd rent one out...:)

PS. my area is "6"--southeastern PA.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2011 at 8:44AM
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The following website from Wildflower Farm contains fairly detailed information about meadows:

Planning Information for Ecological Gardening

There's a lot of information there to go through and digest - the amount of work to establish and maintain a meadow is not the same as having to mow/weed/water a lawn a couple of times a month, but there is definitely a greater degree of knowledge needed if you want to increase your chances at successfully establishing a meadow.

That being said, an unmowed grass field can also be easily attractive. (Personal photo taken at the University of Guelph Arboretum).

- Audric

    Bookmark   May 21, 2011 at 9:49AM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

You aren't going to end up with a meadow without a lawn mower.

Start by taking a field trip to a wild area - a park, a state forest, just somewhere the land is minimally managed, and look around. What do you see? That's what the land wants to be, and it isn't a wildflower meadow. It's a jungle. Older jungle starts clearing out at the floor level, but before the trees, and before the trees mature, it's an impenetrable mess of poison ivy, multiflora rose, wineberries, sumac, Virginia creeper and tree seedlings. That is what you will get if you stop mowing and weeding, and you will get it very quickly. Then it takes more horsepower, either human or mechanical, than a lawnmower to clear it.

If you want to plant some trees, by all means do so, but understand that they should have areas kept clear under them to reduce competition. This usually means mowing. The Tree Forum can explain these things. If you want to plant shrubs on the hill, I'd save the cardboard for that. It will save a lot of weeding. Perennial gardens usually need a fair amount of soil preparation to do well. The soil there tends to be fertile, but can get hard packed. Organic matter and digging can help a lot. A vegetable garden is conspicuous by its absence in your plans.

All of this is going to be a lot of physical work. It's probably a good idea to start somewhat small and see what you really make of it.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2011 at 12:02PM
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I think it may be useful to steer away from thinking, eliminate lawn, and think, how do you want tospend time and how might you use your property. I predict you will need professional ( on site) guidance. There may indeed be the right combination of hardscape, shrubs, groundcovers and close relationship with a mulching service that would accomplish what you want, but I dont hear you being close to designing it yourself. Otherwise I am hearing that you don't actually have the right kind of property for how you'd like to live. Judicious changes in the landscaPe plus a mow&blow company might work.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2011 at 6:04PM
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feijoas(New Zealand)

Just a random side note: maybe you were joking about goats, but I'll say it anyway...
unless you are already an animal expert, or plan to become one, keep the heck away from them!
They are wily and smart escape artists, prone to disease and parasites unless well managed, and last but not least, they're browsers, not grazers, so they'll eat your shrubs and starve on your lawn.
Aside from that, they're awesome!

    Bookmark   May 22, 2011 at 12:21AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

You may be doing to your property what I did to mine over the past twenty years and am now trying to rectify.

As a rabid environmentalist back then, and still only slightly modified, I have always prioritized saving the planet over how my personal environment looks, inside and out. As I've always been a messy person anyway, the results have not been good, and I am looking at spending my 50s correcting for those errors, inside and out (unless we just burn the place down!) - we called the outside my "uglification project" for a long time. Not that this is the place for those true confessions, but I thought of you as I read the thread linked below which, although it discusses the indoors, can be applied to the outdoors.

You can certainly replace lawn with random pieces of plastic, wood, and garbage, but I don't think it will lead to you being happy in the space or with the look. My difference was perhaps that I was fully plant-crazy certified, and working toward an objective of making space for my plants, so there was some overall trajectory to the process. But like Frankie, I'm not hearing an overall purpose in what you're doing, and that is a recipe for disaster. I didn't actually make a success of it until my husband and I sat down and made a plan for the back yard that addressed how we were going to USE it as people, and in the front, how we wanted it to LOOK and FUNCTION.

And the truth is, using your garbage to kill the lawn doesn't keep the stuff out of landfill, it only delays it going in. If you can recycle soft plastic, getting it dirty just removes that option. Mulch, with or without layering, will definitely do all that better - contact a tree service and see if they can bring you a load.

You may be romanticizing the dandelions on the basis of using no herbicide, but (a) you don't have to use herbicide to get rid of dandelions, and (b) although pretty in spring, dandelions are not romantic or environment-friendly; they are an aspiring monoculture. Dandelions, like norway maples, do not have any plans to coexist with other plants but rather to displace them. That is what they are equipped for and it is why they are called weeds. Whether weeds are 4 inches or 40 feet tall, they are in takeover mode. Dandelions, buttercups, and many others, if you show any mercy, they will later show you none, and as they do not respect property lines, your choices will land on your neighbours, and they will use more herbicide.

I have frequently thought that municipal herbicide bans would be far better formatted as bylaws requiring people to be responsible with their own property maintenance by controlling weed growth. Across the street and down the alley there are a few uncontrolled (and very dense!) patches of dandelions that render my own earnest efforts at control laughable, and hopeless.

Anyway, it's your journey, and prior to mine I might not have listened to anyone who'd trod the path before me either. The good news for you is that grass is easy to kill. But filling the void it leaves is quite another thing.

PS have you considered an electric mower? Not as locally polluting, does have an impact of course, but likely managed better than most people tune their gas lawnmowers.

Here is a link that might be useful: Organizing the House forum thread

    Bookmark   May 22, 2011 at 11:51AM
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While I dont agree with your premise or plans; the easiest way to get rid of grass other than the ways you have eliminated is using a manual sod cutter. We use one all the time - its hard work, but you only have to do it once and its certainly easier than digging the grass up with a shovel. When you strip the sod, dont flip it upside down and expect it to die - you need to compost it in a separate area and that will probably turn the compost pile into a grass pile.

I disagree that putting 3 inches of mulch will kill grass effectively - i think it will just come up through the mulch.

It amazes me how many gardening questions could be simply answered with "use a shovel". They usually start with "how do I get rid of..." A lot of ideas that people get about gardening that the OP would say are "bad for the planet" are really the result of laziness or an unwillingness to spend money to hire someone who is not lazy. All of it, lawns, gardens, meadows will require maintenance. Its not about strength its just about getting out there and doing it. I have a disability which makes all physicality painful and difficult - but I spend every day 6 days a week building and maintaining gardens and landscapes. While there are many disabilities that would make that impossible, short of that, "I am not a strong man" does not sound like that to me. If I can get out there and do it, a weak man certainly could.

Audric - I really do love the meadow idea. Even if it is just grass, its beautiful and would only require brush mowing once a year. Thats how we maintain our 9 acre meadow. (I wonder if the neighbors out on their lawn mowers would appreciate the beauty though ;)

Here is a link that might be useful: sod cutter

    Bookmark   May 22, 2011 at 12:03PM
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I just reread my post and it sounds much harsher than I meant it to sound. Sorry, woods, I didnt mean that you are lazy - I dont know you at all and I know nothing about your situation.

I really meant that generally people dont want to deal with yard maintenance and that results in a great business for some of us. I really meant that if I can do it, a lot of people who think they cant -can do it also.

Once again, I apologize. I also meant to say that you can order a sod cutter; but our local hardware store has one for rent- so maybe yours does too.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2011 at 12:14PM
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A bit of an update: I did buy an electric mower with a cord. Then I realized maybe I should have bought the cordless, battery-powered one....because of all the obstructions I have put on the lawn: flowers, bushes & trees.

Yep, I have been very busy planting things. First of all I have been planting perennials around this large rock in the front lawn. As far as killing grass: 1) place large boards around the desired space. 2) Wait a few weeks. 3) start digging it up with a pitchfork & shovel. 4) Hand-clean the clods of turf. 5) toss the grass clumps on top of the rock till I figure out what to do w/them. 6) prepare the soil that I just freed from grass & plant stuff. Me, lazy? I am working harder than I ever have in my life.

I do have a plan & objective. The goal is a yard that feels private, sheltered & shady. A place where I can sit & relax. (A yard that is just lawn is about the least relaxing & enjoyable outdoor space ever.) Planting vegetables is a lower priority at this point. For shade & privacy: I planted shrubs on the hillsides by the house, 2 moderate sized trees in front and an oak & maple on the side where the house gets brutal sun exposure. (hopefully they will grow enough to provide at least moderate shade in the next few years.)

The electric mower has a grass-collecting bag which fills very quickly. I'm using the cut grass as mulch on the hillsides. If I cover existing lawn with a deep coat of mulch, will it eventually get rid of the lawn?

Someone said "maintaining a garden is more work than mowing a lawn". I haven't found this to be true. I planted perennials and haven't had to do anything to the space except water & weed. Meanwhile the lawn, being so large, is just a constant chore that has to be pursued nearly all the time (a different spot every few days.) Plus I seem to have developed an allergy to grass and am covered with itches & welts.

I set the cut height to the lowest. Maybe that will give me a little more time between mowings. Sure wish I had woods in my yard, but houses with nice shady yards are about $300 K.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2011 at 10:55PM
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feijoas(New Zealand)

I recommend cutting lawns high.
A grass blade is a tiny solar panel. Cut it off and the plant tries to grow more solar panels ASAP.
So leaving a decent portion of the blade when you mow actually slows down grass growth.
Depending on what type of grass you have, a deep layer of grass clippings might kill it, but I'd want to have a clear plan for the space...
Grass clippings mixed with something bulky like bark or straw make an excellent mulch for perennial beds.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 2:32AM
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IRuehl(8b-9a, Savannah GA)

If it was me, I would plant a few shade trees, make a few paths in the yard, and fill the rest with ground cover plants.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 9:15AM
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":If it was me, I would plant a few shade trees, make a few paths in the yard, and fill the rest with ground cover plants."

Yep, all that is part of my master plan.

Right now the most serious problem is I've become ALLERGIC to the grass in my lawn!!!! After mowing, I itch like I've been in poison ivy.

    Bookmark   May 31, 2011 at 8:39PM
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There are all sorts of very valid reasons to remove part or all of a lawn, over and above a personal desire to :-) Lawns tend to be the largest contributor to urban pollution through the use/overuse of fertilizers and pesticides, not to mention the amount of water they require to keep looking good. If one adds allergies on top of that, a pretty strong argument can be made for removal!

I may be overworking this suggestion, but I just reread this text (for about the fifth time!) and once again it strikes me as a very appropriate reference for this discussion. I'd encourage you to locate a copy of Plant Driven Design by Scott Ogden and Lauren Springer Ogden at your local library or book store. While it doesn't necessarily address removing lawns specifically, it certainly offers a wonderful array of possibilities in place of lawns or for areas where lawns are difficult to grow, often because of very arid conditions. These often include incorporating hardscapes or pathways/seating areas as a primary part of the plan together with very low maintenance plantings. Although the plant suggestions may be too location specific, it is pretty easy to substitute with regionally appropriate choices that would offer the same ease of maintenance and ability for the majority of plants to "fend for themselves".

I think it's definitely worth looking at in some detail :-)

    Bookmark   June 1, 2011 at 11:06AM
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I think your plan is quite do-able. I think the sod cutter is the best idea. You can rent a gas powered one, the impact will be low becoz you are only using it one or a few times. You can rent a manual one. I would not try to remove all of the lawn at once. Becoz you will have weeds sprouting up before you can get it planted unless you have a service come in and plant everything for you. I would recommend do it in stages. YOu might even decide to leave some lawn, which you could manage with occasional reel or electric mower. I like having some lawn to run with the dog, and just set off the beds. I do not try to have the lawn perfect, I'm organic and don't use chemicals but I hand weed the really noxious ones that I hate. May I suggest making large garden beds with your trees placed first. Two or three trees included in one 'island' bed is very very easy to maintain in my opinion. Where I have just one tree, I use grass clippings from the neighbors and spread around my trees in a large mulched area. Where I have 'island beds' I have them planted with tree, shrubs, flowers and mulched with pine straw. FYI I have also very successfully used grass clippings to smother grass in southern Louisiana. There was mowing of tall grass about every 4 days so I had a steady supply. Besides your trees (and you must factor in mature growth, don't plant too close together or close to house etc), may I also recommend mostly shrubs, if your goal is shade and relaxation. Flower gardens can be very labor intensive, weeding, dividing, deadheading etc. But trees and shrubs with good mulching are very very easy to keep weed free, much easy to rake or hoe in between periodically. There are many great shrub choices and they flower and berry in all seasons, if you plan for that. I think you will be successful but expect it to take a couple years.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2011 at 10:34PM
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