A thick layer of compost and cardboard can quickly update your landscape.

How to Kill Grass Without Digging

by Patricia H. Reed

Getting rid of grass in your lawn with a shovel may be quick, but it sure isn't easy. Digging can leave you with an aching back, blistered hands, a lot less soil than you started with -- and probably plenty of grass root fragments waiting to re-sprout. Spraying the area with an herbicide avoids digging, but may not be the best option when children and pets are in the picture -- and a questionable beginning if you plan a veggie garden in the cleared space. Sheet composting kills grass naturally by depriving it of light and oxygen, without ever having to lift a shovel.

Mow the area of lawn that you want to convert to garden as short as you can with your lawn mower. Do not rake up or bag clippings.

Water the grass well, saturating the area.

Sprinkle a high-nitrogen fertilizer such as blood meal or cottonseed meal or a urea-based product over the area at a rate of 1 cup for every 20 square feet. The fertilizer kick starts the decomposition process.

Cover the grass in the treated area with cardboard or stacks of newspaper -- no glossy pages -- six to seven sheets thick. Overlap the cardboard or newspaper by 6 inches as you lay it out so you have no gaps and so slight shifting won't expose any grass. Thoroughly wet the cardboard or paper to keep it from blowing around.

Spread a 3- to 6-inch layer of compost or composted manure over the cardboard or newspaper. Add 6 inches if you want to plant the area immediately, rather than waiting the three to six months it can take the roots and layers of paper to begin to break down.

Plant or seed any plants you want to begin growing immediately, breaking through the cardboard or newsprint and the sod for larger plants, digging a hole twice as wide, but just as deep as the root ball. Fill back in with the compost.

Top with a 2-inch layer of mulch. Keep the mulch at least 4 inches away from the stems of any plants.

Items you will need

  • Lawn mower
  • Nitrogen fertilizer
  • Cardboard
  • Newspaper
  • Compost or composted manure
  • Mulch


  • When you don't include the fertilizer, the grass an other materials break down more slowly so you should include alternating 1-inch layers of a carbon-rich material such as chopped leaves or straw, with nitrogen-rich materials such as additional grass clippings, vegetable scraps or manure. These bulkier materials, which should be stacked at least 18 inches tall, can take up to a year to compress and break down in the soil and are less suitable for immediate planting.
  • Very large new plants, such as trees or shrubs, that you want to include in the new grass-free area, can be planted in the grass. Lay the cardboard and newspaper around them.


  • Watch the edges of holes for any large plants that you put in the ground though the weed barrier. Pull any grass or weed sprouts immediately.

About the Author

Patricia Hamilton Reed has written professionally since 1987. Reed was editor of the "Grand Ledge Independent" weekly newspaper and a Capitol Hill reporter for the national newsletter "Corporate & Foundation Grants Alert." She has a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Michigan State University, is an avid gardener and volunteers at her local botanical garden.

Photo Credits

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