Cut the sod into manageable sized pieces for easier grass removal.

How to Remove Grass to Prepare to Plant a Vegetable Garden

by Amelia Allonsy

A bountiful vegetable garden provides your family with fresh produce throughout the growing season. Before you can start sowing seeds or planting transplants, you must remove all the grass and grass roots from the desired space for the garden. With several months of advanced planning, you can simply smother the grass with thick cardboard or newspaper layers . But if you’re ready to plant your garden and the grass is still there, hand digging is the quickest and least harmful method to remove it.

Lay out the size and space for the new vegetable garden. Most vegetables need a site that receives full sun or more than six hours of direct sunlight daily. Stretch garden hoses to lay out the garden, and spray landscaping paint along the hoses to mark the grass. Alternatively, drive wedges into the ground at each corner of the garden plot. Tie a string to each stake and stretch the string taut between the stakes.

Cut down through the turf layer along the painted lines or string line, using a border spade. Hold the spade upright, perpendicular with the ground, and step on the foot peg to push the blade into the ground. Push 4 to 6 inches deep to cut through the grass and root layer and into the bare soil below. Reposition the spade and repeat along all sides of the marked garden plot.

Measure and mark the grass with a straight line every 12 to 18 inches, working your way from one side of the garden to the opposite side. Mark the lines with landscaping spray paint or simply make a rough guess because exact measurements and perfectly straight lines are not necessary.

Cut along the new lines, using the border spade, to cut 12- to 18-inch-wide strips of grass within the larger grass area. These narrower sections are a more manageable size that makes it easier to remove the grass.

Peel up the corner of one of the narrow strips, starting at one corner of the garden plot. If you can't lift the corner by hand, insert the digging spade and pull back on the handle to pry up the corner.

Roll up the grass strip from end to end, just as you would roll up a piece of carpet. Use the spade or a flat shovel to scrape under the sod layer and sever any grass roots that anchor the turf layer to the soil. Cut the strip into shorter sections about 2 to 3 feet long as you roll so it doesn't get too heavy to lift; the spade works well for cutting into shorter sections, or you can use a knife. Use the removed sod strips to fill in bare spots in the lawn, or give it to a neighbor who can make use of it.

Roll up each narrow grass strip, working from one side to the opposite side, until you have completely cleared the garden plot.

Loosen the exposed soil to a depth of about 8 inches, using a rototiller or hand digging tools. Pick out any large rocks as you work the soil. If you have infertile soil with poor drainage, spread a 4- to 6-inch layer of organic matter, such as finished compost and aged manure, over the soil and use the rototiller to blend the materials thoroughly with the native soil.

Items you will need

  • Garden hoses
  • Landscaping spray paint
  • Stakes
  • Rubber mallet
  • String
  • Border spade
  • Measuring tape
  • Flat shovel
  • Rototiller
  • Hand digging tools
  • Finished compost
  • Aged manure


  • The digging depth varies greatly with different types of grasses and soil types. Some grasses have deep roots, while others are quite shallow and only require a few inches of digging. When you begin cutting along the perimeter of the garden bed, pry up on a corner so you can determine the root thickness, or use a knife to cut out a small square of turf so you can measure the root depth.

About the Author

A former cake decorator and competitive horticulturist, Amelia Allonsy is most at home in the kitchen or with her hands in the dirt. She received her Bachelor's degree from West Virginia University. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle and on other websites.

Photo Credits

  • Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images