removing old grass and installing new grass

How to Remove Old Grass and Lay New Turf

In Lawn & Garden by Jamie

It’s finally that time, your old lawn just isn’t cutting it for you and all you want to see is a luscious green lawn as you step out your front door. As a homeowner, keeping your grass green can be difficult if you’re not aware of the practices and the hard work it takes. However, now it’s time to restart and learn exactly how to remove old grass and lay new turf.

Grass can be removed using special machines or you can use various gardening tools to remove the old turf. Renting a machine will cost more, but it will make the process much easier. Using garden tools will take a long time and hard work, but could save you some money.

I will explain how to remove grass in both ways, while I recommend what machines are great to use and rent and what garden tools you can use to remove old grass. Below are the steps on how to remove old grass.

Steps to Remove Old Grass and Lay New Grass

1. Preparation

This stage is important, preparing for grass removal will save you time and likely money too, time is money right? Anyway, in the preparation stage decide if you are renting a machine because you need to decide where you will rent it from.

Machine Name Where to Rent
Classen Sod Cutter HomeDepot
Classen PRO Sod Cutter HomeDepot
Ryan Walk-behind Sod Cutter United Rentals

The cost of renting large lawn tools to remove your old grass will cost more the longer they are rented. On average, expect to pay a minimum of $100 per day while you might have to pay delivery fees if you cannot pick up the sod cutters. Check local shops for rentals as they might have better-competing rates than the big brand stores.

If you are not renting heavy tools and you are removing the old sods using hand-held tools, here is a list of tools you can use:

Tool Work Speed Work Difficulty Level
Grub Hoe Medium Medium-Hard
Edger and Spade Shovel Slow Medium-Hard
Quail Sod Cutter Fast Easier the softer the soil

Using a combination of these tools along with a garden fork, edger, shovel, and other tools can make this process much easier. Don’t forget that having a wheelbarrow can also make this process easier for sod removal too.

2. Begin Removing Old Grass

Now follow the method of removal you have chosen and follow the steps accordingly. Since you are doing this on your own lawn, don’t be scared to make mistakes. There aren’t really any major mistakes you can make, the most important thing you should consider is safety. Wear steel toe boots, gloves, and overall just be careful if you aren’t familiar with such tools.

How to Remove Grass With Handheld Tools

First, decide the area and the amount of old grass you are removing. If it’s not your full yard then you can grab some spray chalk to shape where you plan to cut. Keep in mind, removing grass manually without machinery is hard work, especially a full lawn! There are various methods to remove grass using handheld tools so I will start off with my most recommended to least recommended based on difficulty.

Remove Grass Using a Quail Kick Sod Cutter

Although removing sod by hand you are probably trying to save as much money as possible, the kick style sod cutting tool is typically priced anywhere from 250-350 dollars. Furthermore, they aren’t an easy tool to find to purchase, but if you can get your hands on one then go for it. This sod remover can glide under through the soil making your old grass roll up like new sod.

How it works is that you kick the sod cutter, this kick slides the blade under the grass peeling it up. Once you cut about 10 feet of grass you can roll it up and dispose of the old grass. Pile it somewhere and have it as compost or take it to be composted. Take a look at this video to understand what it is and how its done.

Remove Grass Using Garden Tools

This method is time-consuming but works well. Tools required are an edger, garden fork, wheelbarrow, and a spade shovel. What you want to do is cut out the shape you want to remove using the edger, this can be long lines or small squares. Once cut you can use your garden fork to lift the old grass up and out of the ground. If you are having trouble lifting this is where a sharp spade shovel comes in hand. Use the shovel to lift the old grass out too. Roll up the strips or pick up the squares, throw them in your wheelbarrow and dispose the old grass appropriately.

Recap the steps are:

  • use an edger to cut grass in squares or long lines
  • use a garden fork and spade shovel to lift old sod
  • throw old grass in a wheelbarrow to dispose

Note that you CAN flip old grass over and lay new sods over the top. Its best if you cut up the old grass first though. Watch this video to understand this process of grass removal.

Remove Grass Using a Grub Hoe

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A grub hoe is a long handheld tool that has a semi-sharp metal end that can quickly cut through a layer of grass and soil. You can use this tool to swing towards the grass to slowly chip the turf away one swing at a time. This process is faster than edging it, but it makes a lot of mess. You need to pick up every piece you cut off and throw it in the wheelbarrow to dispose of it.

The process and ease of use is easy, it’s just a messy option that some people prefer if they want to rapidly swing away at their old grassy lawn.

How to Remove Grass With Machines

There are a few machines that you can rent to remove the old grass on your lawn. Yes, you could get a big tractor to come it and scoop it up in a matter of 30 minutes, but we all don’t have or want to do that option. The most common machine and rented tool for lawn removal is a fuel-powered sod cutter, let me explain.

What is a sod-cutter?

A sod cutter is a popular lawn maintenance machine that is designed to cut rooted grass in strips for easy removal. Typically these machines are used to relocate sods or fully remove sods for gardens, patios, walkways, and many other lawn features. These machines are typically fueled by gasoline and have plenty of power.

How to remove old grass with a sod-cutter?

First, you want to learn how to properly and safely operate such a tool and should do whatever research required before using it. They are heavy machines and if one rolls or falls on you, that’s about 300lbs of weight you need to be aware of.

These sod cutters have a cutting blade on the bottom, as you bring your machine into the cutting mode you lower the blade into the ground and press the throttle. This is how you get into the ground and now you are ready to get cutting. I can explain the process but many machines are different, so understanding what machine you are using is critical for success and safety reasons.

Once your sod cutter is ready to cut, start cutting in long strips back and forth your lawn. These strips are then ready to be rolled, folded, and picked up for removal.

The machine does all the hard work that you would need to do using an edger and a spade shovel. The machine is heavy and still hard work, but it’s done a lot faster and it basically cuts and drives for you. The costs can be high depending on where or if you rent. If you or a friend has this machine you’re in luck, but if not places like HomeDepot, United Rentals, and other tool rental companies should be able to provide you these tools.

What are the best Sod Cutters?

The best sod cutters for turf removal are the Classen models found to rent at Home Depot and the Ryan models available to rent from United Rentals. There are other models, but these are the only 2 I am personally familiar with and will do the job. Check the rental availability in your area and the rental costs.

3. Lay Your New Turf

Laying turf isn’t a very difficult process, it’s just hard physical work. The first thing you want to do is measure out how much turf you are going to need. Grab a large measuring tape and measure in a large rectangle, measuring in squares and rectangles keeps the process simple.

For example, if your yard is 10 feet by 12 feet, you need 120ft² of sods, plus it is always a good idea to order 5-10% more sods than you need just to be safe. If you are doing a large project order the turf in advance to make sure it is available, decide if you want to pick it up or have it delivered to your address.

Add Some Fertilizer Before Laying Turf

To really help with your new sods you are about to lay I recommend sprinkling some fertilizer to improve a healthy root system for your new turf base. The products you can add before laying the turf would be a Gypsum Fertilizer, Bone Meal, or a Grow More fertilizer designed to supply more nutrients in the soil.

Installing the New Turf

Starting in a designated corner, begin rolling or placing out your turf. When connecting your second piece of turf to the starter, make sure they connect close, almost as if they are crunching into each other. We do not want gaps between our turf pieces. Use a garden rake or lay wooden planks over the fresh sods and begin pushing them into the ground. Don’t damage them, but push so they grab into the soil underneath.

A great tip when starting on your second row of sods is to stagger them from your last row. This means avoid having all four corners meet, start with a shorter or longer piece so your connecting edges do not all meet together. Overall this creates better coverage for your turf to grow together.

After laying out all the turf, its time to cut the edges to give the new grass lawn a fresh finished look. Use a sharp knife or a sod-cutting tool, such as the Keyfit SOD Knife. This process is simple, just follow the edge of you property, concrete paths, and any other edges you might need to cut around.

Water the New Turf

After installation of your new turf lawn, you must begin watering. I recommend setting up a sprinkler attached to your hose. Water enough until the water sinks through the sods into the soil beneath, this will help the roots grow down from the new sods into the soil beneath.

How often should you water new sods? Your new sodded lawn should be watered 3 times a day for about 10 to 15 minutes each time. You should aim to water your new lawn every day for the first 2 weeks, make sure the root is taking, and eventually, you can take it easy on the watering. Once a day after the first couple of weeks is fine. Test the grassroots by lightly pulling up the grass and feel if its roots are becoming established or not.

Be careful though, it is possible to overwater your new sods; if you make them soggy, it can cause the roots to poorly grow underneath, leading to your grass pulling up very easily.

If you are having problems growing grass on dirt or other issues, you might want to consider adding organic matter to your lawn. I have a full guide on how to add organic matter to your lawn, click to read it.

4. Take Care of Your New Grass

Finally, you removed your old grass and installed new turf. Now you must take care of your newly installed lawn. There are a number of ways to take care of new sods, like I already mentioned, watering is very important so DO NOT forget properly watering your new lawn.

After watering daily for a few weeks and possibly months, your root should be stronger and established. Your grass at this point should be growing, this means it might be time for a mow. Once your grass reaches over 3-4 inches in height you should mow the lawn. Push mowers are less damaging and are recommend for newly sodded lawns, but if you down have one that’s ok, just be careful with your mower and only cut an inch or so off. Do not cut below the 2-inch mark, this could be damaging on new grass. Try to set your mower as high as it can go to prevent any damages.

Tips to keep in mind for new sods:

  • avoid walking on the lawn for the first 14 days
  • no mowing for the first 14 days
  • the first mow should be at the highest setting
  • avoid watering new sods at night
  • water lawn according to the weather
What to do About Lawn Patches in New Sods?

If you are having some issues with lawn patches after installing new sods, adding organic matter topdressing can help bring the nutrients your lawn needs. Normal topsoil can help as well, apply fertilizer and seeds to see your patchy area come back to life.

Final Thoughts

I hope my detailed guide to help teach you how to remove old grass and lay new turf has come in hand. I moved into a new home and had to deal with new sods so I know the maintenance can be intimidating. However, properly watering is what really created my green looking lawn. Take control and follow the necessary steps it takes to grow a healthy-looking lawn.

Good luck digging, removing, installing, and taking care of your grass lawn!