Crowd Wisdom


I have made a number of vegetable gardens in my life, but never one without removing the sod first.


Oh yeah, once I tried the wet newspaper method.  It didn't seem terribly successful to me, because the grass was still going strong months later under the newspaper.  And the cow manure I piled on top of the newspaper was weedy beyond belief, and it all wound up to be kind of a mess, until I got a plow in there to rip up and bury the sod.

But that was in a different, much more fertile place.  In my city yard in Saratoga Springs, the soil is sheer beach sand.  The grass doesn't really want to grow here anyway.

While I intended to rip all the sod off this spot, I exhausted myself last weekend ripping up sod down the street to expand the Lake Avenue Elementary School Garden.  I decided instead to listen to all the Rant readers who told me just to pile compost on top of the sod and plant into that.


This is what I've got to work with–a 7-yard pile of composted yard waste delivered at the bargain price of $140 by the city.  It's cooked into oblivion.  It's dense, it's wet.  I cannot imagine a blade of grass surviving after being buried in four or five inches of this stuff and being totally deprived of sunlight.

So I am giving the laziest of all garden-making methods a try.  I'll let you know how it goes.



  1. You probably already did this, but just in case – did you do a soil test on the compost? I know my enthusiasm gets ahead of thinking at this time of year and I forget to do something key in a project like get a soil test profile – and I used to teach this stuff! Our local compost is almost pure N and needs some amending depending on where it’s used in the garden. Good luck and don’t hurt yourself.

  2. So shoot me, but I would have sprayed the grass with glyphosate first. Then it will die for sure. I don’t think 4 to 5 inches of compost is enough to smother it unless you put another thick layer of mulch on top of the compost.

  3. I’m with you Christopher. Glyphosate is my method of choice for making new beds if I’m in a hurry. I find the smother and plant method only really works for me if I’ve got lots of time to wait — as in, put down the newspaper, compost, and mulch in the fall, plant in the spring.

  4. I wish you had laid down lots of cardboard before you dumped that great compost. Of course, I think you will visualize success – and have a great garden.

  5. thanks for giving the play by play on installing your new back yard garden. i remember you talking about the weed messs in your book. this is always the no. 1 question in getting beds started where there is turfgrass. how to get rid of it? yes, sod cutters and digging up by hand is back breaking. smothering doesn’t always to do job and takes so long. here in St. Louis i deal with a lot of yards that have Zoysia, which is a mess to deal with, and i always hate to recommend RoundUp to kill it first. again thanks for the play by play. will love to watch you transform you back yard into a food garden that matches your country one or at least has the same flavor.

  6. Weeds will show up. Who knows if they come in with the compost or blow in on the wind. By making the soil nice and fluffy they will be extra easy to yank.

    I’ve taken to covering the ground with massive amounts of compost (at least 4 inches thick) and then placing either landscape fabric or plastic sheeting on top of it with holes cut out for plants. If I put any mulch on top of the plastic (like in a flowerbed) I only put a super thin layer so that the mulch stays dry and few weed seeds sprout. People recoil in horror when they see the plastic sheeting but it really helps keep the soil moist so I don’t have to water much. It also helps move surplus rainwater away so things don’t drown. But then my yard is 1.5 acres and every square inch of it is garden and I am the only weeder/harvester/grower.

  7. I’m not entirely educated on sod lawns, but wouldn’t solarizing take care of the problem? Yeah, it takes a long time, but I find it’s great in my giant weed patches (yard) when it comes time to set raised beds. Never any bug or latent weeds issues.

  8. I’m a cardboard smoother gardener myself. I find that it takes care of all the weeds and grass and breaks down slowly! No chemicals are ever used in my gardens, no way, no how! Good luck, that compost looks so rich and delish!

  9. Thanks for sharing your progress! I can’t wait to see what you plant there.

    I live in Oregon (Grass Central), and here’s what I did: I smothered an area about 2-4 feet wide along the edge of a lawn with compost and nothing else, and shaped it into a curvy berm about 2 feet high at the highest point (3-4 inches thick at the low edges). I didn’t use any herbicides, cardboard, plastic, or newspaper, etc. I edged it with some edging bricks, just to contain the compost and give it a neat look until the plants took over. And then I planted it to mostly perennials, with ground covers on about one-third of it. I mulched after planting with small-sized bark mulch. Everything grew really fast (I needed to keep it well-watered as the drainage was so good), and yes, I did have to weed grass out of the thinner areas near the edges as it came up (if I herbicide anything, it’s the edges outside the berm). Some stray grass still pops up even in the thicker areas, but it’s easy to pull and after 4 years, the plants I planted have taken over pretty well.

  10. I just recently covered my entire side yard with a double layer of large cardboard pieces from a furniture store. Then I piled a topsoil,compost and composted manure mix into unframed raised beds over the top. In the walkways, I used straw to cover the cardboard and hopefully provide another layer of mulch. Totally just made this up as I went, so we will see how it looks two months from now, but it looks good now!

  11. I’ve had great luck with the wet newspaper method, although instead of newspapers, I used three boxes of ancient manga. (Yes, yes, I’m sure the trace elements in the inks will give me cancer of the hair or something, don’t care, it’s what I had lying around.) Nothing survived underneath whatsoever.

    I tried dirt and mulch over live turfgrass too, and that was more or less successful, although there was some grow-through, where there was none at all on the manga.

  12. I am surprised you did’nt set simple frames on top of the soil (grass) and then filled them with 8in of that delicious looking compost. No grass or weed already present would have had a chance to grow through that.
    Obviously I am a fan of raised bed gardening when it comes to vegetables. But only because it works so well. How fun, you get to create a new Garden.

  13. Tried all the stuff mentioned and came to same conclusion that you did. Buy compost from city at $27 a ton and put it right on top on the soil. Everything else is jut too much work and waiting. Just for the heck of it, I spread newspaper or leaves from last fall underneath before spreading. Don’t think it is necessary but sounds good.

  14. I did the top soil and compost method on my old garden and it worked fine. Just prepare yourself for the smell of rotting grass that will waft up from beneath your compost for a few months. It isn’t pretty but it doesn’t last forever.

  15. Michelle, congratulations on making a great start! Just a bit more advice for you to consider: I recommend that you keep the compost 10-12″ deep throughout the entire bed, both for grass control and, even more importantly, fertility. I’ve tried it and the results are stupendously productive!

  16. Yeah, I’ve always heard 6 inches minimum to kill weeds, and I’d put down more than that on the theory that it’s better to do it right up front. I’ve had great luck with the newspaper/cardboard method, but it’s a LOT of newspaper, like thick sections of newspaper piled in many overlapping layers.

    Do keep us posted–it’s fun to watch.

  17. I realize this is heresy to admit here, but I simply spray weed killer and put down a thick layer of mulch. A week or so later, dig in. If I had to strip sod every time I created a new bed, my yard would still be bare.

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