A whole lot of lawn-killing and bean counting goin’ on


Here, there, and everywhere—as I go on my weekly garden blog rounds, it seems many of us are on a mission. Objective: wipe out grass. Methodology: by any non-chemical means necessary. Not that the folks over at Scott’s, Chemlawn, and all the other yardcare mega-businesses need worry. I know lawns are the rule, not the exception. FOR NOW.

First, I must mention the back-breaking work of my fellow ranter Susan. She’s been starting at 6 a.m. daily, out there with a sharp-edged spade and a trowel—nope, no rototiller for her—removing half her lawn, one piece of sod at a time. As many of you may know, she originally planned to use the smothering method, but realized this would take months. I agree with her; at this rate, she’ll get the sod out in a week or so, and feel really good about it. Physical exhaustion can be satisfying.

And I see that Pam over at Digging is interested in xeric front gardens in Texas, while fellow Austin blogger Annie continues a conversion of a front lawn to a front garden. Firefly in Maine is also transforming half of her front yard into a perennial garden, using a fork and a “Toolstep.” You may have already taken note of the 79-comment post Take This Lawn and Kill It over at Talking Plants.

Closer to home, as his garden coach, I am enabling my friend and colleague Ron to plant tall, prairie-like perennials along an L-shaped piece of former “lawn” (beetle-eaten scrub is more like it).

Grass is not the enemy, as we all know; it is what we need to do to keep it presentable. This is an interesting and—to me—encouraging trend. I look forward to follwing it and seeing exactly how widespread it will become.

Elsewhere, some bloggers have been debating the importance of keeping accurate track of stats—turns out the “Top 100 Sites” is just as bogus as its cheesy graphics would seem to indicate. We signed on for a while—who knows which of these blog accoutrements are legit and which aren’t? You have to make a study of these things, and I don’t know how anyone who’s not a fulltime blogosphere geek finds the time. In terms of stats, I do like to know who’s visiting, how many, and where they’re from. Who wouldn’t? In terms of becoming the greatest of all, we gardeners will always be smalltime players and I’m fine with that. I’m in it for the basil mojitos. And the good mojo.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. “… she’ll get the sod out in a week or so, and feel really good about it.”

    I assume someone is helping Susan out with double basil mojitos at the end of each sod-busting session? 😉

    As back-breaking as it is, turf removal is really the most thorough way to go. The beds I’ve done this way are still pretty clear of grass, two summers later.

  2. A scout for a national magazine recently took photos of my back yard to pitch a story. She also wanted “before” photos and a write-up featurnbg a “problem solved” in the garden. Here’s my write-up (in part):

    The problem solved? Grass.

    Grass is the highest maintenance garden plant there is. Never made sense to me to water, weed and nurture something, to make it grow beautifully, to chop it within an inch of its life up once a week. I’ve been on a campaign to rid my property of grass forever. I’m down to one small section I can get with a weed whacker. Soon, there will be none. The mower’s going to a neighbor. Soon, he’ll get the weed whacker too.

    What to put in place of the grass? Brick patio, multi-level deck, raised beds for vegetables, playground/swingset, alternating slate with steppable grasses in a diamond pattern, arbors, an all-grass/black cane bamboo area (the grasslands), brick walkways defining perennial beds and a spa. Now we USE the yard.

  3. What do you all think of rototilling? That’s the way a couple of my friends are doing it. Susan said it was too hard for her to control the machine. What else is good/bad about it?

    I have to coach Ron on this and don’t have a clue–I have never had grass on my property.

  4. If you till the grass under, chances are good that it will come up again. Plus, you won’t be able to amend the soil very well if you’ve got hunks of sod in there. You just have to buckle down and scarf that sod.

    In the landscaping business, you have to remove a lot of sod. There are sod-stripping machines, but for small areas, the best tool is you and a border spade (short handle, flat blade).

    I like to remove the sod in strips that are about a shovel-blade wide and 2-3 feet long. Start by outlining your strip. Then, get down on your knees so you can force the shovel under the sod, taking as little soil as possible. Removing the first piece is hardest — like the first slice of pie.

    It’s hard work. No doubt.

  5. Ambitious plan, it’s hard work loosening and removing grass.

    I planned to have all my grass out a year ago. It’s still got a long way to go.

    Now I tear up 6″ or so along the edge of a bed each week. Little by little, the grass is leaving.

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