Make Use of Removed Sod


QUESTION: I want to enlarge my vegetable garden and have grass to remove. My curbside yard debris collection program won’t take sod. What can I do with the sod I dig up?

ANSWER: You have a couple of choices--use the sod yourself by building a sod compost pile or check to see if a neighbor could use the sod. You can put the removed sod to good use yourself if you build a sod pile. Then, between six months and one year later, you’ll have healthy compost to use in your garden.

Sod can be removed by using a flat edge shovel or a sod cutter. If you plan to strip a large area, you will probably want to rent a sod cutter, which you can rent for about $35 for a half-day. You can cut (not lift) about 3,000 square feet in that time. If you choose to use your own shovel over renting a sod cutter, it’s important to first take a flat edge spade and cut a pattern of straight lines. Careful use of a sod cutter will also provide nice straight pieces. Then when you cut and lift with the flat edge shovel, the sod will come out in square chunks, which are easy to stack in a neat, solid pile.

To build the sod pile, wet down each layer as it is added to the pile (or cut the sod while it’s wet). It’s important that each layer of the pile is wet. You can’t build up the sod pile and then water it down--the water won’t penetrate through the layers. Pile the chunks of sod, grass-side down or face-to-face. If your grass was brown or had a lot of thatch, add a nitrogen fertilizer between each layer. Cotton seed meal is an inexpensive and organic source of nitrogen. Cover the entire pile with black plastic, even the sides and secure the plastic down. It’s critical to keep out all sunlight. For the next six months you can ignore the pile (just make sure it stays covered) and let nature do the work. Next spring, add the finished compost to your vegetable garden and reap the benefits.


The quality of your turf will also determine how easy it will be, or not, to remove the sod. Quack grass is harder to remove than good grass. You will have to dig quack grass roots (rhizomes) out with a fork or shovel to prevent them from overgrowing your new garden. While a sod pile is a good way to kill quack grass and some perennial weeds like buttercup, it will not kill off dandelions or other weeds that have gone to seed.