There are plenty of reasons why you might want to remove the grass from your front yard. Clearing a space for a garden, getting rid of dead or decayed grass, laying a new paver patio, and planting a different type of grass all require you to remove your sod.
There are two ways to remove the sod. You can use the cutting machine or you can do it by hand. Which you choose will depend on how much grass sod you’re cutting, how quickly you want it done, and how much you want to spend.
The good news is, cutting sod isn’t all that difficult. You just need the right tools. Getting rid of your unwanted sod will open your lawn up to a great transformation, so you should be excited to get started!
The first thing you’ll want to do is measure the area you’re cutting. This will help you decide if you want to use the machine or do it by hand. Small areas are totally manageable by hand and there’s no need to waste money on renting a machine at all.
Large areas may benefit from renting a machine because it will take a lot less time and work. You can rent machines by the hour or by the day. Check your local hardware stores and shop around to find the best deal.
Renting a turf cutter will likely cost $100 for a day, so it’s best to be sure you need it and estimate how long you’ll need it before committing to renting it. You can also buy one, but it will cost you thousands, so this is only a viable solution if you plan to use it a lot or need it for a very long time.
How to Cut Sod Guide
Using a Shovel or Edger
If you have a small enough space that you think you can tackle it with a shovel or an edger, it will save you some money. It may take a few hours to get everything removed, but this is the best method for tackling a tight space or clearing sod for a small garden.
Watering your sod a few days in advance may seem counterintuitive, but it serves an important purpose. However, it’s a delicate balancing act. You want the sod to be wet enough that you can roll it up in one piece but you don’t want it to be soggy that you can’t lift it.
Depending on the time of year and the weather, aim for watering 1-3 days in advance so your sod is still damp when you’re ready to remove it.
Dig Out the Perimeter
Push your shovel or edger about 6 inches into the soil around the perimeter of where you want to remove the sod. Lift the shovel or edger straight back out and push it down again next to the first spot.
Continue pushing the shovel into the ground until you’ve framed out the sod you want to remove.
Now you can trim down the sod so it’s easier to remove. Push your shovel down into the soil again, making narrow strips that you can roll up and move away. These can be as large or small as you want them to be. Larger pieces may make the job more efficient, but they’ll be heavier. Aim for making these strips 1-2 feet wide. They can be as long or as short as you’d like, but 4-5 feet is typically manageable.
Break Up Roots
Next, use the shovel or edger to pry the sod up so you can slide it underneath. Place your shovel or edger into one of the cut sides, pry up on the sod, and push your tool underneath the sod as far as you can. Wiggle it back and forth while pushing forward to break up root systems and taproots.
Roll it Up
Once you’ve broken up all of the roots, you should be able to roll them up and move them away. Grab one edge of the sod with your hands and fold it on top of itself. Roll the rest of it up like a carpet until you reach the end of the section.
If you can’t break up the root system or roll up the sod, you can scoop small sections of it out with a shovel and place it in a wheelbarrow. This is ideal for smaller sections, but may be necessary for tough sections that you can’t cut with the shovel.
Using a Sod Cutter
Much of the preparation for cutting your sod with a sod cutter is the same as if you were using a shovel. What varies is the tool you use to do it.
Much like with a shovel, you’ll still need to water your soil 1-3 days in advance to make it easier to remove. The soil should be damp, but not soggy. That way it will come out in one piece but it won’t be too heavy to lift.
Rent a Sod Cutter
You can rent a sod cutter from the local home improvement store. It might cost around $100 for a day, but it’s an efficient way to remove large patches of sod. Make your reservation in advance and make sure you rent it long enough to get the job done. If you plan to remove a lot of sod over time, purchasing a sod cutter might be a wise investment.
Wear Protective Gear
When using large pieces of equipment, it’s best to wear protective gear for operating. Even if you’ve used one before and you’re familiar with how to do it, wearing goggles, earplugs, and gloves is a smart choice.
Some tool rental companies may include these as a part of your rental, while others won’t. Find out what’s included so you can be sure to acquire the other items separately if needed.
Mark the Sod
Before getting started, mark your sod with flags or something else indicating where to drive the machine. Move obstacles out of the way, or mark them clearly so you can avoid hitting them.
Walk around and look for large branches, lights, garbage, or anything else cluttering the lawn that may get in the way or hurt the machine.
Read the User Manual
Make sure you read the user manual so you understand how to use the sod cutter. Read the instructions on how to operate the machine safely. By reviewing this, you’ll protect yourself, the machine, and your lawn. Every model is slightly different, so even if you’ve used one before, make sure you understand the differences before getting started.
Adjust the Cutting Depth
Most sod cutters have a lever that will adjust the depth of the cutting tool. Set the depth at about 1 inch to begin. This should be plenty of depth to remove most sod. If you can’t find the lever, read the instructions to ensure you’re setting the depth in the correct way.
Adjust the Height Bar
Move the sod cutter to the section of sod where you want to begin and turn it on. Tilt the machine to the ground and then move the height bar to point the front of the machine downward. This lever is usually located on the left side of the machine and ensures that you can cut the sod in one smooth motion.
Once you’ve adjusted the depth and height, you can simply walk forward along the path where you want to remove the sod. Hold the handlebars firmly and walk slowly while pushing. Keep pushing until you reach the end of the section. It should make a need to cut across your turf.
Once again, you need to read the instructions carefully. Every machine turns differently, so you need to be prepared to turn your machine appropriately when you get to the end of a section. In some cases, you disengage the wheel drive using a lever at the top of the machine to help you pivot. However, there could be a button or a switch, and it could be located in a completely different place.
Use the control to disengage the wheel so you can turn the machine. Once you’ve positioned the machine at the beginning of the next section, engage the wheel again and continue walking forward.
Cut Into Sections
Just like cutting the sod with a shovel, you’ll want to cut your sod with a sod cutter into narrow sections of about 1-2 feet wide and 5-6 feet long. This makes it easier to roll and move away when you’re done.
Remove the Sod
You’ll still need a shovel or edger for this part of the job. The sod cutter should already have broken-up roots, but using a shovel may make it easier to pull up the edge of the sod and get your roll started.
Sometimes it’s easier to remove the sod in small sections because it’s not nearly as heavy, but for larger jobs, it will take longer. If you’d rather do it this way, you can scoop it out in small pieces with a shovel and place it in a wheelbarrow.
Answer: Cutting sod isn’t too difficult, as long as you have the tools you need. Using a shovel or an edger makes for some manual labor, but you can get it done with some muscles and friends. It’s also an affordable way to remove sod without having to rent any tools.
Answer: There will be some instances in which renting a sod cutter is worth it. If it’s going to take you several hours to cut and remove your sod, you can simply rent a sod cutter for a day and knock it out more quickly.
Even better, check with your neighbors and the time your rental when they’re ready to remove their sod, too, and you can split the cost of the rental and help each other get it done.
Answer: Once you remove your sod and you’re ready to loosen and turn the soil, you can use your sod cutter for that, too. If you’re removing sod to plant something new, maximize your sod cutter rental by using it to loosen the soil and prep the yard for new growth.
Answer: One of the most critical steps in prepping your ground for new sod is removing the old. This helps the new lawn build a strong root system. Completely removing old grass gives your new grass a better chance to spread and grow into healthy turf.
Answer: Renting a sod cutter is a faster, more efficient way to remove your grass because it will cut through the roots, making it easier to remove. Cutting the roots will ensure that your old grass doesn’t grow back and it means you won’t hurt your back trying to break up root systems with a shovel.
How to Cut Sod Guide: Final Thoughts
Cutting sod isn’t difficult, but it does require some hard work. Whether you use a shovel or you choose to rent a sod cutter is up to you. Using a shovel is ideal for smaller sections because you won’t have to maneuver a large machine through tight spaces. It’s also cheaper.
However, if you have a large section of sod you’d like to remove, it will be easier and much more efficient to rent a sod cutter for a day. It might cost some money, but it’s the best solution when doing it by hand will take too long.
Don’t worry too much about removing too much or too little. You can always come back later with a shovel and remove a bit more or plant new grass in places where you might have removed too much. Either way, you’ll end up with a gorgeous lawn and a project you’re proud of.