Should I Remove Grass Before Tilling?

If you have a grassy area that you want to turn into a vegetable plot or flower bed by going over it with a rotary tiller, you may well be asking yourself how to get started. Should you remove the grass before tilling or not?

Removing the grass before tilling will help prevent it from growing back and also make it easier to till the soil. On the other hand, keeping the grass can help prevent soil erosion, retain nutrients, and contribute to soil health.

In the end, the decision boils down to your specific gardening goals and the condition of your soil. So, let’s delve deeper into this topic and explore the reasons behind both choices to help you make an informed decision for your garden.

Reasons To Remove Grass Before Tilling

First of all, let’s explore the potential benefits of removing the grass before tilling your soil. While it may require a bit of extra effort, there are several advantages that can make this worth considering.

Prevents Re-Growth

Some grass species are known for their resilient nature and can quickly bounce back even after tilling. By removing the grass beforehand, you reduce the chances of it making a comeback and encroaching on your new garden space.

Note that tilling a dead lawn has its own caveats that you need to consider – I wrote about these in more detail here

Less Competition For Resources

By eliminating the grass completely, you give your new plants a better chance to establish themselves and access the resources they need to grow strong and healthy.

Stubborn Grass Roots Are Removed

Grassroots can be stubborn, intertwining with the soil and creating obstacles that can adversely affect your new plantings. 

By removing the grass, you minimize the chances of encountering these troublesome roots, allowing your plants to establish their own root systems more easily.

Easier Tilling

By taking away the layer of grass, you make it a lot easier to till the ground effectively for amazing results. 

Tilling a grassy surface is hard work, even for robust machines like commercial rear-tine tillers.

Benefits Of Not Removing Grass Before Tilling

While removing grass before tilling has its advantages, there are also compelling reasons to consider keeping the grass in place and just tilling it into the ground. 

Let’s take a closer look at why you might choose this method.

Saves Time

By not removing the grass beforehand, you will save yourself the hassle of digging it up. This can be done with a mechanical sod cutter of course but it still takes some time and effort to complete.

Recycles The Grass

Grass accumulates nutrients from the soil, which it stores in its roots and leaves. When the grass is tilled back into the soil, these nutrients are slowly released, benefiting your future plants. 

This natural recycling process helps maintain soil fertility and reduces the need for additional fertilizers.

Helps Prevent Soil Erosion

The grass that’s tilled in not only provides nutrients, but the organic matter also improves soil structure and helps prevent the tilled soil from getting washed out or blown away.

Due to these reasons, tilling the grass into the soil can have long-term benefits for your garden’s health and sustainability. It’s all about finding the right balance and deciding what aligns best with your gardening goals.

How To Decide If You Should Remove Grass Before Tilling 

When deciding whether to remove the grass or not, there are basically just two things to consider:

Time And Effort

First, assess the time and effort required for taking the grass up. Removing grass can be a labor-intensive task, involving either manual digging or using tools like sod cutters. 

If you have limited time or physical capabilities, you might opt for tilling without grass removal. 

However, if you’re up for the challenge and have the resources to invest, removing the grass can provide a clean slate for your new garden bed. 

It’s also worth noting that if the grass is healthy and of good quality, it may be worth removing the sod to use elsewhere in your garden.

Soil Quality

Next, take a look at the current quality and health of the soil. If your soil is compacted, nutrient-depleted, or lacks organic matter, leaving the grass in place and tilling it into the ground can help improve the soil’s condition. 

However, if the soil is already fertile and healthy, removing the grass may be the better option.

Steps For Tilling With Or Without Grass Removal

Whether you choose to remove the grass before tilling or keep it in place, following a simple plan will help the job go smoothly.

Removing Grass

When removing grass before tilling, you have a couple of options. First, you can use mechanical methods such as a sod cutter or a hand shovel. A sod cutter slices through the grass and its roots, allowing you to remove it in sections. 

Alternatively, you could kill off the grass beforehand using herbicides specifically designed for grass removal. Follow the product instructions carefully to avoid harming desirable plants or the environment.

Keeping Grass

If you decide to till without removing the grass, there are some essential steps to follow to make the job easier. 

Firstly, mow or cut the grass down fairly short. 

Make sure your tiller blade is sharp so that it slices through the sod easily. Then use a shallow tiller depth to incorporate the grass into the top layer of soil. A dull blade may not effectively cut through the grass, resulting in lumps of turf everywhere.

Multiple passes at increasing depths will then be required to break up the sod and thoroughly till it into the ground.

Final Thoughts

If you’re planning on tilling an area of grass to make a new veggie plot or flower bed, it’s not always necessary to remove the grass first. 

It really just depends on the condition of your soil and if you have the time and ability to dig the grass up.

For an easier till, then definitely remove the grass beforehand, but if you want to save some time and money, you can just go over it with your rototiller and incorporate the grass into the soil.

Peter Toth

Hi! I'm Peter, the owner of BackyardGadget. Working around the house has always been a big part of my life. I've created this site to share my experience, and to help people choose the right tools for the job. Thank you for stopping by!

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