Replacing Grass With a Garden Bed

Converting your lawn into a beautiful garden bed can completely transform the look and feel of your outdoor space. With some planning and preparation, you can remove grass and install lush flowers, shrubs, trees, and edible plants in its place. Follow this step-by-step guide to successfully replace grass with a thriving garden bed.

Why Replace Grass with a Garden Bed

There are many great reasons to replace grass with a garden bed:

  • Lower maintenance. Grass requires regular mowing, watering, weeding and fertilizing to stay green and lush. Gardens beds allow you to group plants with similar needs, saving time on upkeep.
  • Water conservation. Most garden plants need less frequent watering than thirsty grass. Replacing grass with drought-tolerant native plants or edibles can reduce your water usage.
  • Curb appeal. Gorgeous blooming flowers, attractive foliage, and winding pathways invite people to explore your garden. Curb appeal can add value to your home.
  • Improved ecology. Diverse garden plantings attract more pollinators and birds than a grass lawn. You’ll enjoy watching butterflies, hummingbirds, and songbirds visit your new garden.
  • Food production. Edible gardens allow you to grow your own fruits, vegetables, and herbs, providing fresh produce right outside your door.
  • Creativity and relaxation. Designing, planting, and caring for a garden bed provides an enjoyable creative outlet. Working in the garden can also lower stress.

With the right approach, you can successfully convert your high-maintenance grass into a magnificent garden bed you’ll love.

Planning Your New Garden Bed

Careful planning is the foundation of any new garden bed. Consider the following factors as you design the shape, location, size, and layout of your new space:

Shape and Location

  • What shape should your new bed be? Curving beds have an organic, natural look. Straight lines and squared corners create a formal aesthetic.
  • Locate your bed near a water source for convenient irrigation, and where it will receive sufficient sunlight for your chosen plants.
  • Consider views from inside your home and outdoor living areas so your garden will be visible and easily enjoyed.


  • Smaller beds are easier to reach across for weeding and harvesting. Larger gardens provide more room for a diversity of plants but require more work.
  • Match the size to the amount of time you’ll realistically spend maintaining it. Start small if this is your first garden bed.
  • You can always expand later by removing more grass or connecting additional garden spaces.


  • Group plants with similar needs like sun exposure, water requirements, and soil conditions. This makes care easier.
  • Plant taller specimens towards the back or center and shorter plants up front for balance and visibility.
  • Repeat certain colors, textures, or plant varieties to create cohesion through the design.

Existing Elements

  • Incorporate existing trees, boulders, pathways, arbors or other features into your bed design. Work around or enhance them.
  • Are there any underground cables, pipes, or sprinkler lines to avoid disturbing during removal of the grass? Identify these first.


  • In-ground drip irrigation saves water and makes watering large beds much easier. Plan this system first if possible.
  • Use soaker hoses, sprinklers, or hand watering for smaller garden spaces. Group plants accordingly.

Thorough planning will help your garden bed thrive for years to come. Consider sketching plans to visualize layouts and dimensions before removing any grass.

Removing the Existing Grass

Once you’ve planned out your ideal garden bed, it’s time to remove the grass. Here are some effective options for eliminating your lawn:


This non-chemical method involves covering the grass with clear plastic sheeting during warm, sunny weather. The heat and lack of sunlight kills the grass after 4-6 weeks. It’s best for smaller areas.

Sheet Mulching

Also called lasagna gardening, this technique layers newspaper or cardboard over grass to block light and smother it. Top with compost and mulch. Plant directly into beds after grass dies.

Herbicide Application

Non-selective herbicides that contain glyphosate will kill grass when sprayed evenly over the lawn. Follow product instructions carefully for best results.


Use a rototiller or lawn tractor attachment to churn up the sod and expose grass roots. Rake up and remove the grass clumps. Go over the area multiple times.

Digging Up

For very small areas, carefully digging up the grass with a shovel or spade works well. Try to remove entire clumps and roots or regrowth will occur.

No matter the removal technique, be sure to eliminate all grass within your garden bed area to prevent regrowth issues.

Preparing the Garden Bed Soil

Now that the sod is gone, you need to prepare the soil beneath it for planting. Here’s how to get your soil garden-bed ready:

  • Till or spade the entire bed at least 8-12 inches deep to break up compacted soil and allow for deep root growth. Mix in 2-4 inches of compost.
  • Test your soil pH and amend with lime if too acidic or sulfur if too alkaline. Most plants grow best in slightly acidic soil between 6.0-7.0 pH.
  • Mix in a balanced organic fertilizer or compost over the entire bed to enrich the soil with nutrients for healthy plant growth.
  • For raised beds, fill with a quality potting soil mix. Or create your own mix using one part compost, one part topsoil, and one part perlite or vermiculite for drainage.
  • Rake the entire garden smooth, removing any rocks or debris. Add more compost to low spots if needed.
  • Consider installing an in-ground irrigation system equipped with drip lines if possible. Run these before planting.

Good soil preparation provides the foundation for a thriving, productive garden. Paying attention to this key step will pay off for years.

Selecting the Right Plants

One of the most exciting parts of creating a new garden is choosing what to plant! Consider the following tips when selecting plants:

  • Match plants to your site conditions like sunlight, soil type, drainage, and climate zone.
  • Include a mix of flowers, foliage plants, trees, shrubs, and edibles for variety and multi-season interest.
  • Limit high-maintenance plants unless you enjoy frequent pruning and deadheading.
  • Combine annuals and perennials. Annuals provide quick color while perennials and shrubs offer permanent structure.
  • Repetition creates unity. Repeat colors, plant shapes, or textures in different parts of the bed.
  • Plant in layers for vertical interest. Try groundcovers, mid-size shrubs, tall backdrops, and vines.
  • Group plants by watering needs to make irrigation easier and conserve water.
  • Check mature sizes to avoid overly cramped plants or unexpected overgrowth.

Take time browsing nurseries, plant catalogs, and gardens to select plants you love and that will thrive together in your new bed.

Installing Plants and Mulch

Once your soil is prepped, it’s time to get planting! Follow these tips:

  • Dig each planting hole twice as wide as the root ball but no deeper. Carefully place each plant at its original soil level.
  • Gently loosen and spread out any circled or matted roots before backfilling soil.
  • Water each new plant thoroughly after planting to settle the soil and eliminate air pockets.
  • Apply 2-4 inches of organic mulch like wood chips or shredded bark around plants to conserve moisture and suppress weeds. Leave space around stems.
  • Group plants with similar irrigation needs. Install soaker hoses or drip irrigation if possible.
  • Stake larger perennials and shrubs to provide support until their root systems establish.

Proper planting techniques give your garden bed a head start while mulching and watering keeps it looking great.

Caring for an Established Garden Bed

While gardens require regular care, a well-designed and planted bed won’t need excessive work to stay beautiful. Follow these maintenance tips:

  • Weed weekly when plants are young, catching weeds when small. Weed less often once beds fill in. Apply fresh mulch annually.
  • Water thoroughly only when the top few inches of soil become dry. Established plants need less frequent watering than new transplants.
  • Fertilize organically with compost or granular fertilizers in early spring and mid-summer according to product instructions.
  • Prune and deadhead spent flowers to encourage continuous blooming and maintain desired plant shapes and sizes.
  • Monitor for pests or diseases. Identify any issues early and use organic, non-toxic controls. Prevention is easier than curing a problem.
  • Edge along boundaries to prevent grass or weeds from creeping in. Redefine the shape annually if needed.

Set up a regular maintenance schedule matched to your specific plantings. Observe your garden’s needs throughout the seasons to keep it looking its best.

Overcoming Common Garden Bed Challenges

When replacing grass with garden beds, a few problems can occasionally arise. Here are some tips for overcoming the most common garden bed issues:

Preventing grass regrowth: Remove every bit of grass within beds during preparation. Cover beds with cardboard or fabric after planting to block any light that could spur regrowth.

Poor drainage: Add organic material like compost to heavy clay soils to improve drainage before planting. Or, create mounded beds to allow excess moisture to run off.

Compacted soil: Deeply till compacted beds or double dig them by hand to break up layers and open up the soil structure before planting.

Weeds: Apply mulch to prevent weeds but remove any that sprout quickly. Be vigilant the first year while desired plants establish to keep beds weed-free.

Pests: Attract natural predators like birds and ladybugs. Hand pick large insects. Use row covers to keep out small pests until plants are established. Apply organic sprays as a last resort.

Diseases: Improve air circulation and avoid overcrowding plants. Water at the base of plants instead of overhead. Remove and destroy infected plants immediately to prevent spreading.

With attentive care and persistent troubleshooting, you can overcome any challenges while transforming your lawn into a thriving garden bed.

Replacing Grass With a Garden Bed: FAQs

Still have questions about removing your lawn and installing a brand new garden bed? Here are answers to some frequently asked questions:

When is the best time to remove grass and create new garden beds?

The ideal time is early spring or fall, when the weather is milder and grass is less actively growing. This makes removal easier.

How long does it take for grass to die after sheet mulching or solarizing?

It typically takes 4-6 weeks for grass to die using these non-chemical methods, sometimes a bit longer in cooler weather.

Is it okay to walk on or plant in beds immediately after using herbicide on grass?

No, wait at least 5-7 days after herbicide treatment before tilling, planting or walking on treated areas. Follow product label directions.

Should new garden beds be edged or contained somehow?

Yes, some type of edging helps keep surrounding grass or weeds from encroaching on planting beds over time. Use plastic, metal, stone, or concrete edging.

What is the best way to remove grass around existing trees when making a new bed?

Carefully remove grass several feet around the trunk using a shovel or saw-toothed hand edger tool to avoid damaging surface roots.

How often will new garden beds need to be weeded?

Weed at least weekly when plants are young and vulnerable. As the bed matures and fills in, weeding once a month or less is sufficient to stay on top of weed problems.

How can you tell if garden bed soil needs amending with compost or fertilizer?

If plants seem stunted or discolored and the soil is hard and crusty when dry, adding organic material will improve conditions. Test soil yearly.

Converting a tired, water-hungry lawn into a vibrant garden bed can reinvent your landscape and provide years of enjoyment. Do your planning and soil preparation, choose suitable plants, and tend the bed properly once established. Soon you’ll have a gorgeous new garden space!


Transforming your yard by replacing grass with a lush garden bed opens up exciting possibilities. Thoughtful planning and preparation creates the foundation for gardening success. Removal of the existing lawn, soil improvement through organic amendments, and careful plant selection allows you to tailor the space to your unique vision. A diverse, thriving garden bed requires less maintenance than traditional grass while providing beauty, ecosystem benefits, edible options, satisfaction, and added property value when designed and cared for properly. With the right approach and persistence through challenges, you can join the growing movement of converting useless turfgrass into vibrant gardens brimming with life.