Sod Removal, Soil Prep and Weed Control

Garden beds are a great way to lay out a vegetable garden. DIY shows how to clear the space, prep the soil and shield against weeds.

Materials and Tools:

Sod cutter
Pitchfork or garden fork
Cordless drill
Circular Saw
Framing Square
3" Galvanized Wood screws
2" x 12" lumber, 4 pieces per raised planter box
Heavy boots or shoes
Safety glasses
Ear protection


1. Set the depth of the cutting blade on the sod cutter following the manufacturer's instructions. Start the cutter. To operate the machine walk behind it, making sure to cut right up against the previous strip so that you won't miss any grass. A sod cutter is a fast and efficient way to remove grass and weeds from your garden plot because it cuts the roots rather than the stems. Cutting the roots makes it much more difficult for the grass to grow back. Continue cutting strips until all of the grass in the garden is loose. If you rent a sod cutter, be sure to get specific instructions for the model you're renting.

2. Remove all of the rolls of sod from the area so that the weeds won't come back in the garden. You definitely want to compost garden waste since it makes great mulch and fertilizer, but in the case of weeds it's better to discard them. It takes a long time for weed seeds to break down and you don't want them to grow in your compost pile since you'll be using the compost in the garden later on.

3. Till the soil. Start the tiller according to the manufacturer's instructions. Walk behind the tiller and let the weight of the tiller sink the tines into the ground. Several passes through the area are needed to get the soil loose and turned over. If you rent a tiller, be sure to get the safety instructions on its use. Tillers are helpful garden tools because they're powerful, so be sure to use them carefully. Tilling is an excellent way to break up hard, compacted soil. The tines of the tiller stir up the soil, making tiny air pockets that plant roots need to grow. Tilling is also a great way to mix amendments into a new garden plot, especially if the soil is clay.

The best way to block weeds along these walkways is to add four or five layers of newspaper to each path; this will be thick enough to last all season. Weed seeds can't germinate in the dark, so the paper helps keep weeds at bay. A top dressing of 2-3 inches of hay will keep the paths cool, but be sure any hay you use is weed free or you'll actually add more weeds than you're preventing. Keeping weeds out of your garden is critical to its success since weeds steal moisture and nutrients away from your vegetables.

Unroll landscape fabric in the walkways and use a pair of scissors to cut the fabric to length. If you don't want to use landscape fabric you could use black plastic, just be sure to make a few small holes in it to allow water to drain through. Be sure to overlap the fabric to insure weeds will not come up between the edges.

Add mulch into the garden paths. Use a rake to spread it evenly through out the walkways. Be sure to use at least three inches of mulch to keep the weeds out: no sunlight, no weeds!

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