How to Remove Existing Grass or Weeds to Prepare for Planting
First: clear the ground for your flower bed. Quick how-to guide on weed removal by hand or with a sod cutter, smothering weeds organically, or using herbicide.
Before you can prepare and amend the soil for planting a flower bed, you must first clear the area by removing any existing grass or weeds. If you are redoing an existing flower bed, you may be able to hand weed it. If you are installing a new bed in a lawn, you will have a much bigger job to do. Follow this guide to clearing a flower bed and getting ready to plant.
Why You Must Remove Grass and Weeds
Removing the existing plants is important to the long term success of your flower garden. Weeds and grasses will compete with your flowers, look untidy, and make planting difficult. Deep rooted perennial weeds such as dandelions or poison ivy can come back from just a piece of root left in the ground, so be as thorough as you can now to avoid trouble later. Stoloniferous lawn grasses such as Bermuda and zoysia must be completely removed or killed before you plant a flower garden.
Grass and Weed Removal By Hand
One organic way to remove weeds or grass is to use a sharp flat spade to dig it out by the roots, shaking off and returning the precious topsoil to the garden. This can be time consuming and a bit back breaking, but works well for a small area. The removed grass (except aggressive stoloniferous spreaders) and seed-free annual weeds can be composted. Dig out all the roots of perennial weeds such as dandelion or they may grow back from leftover root pieces after you have planted your flowers.
Sod Cutter Strips Turf Grass Quickly
In a lawn area, you will not have many weeds but you will have a thick, healthy layer of lawn grass to remove. To remove a large area of lawn grass or turf organically, consider renting a sod cutter from an equipment rental company. A sod cutter slices off a thin horizontal layer of soil along with the grass crowns. This heavy machine is strenuous to operate, but it strips sod quickly. Make sure you are tall enough and strong enough to operate it safely and effectively. Transplant (or compost) the sod.
An easy and organic but slower method is to smother grass and weeds using a layer of dampened cardboard or newspaper (about ten pages thick) covered with mulch. This smothering process can take several months and is not effective with Bermuda or zoysia grass. Once the existing vegetation is thoroughly dead and decomposing, turn it all under, including the newspaper and mulch. This method adds organic matter to your soil. As a variation on this method, “lasagna gardening” proponents will plant right through the smothering layer without turning it under.
Use Herbicide On Grass and Weeds
If you prefer to use an herbicide to clear your flower bed area, either because you have a large area, you are in a hurry or you have a large proportion of difficult to control perennial weeds, be sure to read the entire label on any product you use. According to federal law, you must follow all of the label instructions. There may be a waiting time between when you apply the herbicide and when you should remove the drying or dead vegetation. It is important to wait the full recommended time to achieve complete kill of the weeds — roots and all. Rake away the dead material and dispose of it in the trash. Also check the label for any waiting period between treatment and replanting.
Build A Raised Bed Instead
If all this seems totally impossible, you might consider using a raised flower bed instead of digging one at grade level. Here are tips and pointers on how to make raised garden beds to help you evaluate if that is a better option for your situation.
Clear Your Flower Bed Right: It’s a One time Job
Good soil preparation and thorough removal of existing grass or weeds really help your flowers start off right. Clearing the flower garden can be a daunting task, but remember, you only have to do it once!