Why You Should Kill Your Lawn And Start Over

when to kill a lawn and start from scratch

When you look out at your yard and you can’t imagine any way you could possibly improve it over a single season, then killing it off entirely and starting from scratch probably comes to your mind next.

Many yard-owners all across the country rip out their existing lawns each and every year only to install new lawns from a clean slate. It’s simply faster than repairing what already exists for most people.

Sometimes they do this this is because their lawn is riddled with weeds, but not always. Sometimes it is to improve grading, fixing drainage issues, improving soil fertility and/or texture. Sometimes it’s to switch  from one grass type to another.

The most common reasons for killing a lawn and starting over is to get rid of weeds and to replace different grasses in different areas of the lawn that don’t look the same with a single uniform grass type that will better match your specific climate and location.

In just a couple months, in either the Spring or the Fall, just about anyone with the desire can replace a bad lawn with a great lawn. A new lawn can better hold up to extreme temperature swings, perform better with less irrigation, resist foot traffic, and/or grow slower just to name a few benefits. They can do all this while doesn’t also not looking like a vegetable garden full of undesirable weeds.

There are reasons however that I don’t advise everyone to take this course of action, so let’s start off by summarizing why (and when) killing off your yard may not be the right decision.

► Make sure to see my article here for a thorough rundown of weed killing strategies and products that can be used.

Killing A Lawn And Starting Over Isn’t Always The Right Call

Contrary to popular belief killing grass permanently along with the weeds and then restarting is way harder than most people realize. Even though it can take fewer calendar days to go from an ugly lawn to a beautiful lawn it actually takes a ton of energy (work) as well as a lot of money, resources, and products actually manipulating the ground.

Don’t let me scare you away however-before committing to the job give careful consideration to your existing lawn. In many instances a lawn full of weeds can be transformed into a thick patch of weed-free grass in less than a year with minimal effort and cost…a lot less cost and effort than most people realize.

Take Some Time To Evaluating Your Lawn As It Stands Today

For this step you need to consider where you  live and what time of year it is.

If you live in a hot southern state then your lawn will probably be brown from late fall through early Spring and will be growing like crazy in the summer. These are traits of warm season grasses which you can learn more about in my article comparing warm to cool season grass types.

If you live in a state that gets snow regularly through the winter (even if it melts off) then you probably have a cool season grass. These types may have a bit of green sprinkled in them during the winter, they look like they want to die off in the summer and they grow like crazy in mid Spring and early Fall.

If you have a ton of weeds in your lawn they can grow all year around and mask desirable turf grasses that can be struggling due to the season of the year and the amount of fertilization and water they are getting from rain and from your sprinkler system.

Most Lawns Don’t Really Need a Full Renovation

In most cases simply applying a pre-emergent and a weed killer along with adding water and fertilizer to the ground will suppress weeds and thicken grass to a point that you didn’t realize was possible. That’s why Weed & Feed products are so popular in home improvement stores.

There are actually even better ways to deal with weeds than applying these products though which I cover in other areas here on this website. You can see this video I made in the mean time where I explain the only time I’d even consider applying Weed & Feed to my lawn during any growing season:

► See my Spring fertilization schedule for lawns right here if you want to go down that rabbit hole!

Align Your Expectations With Reality – Starting From Scratch Requires A Lot Of Time & Money

The simple reality is that spreading weed control products on your lawn and implementing a scheduled fertilization plan doesn’t usually require more than a couple hundred bucks and a few hours out of the year.

If you mow regularly and aerate you can improve a lawn enormously with very little effort or money over the course of a season.

Contrast that with starting over. You have to kill your lawn which requires time, energy, and chemicals usually. Then you have to prepare your lawn soil for seed or sod. This is the best time ever to amend the soil so you might as well do that too.

Next you have to install costly sod or sow seed correctly and baby it for weeks to months to ensure it establishes itself all while working against the clock on a timeline heavily influenced by mother nature.

You have to buy tools you probably don’t own, apply products you’ve possibly never used before, and work very hard to get every job done. If you choose to rip out your old lawn with an excavator then the cost and/or learning curve of the equipment alone can be huge.

A full lawn renovation can be done in 1-8 weeks depending on which methods and steps you take but it will be hard expensive work.

It can also be very much worth it though for reasons I’ve yet to explain.

► Is your lawn problem grading? See this post for more info on what can cause bumpy or squishy lawns.

The Top Reasons To Fully Remove a Lawn & Start From Scratch

By far and away the most important reason to kill off an old lawn for a fresh start is to remove undesirable grass and replace it with desirable grass types.

We could be talking about undesirable grassy weeds or undesirable turf grasses.

Changing Grass Types Is A Perfect Reason To Grow A new Lawn

If you lived in a cooler climate and had bermudagrass turf then your grass would be vigorous in the summer but would take a weirdly long time to green up in the Spring and would go dormant for the winter very early in the fall because of lower ground temperatures.

If you have an older variety of Tall Fescue in your lawn then the texture may be very poor and the excessive “bunchiness” of the grass may feel unpleasant to walk on.

If you regularly see high heat and low rainfall during the summer in location that gets regular snow over the winter then Kentucky Bluegrass may be too challenging to grow.

If you have a Bahia lawn in an area with lower amounts of humidity then this too can make lawn care harder for you.

If you have a seriously shady part of your lawn then switching to fine fescue can make sense.

► See the following post for more info on shade tolerant grasses.

Improving Soil Grading, Consistency, pH, Drainage, Fertility Are Great Reasons To Start Over

In addition to grass type changes fixing the soil and the growing medium in your yard is another excellent reason to take major action.

There is no simple way to fix an extreme low spot in the lawn quickly or bring a high spot down without a major renovation. Poor drainage or lawnmower scalping are signs that something needs to be done.

If you have poor topsoil due to pH or infertility then there’s no easy way to amend that soil quickly without killing everything off amending it and seeding over it.

Aeration and top-dressing are ways of getting this job done but this takes a lot of time and many repeat applications to change an entire lawn soil surface or consistency.

► I’ve also got expanded information on lowering pH of lawn soil here without a major renovation.

If Starting Over Makes Sense For You Then Start Now!

If you consider all of the main reasons to start over with your grass and you find that many of them apply to you…and then you add in the weed removal considerations you may decide that it’s worth the effort and cost to do a lawn re-do.

At that point it all comes down to timing. If you choose the right time to start over it will be easier than if you choose the wrong time. In almost all cases it’s better to just start the process now than wait but there are a few times of the year that you should avail renovations at all costs.

What’s The Best Time of Year to Start Over?

The worst time of year for nearly all grass types in nearly all locations is at the end of Fall just before winter mostly because soil temps are too low for grass varieties to root down into the ground and the amount of sunlight in the skies is too low to support adequate photosynthesis and leaf growth.

Regardless of your grass type you need to wait until the length of day is long enough to support the carbohydrate needs of the grass which means you should not try and grow a new lawn between November and February.

If you are planning on installing a cool season lawn then the best time of year to kill off the old yard is in August or March and the best time to plant the new lawn is in September or April.

For warm season grasses then you will fare batter if you wait until late Spring just before grasses in these areas enter their highest and most aggressive phase of growth, mid-summer.

Killing off a lawn in May and planting the new lawn in June can work well, especially if sod is chosen. Typically cool season grasses do well when planted from seed and warm season grasses do best when planted from sod…and you always want to plant going into your grass types highest growth phase of the year.

► Make sure to see the following post for more information on choosing the best time of year to seed a lawn.

What Existing Lawn Removal Method Is Best?

After you decide once and for all that you are going to remove your old lawn and start again from bare dirt then the next step is deciding how you are going to go about getting the dead lawn into the trash. There’s a number of acceptable methods available for homeowners to get started. Let’s look at the most likely options available to you. All you have to do is make a choice of which method is going to work best for you.

The Solarization Method

This is one of the most interesting methods of them all and the least used by homeowners. It can only be done during the hottest parts of the year and only if you can get a lot of water from your sprinkler down into the soil; it means cool season lawns can only do a lawn renovation going into the fall season. For warm season lawns you’ll have to use this method at the end of Spring and then plant your new lawn mid-summer to make it work so it’s not exactly ideal.

Solarizing lawn soil means you heat the soil up to a temperature using greenhouse plastic that is so high that all vegetation underneath dies off along with the soil biology. Seeds in the soil are usually cooked so that they don’t sprout later on. This is usually too much for even deep root systems to overcome.

Seeding after solarization will usually require an amendment of new microorganisms or soil conditioners which is usually easy to do with bio-stimulants that can be stacked with fertilizers and plant growth hormones.

I have a full guide to soil solarizing a lawn to keep weeds and grass here but I don’t recommend this option to many people because it takes a long time from start to finish and really limits you in terms of getting the timing right.

The Smothering & Top-Dressing Method

Similarly some people looking for a hands-off method that doesn’t require back-breaking work or harsh chemicals will smother their green lawns and then top-dress afterwards.

Common ways of doing this is using black light-blocking plastic, cardboard, or dense shade cloth after mowing all vegetation as low as possible. As sun is blocked plants underneath start to die. Eventually you add a thick layer of top soil on top of your native soil to mulch down the remaining vegetation and plant new seed or sod on top.

This can be fairly effective but is not a perfect solution. It doesn’t kill the weed seeds, it takes a lot of time for die-off of old grasses, and some of the robust vegetation may recover in time.

What I do like about it though is that this is a great option for people who need to do significant grading work or soil amendments. Because you top-dress afterwards you can really dial in the dressing material and soil additives prior to seeding or sodding like you can’t do over existing turf grasses.

The Digging Up The Lawn Method

For small lawn spaces I am a big fan of this method because it is very fast. So long as you have the muscle, stamina, and time to devote to the process you can have a somewhat large section of a lawn ready to be seeded in just a day or two.

In fact I’ve used this method on a couple small sections of my lawn over the years and I’ve had excellent results.

I reuse the soils I dig up in other areas of my lawn or in my compost bins and I’m also able to remove rocks from my soil that I wouldn’t be able to remove any other way.

For digging up your lawn you have two main options. Doping it by hand or with a big machine.

You Can Use A Shovel

I’ve used a shovel a few times in my own yard but no doubt if I was trying to remove a large 10,000 square foot lawn space a shovel would simply be too much work and take way too much time. Although it’s cheap almost no one would be able to do a large lawn space with a shovel and that’s where an excavator come into play.

You Can Use An Excavator

Excavators are huge pieces of equipment that only a minority of people have any experience using. They are expensive to hire experts to run them and they cost a lot to learn while doing-it-yourself. You could easily run up a $1,000 tool rental bill on a Skid-Steer if you weren’t careful but for mechanically removing material from large spaces this is the only way to do it.

For me personally, I’ve never done it this way. Gigantic jobs like this I always hire out to pros to make sure things go efferently and come out right.

The “Kill Weeds, Aerate, and Overseed” Method

The less costly way to deal with a larger lawn space reno is to simply kill all weeds with a post-emergent herbicide, aerate the lawn surface, remove the cores, and optionally top-dress with a thin layer of sandy top-soil, and then overseed your existing grass with new varieties that better suit your climate or location. For instance overseeding shade tolerant grass varieties under a tree and sun-loving varieties in wide open locations of your property.

This method is relatively easy and cheap but it’s main drawback is that it doesn’t result in dead grass, most of your standard turf varieties may still be living in your lawn after application.

For instance if you have a lawn that has perennial rye mixed with an older variety of tall fescue the wide blades of the older fescue will not match the soft blades of the perennial rye or the new growth you get out of modern varieties of ryegrass, KBG, or TTTF you might overseed with.

You Should Identify the Weeds You Have First

Before you go trying to kill weeds off you should take some time to try and identify at least some of the weeds in your existing lawn first because not all weeds are killed by the same weed killers.

Nutsedge for instance won’t generally be touched by typical weed killers so if you have a lot of it infesting your lawn and you blanket the lawn with 2, 4-D then the sedges will not die off.

Sometimes you’ll also find perennial weeds like Dallisgrass or Dandelions need multiple rounds of herbicides applied to completely kill them off because their root systems are more developed meaning you will have to build extra time into your lawn do-over project.

► Crabgrass (annual) and Dallisgrass (perennial) are commonly mistaken for each other. Make sure to see this post to learn more about identifying these two grassy weeds.

The Nuclear Option – Use Non-Selective Herbicide To Kill All Vegetation At Once

For those people comfortable using chemicals and liquid sprayers the nuclear option is usually the best method for killing off an old lawn and all the weeds therein.

Most people use glyphosate however there are other options for non-selective vegetative control but no matter which products you choose to use this is usually a good balance between fully starting over in a lawn in a timely manner for a low cost of money.

Usually in less than one month you can go from an old ugly lawn to bare dirt that is ready for seed and irrigation without spending a lot of money or a substantial amount of time and energy to kill off what is already there.

You are far less tied to weather patterns than you are with other methods too making this a good option.

► If you want to learn more about how to kill your lawn off with non-selective herbicides then see this resource I put together.

This Is How Your New Lawn Will Thrive

Once you have gotten past the step of actually removing your old grass then the next step is deciding how to install the new lawn. Typically this decision will be either opting for planting a lawn from seed or sod although many warm season lawn-owners may end up opting for plugs even though they aren’t as commonly used.

No matter how you install your new lawn it is going to do best by taking an intermediary step between killing off the old grass and planting the new grass. To have the best success you will want to level your lawn soil and amend it with products that are hard to incorporate after the new turf establishes itself.

Adding sand, organic matter, bio-char, compost, Azomite, or any other product that isn’t water soluble at this time is always beneficial. You could even run an aerator over your bare soil to incorporate these materials further into the soil profile.

Once top-dressed this is the best time you’ll ever get to level your lawn so this step should not be ignored. Mowing and watering a lawn is important but so too is feeding the soil biology near the root zone.

To learn more about any of these topics I have full resources published already to help you understand the steps and processes better. Take a look through any of the following links for more.

  • Resource 1
  • Resource 2
  • Resource 3

How I Would Recommend You Install A New Lawn

If you’ve got a lot of money then I recommend you hire a heavy landscaper to dig out your existing lawn with an excavator and prepare the soil surface for a new lawn but that costs a ton of money and it’s not something I would even want to pay for. It’s simply the easiest option for people with deep pockets.

For the majority of people, myself included, I recommend going the nuclear option and applying two rounds of non-selective herbicides to the old lawn killing it off in a few weeks to a month. At that point manageable manual labor can come into play with top-dressing a seed bed preparations before grass seed is spread over the new lawn surface.

This is what I recommend most frequently and it’s something that most people can physically do and financially afford.

If you want to kill your lawn and start over then the next step is learning how to actually do it correctly and efficiently.

See the following article on how to kill your lawn quickly because you can’t grow new grass until the old stuff is dead.


back off

weeds – grass