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Garden Expansion Methods

Do you ever wonder what else you could be doing with the precious water and available space you have? Why not expand your growing area? 

If you’re feeling the need to get right to it, you can bust the sod by hand. This can be hard on your body, but it’s also a great workout in the wee hours or after the sun goes down and temperatures drop a bit. You do this by cutting the turf into pieces, prying them out and discarding them in your city compost. Try to save as much soil as you can, but even then, you’ll likely need to add compost to establish a good growing area. Check out this article from The Spruce for details. 

If you give yourself about 6 months to prepare, you can try any one of the less labor intense methods described here. Check out the sources for further details. 

Garden Expansion with Cardboard 6 months

Start by outlining the area you want to convert into a productive vegetable garden, a beautiful pollinator habitat, or a blend of both!

  1. Skip the grass removal, use cardboard. There’s varied schools of thought on this. Here’s the basic method I find works. Go for the biggest brown boxes you can find, not coated or waxy. Ideally black ink on Kraft. The industry standard is soy ink so it should not hurt your soil. Appliance stores and bike shops have some of the best. Dodge the offers of smaller boxes coming from friends and family, they tend to blow all over the place and involve more weight to keep in place. You can remove all tape, staples and plastic bits, or if you’re in a hurry, leave the tape. Within a season’s time the cardboard will break down and the tape will be easy to remove. Staples are often backed up with a thick double layer of cardboard and are easy to locate and remove as well. Lay out the cardboard over the area of lawn you aim to convert. Thoroughly saturate with water to weigh it down. If you don't have a pile of wood chips ready you can secure boxes with pavers, bricks, dirt, or logs. 

  2. Lawn conversion only. Multiple layers of newspaper can work in combination with mulch. This thin material may not withstand the rigors of perennial weeds if you are expanding your gardening space into an area they are well established. Be sure to try newspaper where you can regularly monitor progress and adjust as necessary.

  3. Warning: Eyebrows will be raised at the appearance of either of these methods. Neighbors may talk. The adventurous may ask questions, who knows? Want to avoid scrutiny?  Cover up either your cardboard or newspaper with mulch for the conversion time. You can use leaves, straw, or wood chips. 

  4. When the spring planting time begins to roll around, pull back the mulch and check your soil. If you used cardboard, and it’s still somewhat in tact, you can easily puncture holes in it with the end of a shovel or trowel and shape it as needed to begin preparing your seed beds or transplant areas.

  5. Do you have a particularly weedy patch you’re dreaming of converting? Solarize the area with black plastic mulch or recycled billboard material. In six months you could have a significant advantage over perennials like bindweed, depending on what you plan to grow.

  6. Lasagna gardening! If you have the materials handy, go right over the lawn, layer thick cardboard, mulch, leaves, then compost and soil. Protect your soil with a top layer of straw or leaves, especially if your compost includes food scraps. This method can take on a smell depending on what you use (avoid meat). A bag or two of prepared organic compost and top soil can help cover the smell and accelerate the decomposition process.


Want to better understand our collective tendency to cultivate a lawn and why it’s so hard to consider this conversion? Low Tech Institute put together this great video that takes a compassionate look at our shared history with this “kept area of cropped grass.”