How to Get Rid of Grass in the Vegetable Garden – And Keep it Out!


A healthy lawn is the centerpiece of most people’s gardens, right?

But the grass is also an opportunist and will happily take up residence elsewhere in your garden.

So, what do you do when this happens?

Keep reading to find out how to remove grass from your vegetable garden, whether it’s invaded an already established garden or you’re looking to set up a new veggie patch.

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How to Get Rid of Grass in the Vegetable Garden – in Short

The four main options for grass removal in preparation for a new vegetable garden are:

  • Manual Removal – quickest but most labor-intensive and soil needs to be replaced.
  • Tilling – also quick and a little less labor-intensive but disturbs soil structure and soil needs further work before it can be planted in.
  • Smothering and Mulching – takes around 3 months but little to no labor and leaves you with beautiful soil.
  • Covering with Plastic – takes around a month with little to no labor but leaves you with poor quality soil.

If you already have a vegetable garden:

  • Manual pulling is the best option.
  • Stay on top of weeding to prevent grass from getting established.
  • Keep surrounding grass cut short.
  • Avoid leaving soil bare and mulch, mulch, mulch.
  • Don’t use a sprinkler to irrigate your veggie garden – use a soaker hose.

A Bit More Detail

There are a few different options for removing grass, but the method you choose will depend on your situation, time frame and goals.

green vegetable garden

If you have a lawn and you want to convert it into a vegetable garden, getting rid of all the grass is a necessary starting point to minimize the chance of the grass taking over your veggie beds. Some species will return and run amok if even the tiniest bit of root is left behind.

Starting From Scratch

These are the methods you can choose from if you’re starting with a lawn and you want the end result to be a vegetable garden.

Manual Removal

Manual removal is the option you’ll choose if you have a weekend ahead of you and you want your veggie garden ready to go by the end of it. It allows for the most instant transformation but is labor-intensive. I recommend bribing some friends with a free dinner to get some help!

Manual removal entails digging out the grass with a spade. The most effective way to do this is to dig out complete sods composed of grass, roots, and topsoil. You then have the option of relocating this turf elsewhere or giving it away.

Removing the whole lot means there will no chance of any grass returning from root segments left behind. However, it does mean that you need to replace the topsoil. Your best bet is to buy a trailer load from a garden center and a hefty dose of aged compost to mix into it.

Tilling

Tilling involves using a tiller to mechanically dig up and turn over sods.

The advantages over manual digging are that you can save yourself some work by using a tiller, and you don’t have to replace the topsoil as you’re not removing it. However, the lumps of turf still need to be removed or broken up (after the grass has been left to die) before the soil is suitable for planting.

garden of raised beds

Most of the grass should die once it’s overturned and not getting any sunlight, but certain species can grow back if there are any roots present. The other downside to this method is that you’re disrupting the natural structure of the soil which reduces soil quality.

There is a range of different machines available when it comes to tilling so it pays to know what you’re doing before you get started. Have a read of my guide to the difference between cultivators and tillers to help decide which direction you want to go in.

I also have guides to the best electric tillers, the best front tine tillers, and the best overall tillers if you’d like a variety of options to choose from.

Smothering and Mulching

This option is by far the best in terms of the amount of labor required, the low cost, and the end result. But, it takes time.

It involves covering the grass with around five layers of newspaper or a single layer of cardboard followed by a layer of mulch and aged compost.

After about three months, all of the grass and weeds underneath will have died and the mulch, compost, and newspaper/cardboard will have broken down to form a beautifully rich, weed-free soil.

If you make your own compost, you’re already partway there and this will be the most cost-effective option by far.

Garden hose on mulch

If you don’t make your own compost yet, it’s never too late to put those food scraps to good use! Simply set yourself up with a good-looking kitchen compost bin from this list, followed by a compost tumbler and you’re well on your way to creating healthy, rich soil.

Covering with Plastic

A slightly quicker option is to smother the grass with plastic sheeting. The heat from the sun basically cooks the grass and weeds underneath. It takes around a month, so again, it’s not an instant solution, but it is effective and doesn’t require any back breaking labor.

The other downside, aside from the time you have to wait, is that the heat will also likely kill any of the critters that were living in your soil. You’ll need to spend a bit of time bringing your soil back to life once you remove the plastic.

Removing Invaders

If you already have established veggie beds and grass has started to invade, it’s imperative to stay on top of it and not let it take over.

The best way to do this is manual pulling, ensuring you remove all of the roots at the same time.

There isn’t really any alternative.

I would never recommend spraying with herbicides anywhere that you grow food. It’s just too risky and the consequences aren’t worth it. Add to that the fact that you would have to manually remove the grass and its roots after it’s died anyway, it’s not really saving you any labor.

An alternative to chemical sprays that is worth having on hand is the boiling water trick. Simply pour boiling water on the grass that you want to kill. You may need to do it a few times but it’s completely chemical-free.

If you have any really stubborn grass growing around the outside of your vegetable beds, combining salt and boiling water, or using straight vinegar, is another good way of killing it. I wouldn’t recommend applying salt to the vegetable garden though as chances are the vegetables won’t like it!

For any manual pulling, wait until the ground is moist – not dry and not too wet – for best results. To make it easier on your body, I highly recommend investing in some knee pads or kneelers so that you can get down to ground level easily and comfortably. At the very least, they help to keep you dry on a wet day!

mother with child working in garden

Extra Tips

Once your vegetable garden is established, you’ll want to put into practice a few methods to keep any grass from returning.

  • Keep grass and weeds mowed short. The purpose of this is to prevent any seed heads from forming. The most common way for grass and weeds to arrive in a garden is via seeds blown in the wind.
  • Avoid watering with a sprinkler. Irrigating surrounding grass will see it grow much quicker than the vegetables in your vegetable garden and leave you with more work to do keeping it short and under control. By far the best way to irrigate a vegetable garden is via soaker hoses. If you just have a small garden then manual watering with a regular hose, or better yet, an expandable hose, is fine. Just avoid sprinklers!
  • Stay vigilant and hand weed whenever you see any signs of grass arriving. Some varieties of grass become virtually impossible to get rid of once they have established themselves due to their ability to spread via their root system.
  • Avoid leaving any soil bare. Bare soil is an open invitation for opportunist grass and other weeds to invade. If you strategically plan the planting of your vegetable garden to make sure that you always have either vegetables or a cover crop growing, you will be much less likely to have problems with grass growth.
  • Mulch, mulch, and more mulch. Covering any bare soil between plants (particularly when seedlings are small –  when they’re full size there should be little to no bare soil visible) will help to prevent grass growth. Mulching also adds valuable organic matter and nutrients to the soil to keep it healthy.

Summary

As you can see, you have a few options when it comes to deciding how to remove grass from your vegetable garden.

If you have the time, laying down cardboard or newspaper and then a layer of mulch is by the far the best option. If you don’t have the time, manual removal of the turf and then replacement of the topsoil is the next best option.

If your garden is already established, your best bet for keeping the grass at bay is regular hand weeding and mowing of surrounding lawns.

I hope you’ve found this useful! Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!

Andy Gibson

My name's Gibson. Andy Gibson. I like to think of myself as the Bond of the backyard, that is if yard work ever became sexy. I write about everything about indoor and outdoor gardening and the dread-it-but-still-need-to-do-it chores around the yard, like cleaning out the gutter guards.

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