Prepping A New Garden Area

When contemplating a new native garden, the first thing you will want to do is define your site's shape and size. Using rope, hose, sticks, rocks or any other visual element, lay the pieces out around the perimeter of the area you would like to convert. Then walk around it, through it, step back, tilt your head and look at it from several angles. Make sure that the newly defined area matches your garden goals and that there are no odd angles of turf left that will be hard to manage. Adjust as needed. 

Once you have the shape and location of your new garden all set, it is time to take care of the turf. Below are some simple methods of grass removal.

Dig & Flip (The Upside Down)
Dop and Flip

This method of grass removal is great for small areas. Grab a shovel and dig down 4-5"; then flip the soil so that the grass lands underneath. Continue to do this in a systematic way, creating rows until sod (and the roots of your sod) is no longer visible. Let the soil dry slightly and then tamp down by stepping on the area. Rake to smooth the loose soil and fill the gaps. It may take a bit more effort to dig through the grass layer underneath when planting, but the decomposing grass will add a bit of organic matter and moisture to the soil—this is good. 


Smother method
If you have the time (2 months or longer), save your cardboard and give this method a try. Flatten all saved boxes and layer them in your new garden area. Make sure that all seams are covered by overlapping your cardboard. If you have access to mulch (free mulch is available from City of Chicago), cover your cardboard with 2-3" to help hold moisture in and break down your cardboard. If you do not mulch, weight it all down with several heavy rocks or bricks, and remove your cardboard before planting. There may be some residual weeds like dandelion that you can pull or dig before planting.

How to prep your garden by tilling the grass
Tilling and sod cutting are by far the quickest method of turf removal. Begin at one end and run the tiller over the garden area. Go slow and make sure you till down at least 3-4". When done, rake grass from soil thoroughly and smooth any clumps and bumps. While tilling may cause damage to soil structure, it may be the easiest way if dealing with a large area with thick established grass.
Hire It
How to remove grass to prep for a native garden
DIY is great... but sometimes it is best to leave it to the pros—especially if the area you hope to garden is rocky, full of tall weeds or remnant tree roots. If the task seems daunting and is standing in the way of your gardening bliss, give the experts a call (we can recommend a landscape company if needed).

Quick Measurement
Once your garden is prepped and ready to go, measure the area's square feet (length x width) to determine the number of plants needed. Spacing them close together at 12" is super easy as your total square feet will be equal to the number of plants needed (+-). 

Choose Your Native Plants
NBN offers a Planting Service to get your garden started, or take advantage of your area plant sales. Make sure to think about flowering species spring, summer and fall, and fill the area with plenty of grasses and sedges for a garden that fills in and outcompetes unwanted weed species. 

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