I have a lawn, your standard regular lawn. I eventually want to turn it into a series of plant areas with some kind of mulch or gravel in between, like you see sometimes. I want to start by planting a garden area with native pollinators and then add to it from there.

My thinking was this: I get cinder blocks or some other decorative stone and make a little wall, bordered on one side by the bushes that are at the back of my lawn. I will probably make it wavy so it looks nicer. Then I will rip up the grass inside that area and toss it into my compost heap, exposing fresh soil. Into that soil I will sow probably seedlings if I can get them, maybe some from seed for more fast-growing groundcover plants (plants tbd). Then I will let that grow before I do another area, probably spaced a bit away from the first area. I will put down mulch between them, ripping out the grass in between as well. Then one bed at a time work my way down the lawn over the course of a year or two.

Is that a reasonable way to go about transforming this without having to hire additional help? Is there some better way to do this?

3 Answers 3


Doing the job in manageable sections one at a time is a good plan. You might change your mind about the details when you see what the first section(s) look like, for example.

Don't make the job harder by doing things in the wrong order. Don't build a wall and then try to take out the grass right up to it. Decide where you want the wall to be, cut out the edge of the grass neatly with a spade, then clear out the bed you want to make. Build the wall last, when it won't get in the way of doing the other work.

And don't make the first bed in a place where the quickest way to clear the other beds would be to walk across it, rather than go round it!

Final tip: don't "rip up" the grass and "toss it" into your compost heap. Get a turf cutter, cut it up neatly, and stack the turf neatly upside down to let it die and decompose (which may take a couple of years).

If you just dump a lot of grass and earth onto a compost heap, the likely result is that you end up with a small hill covered in growing grass, which is not what you wanted! The earth attached to the grass roots won't "compost", it will just dilute the organic material and slow the working of the compost heap down.

  • If I use a sod cutter to cut up the grass and flip it upside-down as you suggest, to seed the bed, do I need to add more dirt on top of it? I assume the answer is yes but I'm just trying to put all the pieces together Commented Jun 30, 2020 at 17:30

I agree with everything that alephzero wrote and can add several other points:

  • If you plan on mowing alongside your new garden bed, pay attention to mowing patterns. The easiest way to do this is to lay out the proposed bed with a hose and then use your (non-running) lawn mower to pretend that you're mowing the lawn. You'll quickly find out if the new bed will be a pain in the butt to mow around.
  • Gentle curves look better than wavy curves
  • As for groundcovers... pay close attention to how they spread. Do they creep along the top of the soil or send roots out in every direction? For example, some perennial geraniums (Geranium cantabrigiense) send out stolons at soil level, while Geranium macrorrhizum sends out large roots that shoot out everywhere. The first is far easier to keep under control than the second. You want a garden of native pollinators, but note that there are few native groundcovers for full sun that are easy to control.
  • Install the groundcover last, not first. Doing so will make it easier to plant your natives.
  • Do NOT use landscape fabric. This is not an effective weed barrier and will constrict the perennials that you install. Landscape fabric actually serves only two purposes: 1) It's useful under gravel pathways to keep soil and gravel separated and 2) It makes landscape companies a ton of money when they install it.
  • Use an organic mulch between your plants, at least until they're large enough to cover the ground themselves.

A tip that I got from elsewhere that's worked wonders now that I'm further along in the project: you can cover grass with paper bags from the grocery store or cardboard from Amazon packages and put down mulch on top of that. It will kill the grass over time, but you'll be able to dig through it to put in plants. We created four areas like that and one via digging out the grass with a shovel so we could put topsoil in because we wanted to put seed in that area instead of half-grown plants. We're almost ready to plant next, after we mulch the rest of the lawn in between the areas we've made.

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