The first step in making a new garden in an existing yard is getting rid of the grass. That usually means killing it with an herbicide or smothering it with plastic sheeting or a tarp, then tilling in the dead turf.

There’s another option – one that recycles instead of kills and gives you free patching material for those bare or thin areas of the lawn. Instead of killing existing grass, pieces can be stripped off and transplanted elsewhere, just as you would plant strips of sod bought from the garden center or nursery.

Rolled sod
Instead of killing grass when planning for a new garden, use the grass as sod and transplant to thin or bare areas of the lawn.
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How to make your own sod

Sod is made up of strips of mature grass that are already up and growing with roots and soil intact. These carpet-like pieces are typically grown on sod farms as a way for gardeners to bypass their own lawn-seeding and go right to established grass. It is sold in approximate two-inch-thick sheets or rolls that are laid onto loosened soil, tamped into place, and then watered to create an instant lawn.

When you’re clearing the way for a new garden, existing lawn can be stripped off in the same way. In small areas, the job can be done using a spade to cut under and lift up sections as you go. For larger areas, a machine called a “sod cutter” can be rented to slice horizontally and produce longer sheets.

Transplanting the sections

Once you’ve freed your homemade sod from the ground, some of the soil can be knocked off or loosened from the roots. Two to three inches of soil is enough if you’ve dug deeper. The pieces can be cut into manageable sections, too. You don’t have to keep them in back-breaking sizes. Even square-foot sections will transplant fine, although you’ll have more moving and “fitting” to do the smaller you make the pieces.

Loosen the soil first to about six inches deep where you plan to reuse the pieces. The roots will establish much better in loose soil than if you’re placing them on top of compacted ground. Butt the pieces together, cut to fit as necessary, and tamp them down. Then keep the sections damp to encourage the sod to root into the new location.

You can even use this sod-moving technique for sections of turf you’ve removed in edging garden beds. So long as the pieces have roots and you keep them watered after the transplant, there’s a very good chance the edgings will grow into lawn.

Sod-moving is best done in cooler weather when the soil is damp, i.e. spring and early fall – the same best times for planting grass seed.