Transform your lawn into a garden

How to Transform Your Lawn into a Garden

Are you looking out over a sea of grass and thinking that you want to transform your lawn into a garden? Or at least a part of it? Just imagine a lush garden filled with food for your family and community where that lawn currently is. Let’s dive into how you can turn a grassy area into a garden!


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Getting rid of grass can be a challenge—it’s really resilient, which is why grass is used for heavily trafficked areas. It can take a beating and keep growing!

But there are some relatively simple ways to transform your lawn into a garden.

If you’re wanting to grow more food, your lawn can be a great place to start.

The rest of this post covers various techniques you can use to transform your lawn into a garden. With each of these techniques, the question to ask is how quickly want to grow food in your new garden.

But before you start your new garden make sure you take a moment to make a plan for your garden. This will give you the foundation you need to get the most from your garden. To help you make this plan, we've made a free and easy-to-print cheat-sheet that will walk you through the steps to plan your new garden.

This way you will be ready to plant and harvest when you transform your lawn into a garden. So don't forget to grab your cheat-sheet!

Transform Your Lawn into a Garden Using Sheet-Mulching

As a beginner gardener make sure you mulch your garden.

This is a new garden that I built for my kids over an area that was just grass a few months ago. My kids are excited to have their own little garden to grow veggies! I used a combination of sheet-mulching and hugelkultur to create this garden.

One of the easiest ways to transform your lawn into a garden is to use a technique called sheet-mulching.

Sheet-mulching is where you place a layer of biodegradable material like old cardboard boxes and newspapers down thick over your lawn.

Getting the cardboard or paper wet as you lay it down will help it mold to the grass. Make sure the edges of the cardboard/paper overlap just like roofing tiles, so there aren’t any gaps for the grass to come up through.

Wild Tip:

Make sure to remove all tape, or stickers, from your cardboard boxes. These won’t breakdown, and will remain in the soil after the boxes decompose. Also, avoid any boxes or newspapers that are shinny or glossy. These are often made out of plastic and also won’t decompose.

Then you have 2 options:

  1. Cover the cardboard layer with 6+ inches (15.2+ cm) of compost or topsoil.
  2. Or cover the cardboard layer with 4+ inches (10.2+ cm) of mulch.

Both options work by smothering the existing lawn, which is how you transform your lawn into a garden.

When you use compost/topsoil you can plant your new garden just like you would in a regular garden. The disadvantage is that first you need to get all that compost/topsoil, which may be harder or more expensive than mulch.

If you have access to a source of mulch, then you can just add that mulch on top of the cardboard to smother the existing grass.

Wild Tip: Getting Free Mulch

Here are some options for getting your own mulch for free.

  1. Signup on the site ChipDrop to get wood chips delivered for free or at a very low cost directly to your property.
  2. Talk to your local farmers/ranchers and see if any of them have old spoiled hay or straw. Often this can be gotten for free.
  3. Collect fall leaves from your neighbors and people in your general area. I make sure to do this every fall.

But you can’t plant or sow seeds directly into this mulch layer—your vegetables and other plants will just die.

One option is to wait for the grass under the cardboard, the cardboard, and some of the mulch to decompose before you plant.

This is why fall is a great time to use this method to transform your lawn into a garden. But if you need to grow food now, there is another option.

You can pull the mulch back to make rows or holes and then fill those areas with compost or topsoil. Just make sure you also poke some holes into the cardboard/paper under those areas—just small holes though!

This will let water drain through the fresh cardboard/paper and it gives a place for your plant roots to move through.

Then just sow your seeds or plant your starts in the soil or compost like you normally would.

Regardless of which method of sheet-mulching you use, the best time to do this is several months before you need to plant your new garden.

The reason is that the grass and cardboard takes time to decompose and turn into soil.

You can plant before everything decomposes, but your vegetable’s roots will have less room to grow into, which may decrease your harvests and you may need to water more often.

But after the first year, everything will have broken down and this won’t be an issue.

Building Raised Beds

Transforming my lawn into a kitchen garden

This kitchen garden consists of 3 large raised beds that were built in an existing lawn. I used sheet-mulching to get rid of the surrounding lawn. This picture was taken in the middle of the construction and sheet-mulching.

Building raised garden beds is another way to transform your lawn into a garden. Like sheet-mulching, raised garden beds work by smothering the existing grass.

The advantage is that raised beds are taller, which provides more immediate growing space for your vegetables.

Raised beds do have other advantages, such as creating a warm microclimate, separating your beds from your paths, and reducing the need to bend over to manage/harvest your vegetables.

Plus, they can quickly provide a large amount of rich soil for your vegetables. But raised beds also tend to dry out more quickly, and they can be costly and time consuming to build.

Wild Tip:

You can use salvaged logs to build your raised beds. I have used this to build all my raised garden beds. The resulting garden beds are less formal looking but still fully functional.

When building a raised bed on top of grass you should still put down cardboard or paper around the edges of the bed, and potentially under the whole thing. This will make sure the grass doesn’t come up in or right next to the bed.

The taller your raised bed is, the less likely the grass is to come up through it. If your raised bed is a foot (30.5 cm) or taller, grass shouldn’t come up through it.

Though I don’t want grass growing around the edges of my garden beds, (it’s a pain to keep cut). So I would still sheet-mulch the paths and edges in your new garden.

Building raised garden beds are a great way to transform your lawn into a garden. Here are some links to resources to help you build a raised garden bed (the 2nd and 3rd are YouTube videos):

  1. How to Build a Hugelkultur Bed
  2. How to Build a Raised Garden Bed with Wood – Easy (EZ) & Cheap
  3. How to Build a Raised Bed CHEAP and EASY, Backyard Gardening

Transform Your Lawn into a Garden Using Double-Digging

Use double digging to transform your lawn into a garden

I used double-digging to get my front hedgerow area ready for planting. Here you can see how the area was changed from grass to a hedgerow. There is approximately 3 years between the left and right pictures.

Double-digging can be a pain—literally! But it can also be an effective way to transform your lawn into a garden.

Here are the basic steps to double-digging.

  1. Dig out the existing grass down to about 1 shovel depth. Cutting the grass into blocks is ideal. Put the removed grass blocks off to the side.
  2. Remove the soil that was under the grass down to another 1 shovel depth. Put the removed soil off to the other side.
  3. Place the grass blocks upside down (roots up, blades down) into the bottom of the hole.
  4. Add the removed soil to the top of the grass to finish filling in the hole.
  5. Repeat this process for each of your garden beds.

This method is a lot of work, but the advantage is that you don’t need to bring in new soil or use cardboard/paper.

But beyond the hard work of doing the digging (and removing rocks, if needed!) this method has some disadvantages.

The soil you add to the top is likely less fertile since it came from deeper down. This means you may still want to add a layer of compost over the top of your new garden beds.

Another issue is that you will likely still have to do some weeding out of grass that comes up from root pieces. Grass can also grow into your new garden beds from the edges of the bed.

I would still use sheet-mulching around your new garden to keep this from happening. Though you could skip this if you are willing to spend more time weeding the grass out.

Double-digging is a lot of work, but it’s an effective way to transform your lawn into a garden if you have the energy (or help!) to do it.

What to do After You Transform Your Lawn into a Garden

Transforming a lawn into a garden and more

Over the last 3 years, I have transformed a lot of old lawn areas into growing areas for vegetables, berries, fruit trees, and native plants. But this is just the start. I’m still adding more plants to the former grass areas, which is why there is so much mulch visible in this picture.

All the 3 methods listed here can transform your lawn into a garden. But there are other methods (such as using chickens!) that can also be effective.

The key is to pick one that works for you.

But once you transform your lawn into a garden, what do you do next? It can be overwhelming to start a new garden from scratch!

Regardless of the method you use, I always recommend mulching your vegetables. This will help build soil, cut down on weeding, and reduce how much you need to water your garden.

But there are other tips and tricks you can use to get the most out of your new garden. Here are some blog posts that will help!

  1. 5 Gardening Mistakes to Avoid so You Can Grow More Food
  2. 11 Tips for the Beginner Gardener – How to Grow More Food
  3. Control Garden Pests without Toxic Chemicals
  4. 5 Ways to Transform Your Garden into a Low Water Garden
  5. 3 Tips to Get Started with Polyculture in Your Garden

Creating a new garden can be a lot of work upfront, but well worth it in the long run.

Store-bought vegetables just don’t compare to home grown vegetables. Your veggies will taste better, be more nutritious, and save you money from buying store-bought veggies over time.

And it will be rewarding to know you grew your own food!

Leave a comment below saying what method you used to create your new garden! Got another method that you used to transform your lawn into a garden? Share that too!

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Daron is a restoration ecologist, lifelong gardener, and founder of Growing with Nature. He created this site to help people enjoy wildlife, grow food, and help heal our living world. He has managed the restoration program for a local non-profit, and he’s applying principles of restoration and permaculture to transform his property in western Washington to forests, wetlands, hedgerows, food forests, and permaculture gardens. He holds a Masters in Environmental Studies and an Associate of Applied Science degree in Water Resources. He loves sharing the joy of growing food with his two beautiful children.

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