Mother Earth Gardener

Heirloom Expert: Converting Lawn to Garden

I’ve been inspired by your magazine and I want to expand my vegetable garden. I want to grow more of the interesting heirlooms from your catalog. Right now the garden is 10 feet by 20 feet and I’m hoping to double it. What’s the best way to convert lawn to garden? — David in Illinois

It’s always hard to say which is the best way to do anything in the garden, but I’ll tell you how I like to make the conversion.

Being , I’m always looking for the easiest way to do any job.

First off, always think carefully about how far to expand the garden. If you feel passionate about getting more space and know you’ll be able to keep up with it, then go for it. There’s also nothing wrong with slowly adding a little garden space each season and seeing how it feels.

Whenever gardeners ask me about converting turf to garden, the first thing I say is build up, not down.

Covering the grass with thick layers of newspaper and then 18 inches of compost might seem like a monumental task, but in my opinion is easier in the long run than turning over all that sod.

The newsprint will kill the grass, and the compost provides a great growing medium; organic matter rich in nutrients is part of having the proverbial green thumb.

Instead of dumping all the compost at once, make a plan with raised beds and paths. There’s no reason to use the valuable compost for walking areas. You could even keep the grass for the paths as long as there was a barrier or edge between lawn and garden. I once made the mistake of mulching all my paths with wood chips. I couldn’t walk barefoot in the garden and that’s one of the true pleasures of summer gardening.

I use a local landscape supply company when compost needs to be purchased and pay about $40 to get a load in my pickup. You’ll need much more than that and can get several yards delivered. Since the delivery charge is usually the cost of 1 yard, it makes sense to order at least 3 yards.

I used be able to move 3 yards in a few hours; now I can move one and it takes a day. I once ordered 6 yards to rehab an inherited perennial bed and was shocked when looking at the mountain of compost I would be moving. I also had it dumped in the wrong spot, which did not make my wife happy.

Get a handle on how much a cubic yard of compost is and find the right place for it to be until it can be moved into the garden.

A deep bed of compost will be perfect for an instant garden which will thrive when planted with your favorites.

Doug is the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Backyard Gardener ( and co-host of The Organic Gardeners radio program on KDKA.

  • Published on Sep 14, 2016
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