Eliminate Turf

The next step is to eliminate turf. This will give you more control over the design of the planting area and will help limit weeding problems.

Many shoreland owners are reluctant to use chemicals to eliminate turf and to maintain their landscapes.

They are uncomfortable exposing their families, neighbors, pets and other creatures to potentially harmful side effects, and don't want to risk having these chemicals enter the water.

Alternatives to using chemicals to kill sod include:

  • removing the sod with a sod cutter or shovel
  • covering the area with sheets of plastic or other material
  • planting plugs directly into the existing turf.

One of the benefits of growing native plants is that they are not dependent on fertilizers, herbicides, or chemicals. Some shoreland owners feel that the temporary use of chemicals to restore their property to a permanent "drug-free" condition is worth the potential risk.

Use of a sod-cutter

area of lawn killed with herbicide

Sod-cutters avoid the use of chemicals but are labor intensive. Blade depth should be set deep to cut all grass roots. Be especially careful around tree roots. This usually creates a nearly weed-free surface.

Keep in mind, though, that this area will be lower than the surrounding lawn and you may want to bring in extra topsoil to level. Clean, sandy loam topsoil is best; avoid peat, clay or heavy loam-based soil. Make sure the topsoil is not contaminated with weed seeds.

Either compost the cut sod or use it to patch open areas in the lawn. Erosion damage is a possible problem. Use an erosion-control blanket or mulch immediately after removing the sod.

Smothering the Lawn

worker planting directly into dead turf

Smothering is less labor intensive but requires an entire growing season. After 5-6 months, it will be possible to plant directly through the dead sod. Cover the soil with heavy black plastic, old carpet, tarps or other opaque material for an entire growing season.

Make sure to secure the cover tightly. Seams should overlap about 6 inches to ensure complete coverage. It needs to remain intact in order to kill weeds and seeds near the soil surface. Do not cultivate or till deeper than 1-2 inches with this method to avoid bringing up weed seeds that will compete with the natives.

Planting Into Turf

spraying herbicide near lakeshore

Plugs can also be planted directly into dead turf without removing the turf and by leaving the dead turf in place it will help to prevent soil erosion. Just make sure the live plants are planted in soil and not in dead thatch.

Application of Herbicides


The quickest and most cost-effective method of turf elimination over the short-term is the application of herbicides.

Organic herbicides made from naturally occurring fatty acids are one option for removing sod. They kill plants by dehydrating the foliage. You can also apply a chemical herbicide, such as a short duration glyphosate herbicide on upland areas. Obtain professional recommendations for a different formulation when working within 10 feet of the edge of the water.

DNR permits are required for use on aquatic or shoreline plants. For more information, contact your local DNR fisheries office.