man w/ hoe
Photo: Kolin Smith
The first step in building a new walkway or patio, or planting a new garden bed, usually involves getting rid of the grass. Fortunately, it's easier to eradicate than to grow, especially if you use the right tools and techniques. Here are the methods This Old House landscape contractor Roger Cook uses to scalp a lawn.

Grub hoe. For small projects, use muscle power. With a quick chop, the hoe's 8-inch-wide blade cuts through roots; a tug on the handle rips turf out of the ground. Resist the temptation to swing the tool like a pickax; your back and arms will give out before the job is done. Instead, take short swings, just hard enough to penetrate the root layer—a couple of inches deep, at most. Walk forward as you work, so the cut pieces of sod don't cover up the grass to be removed.
Sod cutter. For large projects , a gas-powered version from the rental center is the way to go. Using a wide, narrow blade that swings back and forth just below root level, a sod cutter swiftly severs roots, clearing a swath in one swift pass. Then just roll up the grass strips and replant them elsewhere, if you wish.

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