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A customer recently asked me about using old turf to partially fill their new raised garden bed. So, is this a good idea?
You can use old turf to fill a raised garden bed. If you maintain the lawn organically, the grass, roots, and soil will decompose to produce nitrogen-rich soil that feeds the roots of your garden plants. Moreover, you will not need to buy fresh soil or transport the lawn to the landfill.
Let’s take a closer look at how you can fill a raised garden bed using old turf — a relatively cost-efficient and less wasteful approach. I’ll also cover the benefits of using old turf to fill a raised garden bed, how to fill a raised garden bed with old turf, and what precautions to take when using old turf to fill a raised garden bed.
Benefits of Using Old Turf To Fill a Raised Garden Bed
It Is More Cost-Efficient
Buying soil from a store can be expensive, especially with a large garden bed. It may be easier to get the old turf you need from your lawn or the neighborhood.
Instead of disposing of your old turf, you can save a significant amount of money by using it to fill raised garden beds.
It Provides Better Aeration
When you use old turf to fill a raised garden bed, your plants benefit from a rich growing medium with a loose structure and adequate air circulation.
Just like other parts of the plant, roots require air to “breathe.” When plants grow in overly compacted soil, the roots suffocate and can’t grow properly. Due to the composition of old turf, your plants can get good aeration from them.
It Improves Drainage
Old turf tends to retain water. During dry seasons, it functions as a sponge that stores moisture and releases rainwater into the soil. As a result, gardeners don’t have to water their plants too frequently, which cuts down on water bills.
Moreover, you won’t have to worry about drowning your plants in water, stunting root development, and potentially fatal problems such as root rot.
It Enriches the Soil
When you build your garden bed using organically maintained old turf, the turf layer beneath your plants decomposes over time and creates a nitrogen-rich soil layer. This can be used to feed the roots of your garden plants.
With its spongy, nutrient-rich soil teeming with microorganisms, old turf also produces a miniature biosphere that mimics the natural terrain of a forest, ensuring healthy plant growth.
For other ways to improve soil quality, see Is 50:50 Soil Good Enough for Raised Garden Beds?
How To Fill a Raised Garden Bed With Old Turf
The following are the materials and procedures you’ll need to create a bountiful raised garden bed using old turf.
- Garden hose
- Spade or turf cutter
- Old turf
- Cardboard or newspaper
- Branches and sticks (optional)
- Premium organic soil.
Here’s a step-by-step guide on filling a raised garden bed with old turf.
- With a garden hose, mark the area you want to turn into a raised bed garden.
- Use the turf cutter or a spade to cut out the shape of the bed and remove the turf from the area. Set the turf aside.
- Build your bed. You may want to put old branches or sticks at the bottom to boost your levels of organic matter, as well as maintain ideal moisture levels.
- Once the bed is ready, lay your old sheet of turf upside down, flipping the turf roots side up at the bed’s base to discourage the growth of grass.
- Smother the roots with old newspaper or cardboard to kill the grass or weeds and prevent regrowth.
- Pile up your premium organic soil. For example, you can use something like The Good Earth Organics, Zen Blend Premium Potting Soil (link to Amazon), which is OMRI-certified for organic growing. Pile the soil high enough, preferably at least 12 inches (30 cm), to prevent grass from sprouting through your raised garden bed.
Precautions When Using Old Turf To Fill a Raised Garden Bed
Have a Drainage Trench
Drainage issues may arise with raised beds since rainwater can collect on an incline. A trench beneath the walkways ensures water flows in the right direction during rainstorms. It also helps water soak into the soil beneath the flowerbeds, making it easier for the plants to access it.
Remove or Kill the Grass Before Building Your Raised Bed
Your raised garden bed may not kill the grass if the soil is very shallow. In that case, the grass may push through the ground and compete with your plants for water and nutrients.
You might use organic weed killers like the Doctor Kirchner Natural Weed & Grass Killer (link to Amazon) to avoid harsh chemicals on your raised garden bed.
This grass killer has natural ingredients that quickly and safely kill the weeds and grass growing on your raised garden bed.
Use a Thick Layer of Cardboard To Cover Your Old Turf
A heavier coating of cardboard may kill the grass and prevent it from recovering. However, its decomposition may take longer compared to old turf.
Build your raised garden bed on top of this layer of cardboard or newspaper. Along with the old turf, the cardboard or newspaper will degrade, adding nutrients and organic matter to the soil.
I do want to share another option that I like somewhat better. It’s a simple, three-layer approach to filling a raised garden bed. It’s a fairly common approach and is well explained in this gentlemen’s YouTube video:
Modern raised beds are great because they’re simple to build on your own. When looking for a cost-efficient and environmentally friendly method of filling a raised garden bed, consider old turf.
Organically maintained turf can make for a good material to fill your raised garden bed since it enhances decomposition, which creates nitrogen-rich soil that nourishes the roots of your garden plants.
Additionally, you’ll save a lot of time and money you’d otherwise use to move the grass to the landfill and buy new soil.