How to dig up grass

Whether you’re pulling up a small patch of grass to make way for a new feature, or you’re doing away with an entire lawn, digging up turf is a pretty common part of remodeling or refreshing a garden. Here’s a quick guide on how to dig up grass…

how to dig up turf

A quick note on electric turf cutters

Digging up turf can be pretty intensive work, so if you’re not up for a bout of heavy manual labor, or if you’re unearthing a huge amount of grass, it might be worth throwing down the hoe and the fork and getting your hands on an electric turf cutter.

electric turf cutter
Turf Cutter from HSS Hire

This is a pretty heavy duty piece of machinery which you operate similar to a lawnmower by guiding it in long stretches up and down the lawn. Whilst you’re doing this, underneath, its U-shaped blade chops through the roots. Once you’re done, you’re supposedly able to roll up the strips into neat bales of turf, like you’d buy from the garden centre.

When I checked for my own garden project, turf cutters were available to hire at £120 per day. But I was penny-pinching, so I opted for the manual route!

garden ho

How to dig up turf: The manual way

If you’re going for the more hands-on manual approach, then you’ll only really need two tools: a ho, and a fork.

In the method I’m going to show you, to keep the pieces you pull up manageable, you’re going to cut the turf into squares, and prize the roots from the ground along the way to make them easier to lift!


Before you get started, give your turf a good drenching with a hose or watering can, and then leave it to soak in for a few hours, or even overnight. This will soften up the ground and loosen the roots.

how to dig up grass

1) Dig your horizontal line

Firstly, take the ho, and drive it onto the grass, parallel to the edge you’re digging away from, and about one foot away from it.

Next, with the ho’s head dug into the ground, push the handle as far forwards as you can. You’ll feel the roots pull loose.

how to big up turf

Then, pull the handle as far back as you can. Again, you’ll feel the roots pull.

Next, take the ho out, place it next to the incision you just made, and repeat the process – drive it in, push it forwards, pull it backwards, remove it, and repeat. You’ll end up with a line dug into the turf that runs parallel with the grass’s edge.

2) Dig your vertical lines

Once you’ve dug your horizontal line, which runs parallel with the turf edge, it’s time to chop it up into squares! So, flip your ho 90 degrees, and cut from the line vertically towards the edge of the grass!

digging up lawn tips

Repeat the process – drive it in, push it forwards, pull it backwards. Keep going until that first line is all chopped into squares.

ho digging grass

3) Scoop up the squares

Once the line has successfully been cut into squares, it’s time to scoop them up, so switch over to the fork!

garden fork digging grass

You’ll notice that the edges of the squares are raised – that’s the result of pushing the ho back and forth. It massively loosens the roots, and makes this next step incredibly easy.

Now, it’s just a case of feeding the fork’s prongs under the square of turf, and lifting it up! Sling it into your wheelbarrow, skip, or add it to your pile.

how to dig up turf
grass removal tips

There you have it – how to dig up grass! Now your garden is ready for an exciting new look, head over to our Garden Ideas section.