Sunday, January 5, 2014

A rip roaring good time with the sod ripper

I don’t understand how “sod off” got to be an insult. In my experience, not having to deal with the back breaking work of sod removal in the garden is a sublime, yet too infrequent situation. In my Little House on the Prairie phase, I removed turfgrass with a shovel. I felt really bad for Pa and whatever horse helped him turn over all that prairie sod.

expanding the gravel garden, one roll at a time

That phase ended September 5, 2013. On September 6th, the sun shone, the birds sang, the dandelions withered, and I rented a sod remover and joined the Machine Revolution. Hallelujah!

sod cut old school style: with a shovel

You might be wondering if it is worth the $. My roommate of 15 years, who shall remain unnamed, did indeed wonder this very thing. After watching me remove about 20 square feet per day, the proverbial snail’s pace (see pic above for messy results), unnamed roommate realized one of two things would happen. Thing 1: it wouldn’t get done before winter. Thing 2: it would get done but I would be a cripple.

a beautiful thing: rolled sod

Since regular readers know my fondness for lists, this post has two. If you answer yes to more than one question in the list below, the rental is worth the money. You’re welcome.

Reasons to Rent the Sod Ripper

1. are you over the age of 20?

2. do you feel arm wrestling Conan the Barbarian or Zena, Warrior Princess would be a challenge?

3. do you have more than 200 square feet to remove?

4. are you pressed for time, perhaps the season’s first blizzard is upon you or the crew delivering 10 tons of (fill in the blank) hardscape product just called and will be there tomorrow for sure by 3pm?

5. is there a slight incline involved anywhere in the removal or disposal area?

Since I feel sure all but one or two of you qualify for the sod remover rental, a few friendly words of advice. Words of advice that should be laminated and clipped to every sod ripper in the world, I humbly add.

Tips for handling the Ripper

Tip 1. In my opinion, anything called a “ripper” should be handled with caution. (I think rippers are close cousins to mangles. If handling a ripper scares you, they are also called sod cutters. Would you rather rent a cutter?) If you are tiny, frail, clumsy, weak, or just plain intelligent, get a friend to help. (If nothing else, they can call 911 when the ripper jumps out of the ruts and cuts your toes off.)

My partner in sod removal is 6 feet 4 inches and 180 pounds. He couldn’t have ripped our yard on his own, considering our particular brand of ripper weighed more than 300 pounds. We barely managed it together and I’m not much smaller than he is. How we got it back into the truck to return to the rental company is a tale for another day. I will only tease you with this: hill, ramp, pulley, bad language. 

sturdy boots and snazzy outfit mandatory

Tip 2. Flat land is best. Hills are tricky. If your land requires grappling hooks, crampons, or rope to traverse, forget it. If your lawn mower regularly gets away from you and propels itself like a runaway train down your hilly sward, just get your shovel out. Sorry. Our land is sloping and it took two large adults to steer the machine down the hill and around a corner without losing control. Up the hill was almost impossible.

can you tell this is on an incline?

Tip 3. Is it the rainy season? Would mud be an apt description of the soil? If you were to stand on the bare soil, would it swallow up your foot? The Ripper doesn’t like mud, at all. Dry or average soil is best. Proceed at your own risk if the soil is very wet.

the results of the ripper

Bonus tip. Your toddler or pet should not be around while the Ripper is ripping.

Yet another bonus tip. Safety glasses, gloves, sturdy boots, and a sense of your own mortality would not be excessive in this situation.

Last tip for now. Any shallow cables or utility lines should be marked. We ended up nicking the phone line and had to have it repaired. Whoever heard of burying a line an inch below soil level?

looking uphill toward the driveway at the ripper's handywork

Good luck with the ripper. You won’t regret it, and your back will thank you. It was $60 well spent. And yes, my sod removal job was completed before the blizzard, if you were wondering.

Done any sod ripping in your day?


  1. I have only shoveled a bit of sod before. Not an easy job any way you approach it. Your job looks nice and tidy. It will be interesting to see the finished product.

  2. I've shoveled and I've used the ripper. Neither was easy. Bad language, jumping and shoving involved in both if I remember correctly. Could not believe how difficult that machine was - thought it was meant to make the job easier?

  3. @Lisa at Greenbow,

    It does look rather neat in all those rolls, doesn't it? Almost cute, in fact.



    I believe perfectly level, slightly moist loam, with a weedless turf above would come up nicely. No more than 200 square feet. That would be a fun job.

    And if the ripper is working properly. I did one job where a neighbor actually came over and said, "You are having to push too hard, that machine must have the hurts." Sure enough, the rental company said that it was used the day before to remove a football field's turf and was running a little rough.

    My neighbor rented a ripper that summer and cruised through his level patch of grass. As my kids say, no fair!


  4. We have a slight cultural problem here as what you call Sod we call turf.
    Sod has another meaning which makes the term "Sod ripping" something best not mentioned inf ront of the visiting clergy or aged relations.

    That said we have an equivalent machine that is called a turf cutter. More genteel and generally British. Like yours it has the major advantage of not requiring one to lever up small bites of turf (or sod) with a spade.

  5. @James A-SI can picture the clergy in my garden if I have to use the ripper in the mud again. Dangerous!

    As for the true British meaning of sod, I will trust you that it's naughty and inquire no further.


  6. we're planning the lasagna method ... when we eventually live in that house with the unwanted lawn.


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