Digging up a lawn by hand to replant grass seed can be accomplished with nothing more than a flat digging spade, but a border edger and a sod knife are useful too. For larger lawns, consider renting equipment like a gas-powered sod cutter or a skid steer to efficiently dig out old sod.
If you choose to dig up the lawn by hand, you can make the job easier by watering the lawn a few days ahead of time to allow the soil to soften to the perfect consistency for slicing out strips of sod. Soil that's too dry or too soggy will be tedious to work with. In addition, set out flags to mark the location of any sprinkler heads so you don't accidentally damage them. Finally, call 811 before you dig to ensure you won't damage any underground pipes or wires.
Digging It Up by Hand
Start by inserting the digging spade or the border edger straight down into the grass to make a vertical cut at least 1.5 inches deep. Make additional cuts this way until you've outlined the perimeter of the lawn. You can make cuts across the length and width of the lawn (like a tic-tac-toe board) to create more manageable sections of sod, or you can skip this step and cut the sod into pieces as you go.
Insert the digging spade into one of the existing cuts and lever up the edge of the sod a little. Push the handle toward the ground until the digging spade is parallel with the ground. Then shove the spade forward to cut under the sod with a short stabbing motion. Peel back the sod and use the knife to saw into any long weedy roots impeding your progress, or to cut out a square of sod if you didn't make crisscross cuts earlier.
Once you've gotten the first square out of the way, it's much easier to position the digging spade parallel to the ground and continue cutting out sections of sod. You may need to make deeper vertical cuts if you aren't removing all of the roots. You can dig out deep, weedy roots once all the sod is removed to prevent them from ruining your new lawn.
Using a Sod Cutter
A sod cutter is a gas-powered walk-behind tool that you can rent when you need to dig up a lawn for replanting. The sod cutter still requires some muscle and sweat to maneuver, but it's more practical and efficient for larger lawns than digging up grass with a shovel. The main downside is the expense of the rental fee — and possibly a delivery fee as well. It's also smart to get some hands-on instruction before taking this tool home.
Because a sod cutter makes uniform cuts, it's easy to move the sod by rolling it up into manageable chunks. Use a shovel to cut the sod into smaller strips, if necessary.
Using a Skid Steer
For really large lawns, renting a skid steer may be the best way to remove the grass. A bucket with a cutting edge will "shave" the grass off the lawn and then scoop and move the debris. For a neater disposal method, get a turf cutter attachment that rolls the sod as it cuts.
Skid steers are the most expensive option. In addition, according to Truck Loan Center, you may need to have a commercial driver's license, depending on the weight of the machine you want to rent. If a skid steer seems like the fastest way to remove unwanted grass on your property, but you don't feel comfortable driving farm equipment, consider hiring a pro.