Turbo Till

A low-maintenance lawn custom tailored for Detroit.

SunPart ShadeShade

Photo © Ernst Conservation Seeds










Sun, Part Shade, Shade

The Turbo Till creates a low maintenance lawn tailored to Detroit. Anything can happen on top of the Turbo Till! Underneath and over time, this lot design creates healthier soils and allows water to infiltrate better.

The Turbo Till combines soil tilling and earthworms (used here as a living amendment) to improve on-site infiltration, bone meal to stabilize any lead that may exist in the soil (or make the lead chemically unavailable for consumption by humans) and finishes with a fescue grass seed mix. This family of floppy grasses is drought resistant and requires only one cutting (in August or September) per year. Fescue grasses don’t get tall—instead they flop over and grow sideways. In fact, fescues are so low maintenance that they are often used as the ground cover on solar farms, where mowing is very complicated and potentially quite time consuming.

The Turbo Till is an excellent opportunity to improve the soil and drainage condition of any lot in Detroit.

Ideal Location: : All lots in full sun or shade.


The estimated cost of the Turbo Till is based on utilizing volunteer labor, and purchasing bonemeal, earthworms and earthworm castings. The highest price items will be renting a tiller — which you could also borrow or decide to purchase as part of a group effort—as well as the recommended amount of earthworms.

Consider growing your own earthworms at home (you can double your population in 60 days)!

Green Infrastructure

Underneath and over time, the Turbo Till creates healthier soils and allows water to infiltrate better. Earthworms improve the soil’s water infiltration rates by turning up the soil as they move around. Over time, all of the worms’ underground moving and shaking helps to break up compacted soils, while adding nutrients, too (their own castings). The Turbo Till sets a stormwater management dream in motion. And yes that’s right—with better soils, almost anything can happen on top!

Vegetation and Visibility

The Turbo Till is a high visibility lot design, with low-growing grasses that will not reach above six inches in upright height. The Turbo Till keeps a clear view from the street to the alley.

Planting Type

Most Interesting Season

Other Consideration


You can install the Turbo Till with the help of your friends, family or neighbors. The installation of this lot should not require professional assistance if you, with the help and support of others, would like to build this design. Please refer to the Step-By-Step section for guidance. The installation process is estimated to take one weekend with the help of three to five healthy adults, or youth, and will require a tiller, which you can rent, borrow or purchase. The most strenuous part of the installation process is tilling the lot. If you are able to borrow or rent multiple tillers, this will ease and accelerate your installation process. Tilling also presents the biggest variable, as there are many surprises just beneath the surface of structure-free land in Detroit, including extremely clay soils, and often rubble and other debris. Hire a professional if you feel you are not up for the challenge, though be aware the installation price will be higher. Once you have completed the site preparation and gathered your materials, the actual installation should take one weekend – one day of heavier work for tilling, and one (fun) day of adding earthworms, bone meal, water and the grass seed mix. Children may particularly enjoy the spreading of earthworms, which usually occurs the morning of the second day of installation.

Build Time Estimate

Ten hands or less! With the help of friends, family or neighbors, this project could be completed in a weekend. The Field Guide assumes the lot is ‘construction ready,’ and all equipment and materials required for the lot design have been acquired and are ready to use. The biggest variable is tilling, as sometimes unknown objects appear in the soil, and slow our ability to till. Tiny hands are an added bonus to the earthworm spreading process!

Build Difficulty

Number of People Needed

Neighbor Labor

Time Taken to Build

Build Season

Transportation Intensity

Permit Requirements


The Urban Edge is a low maintenance lot design. Upkeep includes watering newly planted trees and shrubs, particularly during times of drought and excess heat. Plants must be watered regularly during the first year- plan to water weekly or as needed.

Plan ahead and remember to think about where and how you will access water for the next month!

Once your hedge is established, it will shade out the majority of the weeds. Your hedge can be trimmed at any time to keep it at the ideal height.

The Field Guide recommends connecting with an arborist or taking a workshop on tree health and maintenance. The Greening of Detroit offers a great Citizen Forester program to interested residents.

Seasonal Upkeep Levels

  • Spring: Low
  • Summer: Low
  • Fall: Low
  • Winter: Low

Upkeep Frequency

Upkeep Skill Levels

Professional Assistance

Special Tools