Chemical Free Weed Annihilation

You're not alone if you put off weeding your garden beds so long that you cannot face the amount of time and effort it will take tidy them up again. No sweat. You have the sun on your side.

Images by Cecilia Nasti

Your garden is in desperate need of weeding, but who has the time? Summer got busy, and with school ramping up this month, things aren't going to slow down any time soon. Don't beat yourself up; it happens to everyone. Guess what? You can turn things around without a lot of fuss when you let the sun do your dirty work.

Solar Powered Weed Whacking

Images by Cecilia Nasti

Solarization is a chemical-free process home gardeners have used for years to reclaim planting beds overrun with weeds and even soil pathogens and pest insect eggs.Sure, you can hand weed, but if any of those plants formed and dropped seed before you got to them, their progeny will germinate when conditions are right, and you'll be back where you started in short order. When you solarize the soil, you can treat a large area at one time and not only snuff out the plants in various stages of growth, but you'll kill off the seeds, too. In the end you'll have pasteurized the soil, thus creating a clean slate for your next edible or ornamental garden.

Tools of the Trade

Images by Cecilia Nasti

Here's what you'll need to solarize your garden beds:

  • Thick, clear plastic sheeting (enough to overlap garden bed borders by 12-inches);

  • A shovel, spade fork or a small garden tiller;

  • A nearby water source;

  • Sun;

  • Time; and,

  • Compost.

This is something you can probably do on your own, but it's more fun, easier, and you get it done faster, with a helper.
The Steps to Your Success

  1. Working with a large area? You can tackle it in sections. In sections or as a whole, dig a trench around the area you plan to treat, reserving the backfill.

  2. Are there plants in your garden you want to save? Transfer them to containers for later reintroduction.

  3. With your shovel, spade fork or tiller, rough up the soil; if you can dig down at least six inches, that's ideal. You'll expose roots and seeds.

  4. Saturate the area with water; give it a good drenching. Water conducts heat, so the deeper the water goes into the soil, the more thorough the solarization process. In fact, watering is a two-day process. Give the area a good drenching on day one, and again on day two.

  5. After drenching the soil on day two, cover it with the clear, thick plastic sheeting. Overlap the pieces of plastic at least 12-inches. Use the reserved backfill to hold down the edges in the trenches, creating a tight seal.

  6. It'll be a super-charged greenhouse under the plastic; insect eggs will cook, plants will grow, seeds will sprout, but it will be too hot for them to survive and they'll eventually keel over. Don't worry about earthworms — they'll move to cooler depths and return when the time is right.

  7. Depending on the weed density of the area you treated and the intensity of the sun where you live, it could take three weeks to three months to kill off everything.

  8. Once it's ready, remove the plastic and work compost into the soil to reintroduce good microorganisms to the soil. Let the soil rest for a week before planting again. Or you can leave the plastic on through fall and winter and be ready for spring.

What do you think about harnessing the power of the sun to do your garden dirty work? Think you might try it?
Images by Cecilia Nasti

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