Do you have a garden in a sunny area of your yard that is plagued with weeds, fungi, or other pests that infect your plants? There are many weed killers out there for treating a variety of lawn and garden challenges. And used properly, they can be very helpful. But it’s also possible to avoid using yard chemicals altogether and still get rid of these issues by turning up the heat in your yard. This process is called soil solarization, and the only requirements are water, a clear plastic tarp, and some time. Preparing your yard or garden for soil solarization will take a little bit more effort than using a short cut with weed killers, but the end results will have some extra benefits that just might make it worthwhile.
The first step in the process is to create as clean a slate as possible: remove any plants and debris from the area, then till, level and smooth the soil surface. Next, water the soil until it is very saturated, about 12” deep into the soil. Cover the targeted area with a heavy duty clear plastic tarp, and secure the edges with soil or rocks to keep it in place. The clear plastic and water will concentrate the sun’s energy and magnify its effect, raising the temperature under the plastic and trapping heat in the soil. The temperature under the tarp can rise to as high as 140⁰ depending upon the time of the year you choose to try this process. During spring and fall, it will take about 6-8 weeks to achieve the desired results. In the heat of summer, the process will be shortened to 4-6 weeks. The sustained high temperature under the tarp is enough to kill weed seeds, insects, and many harmful fungi and bacteria. Soil solarization also speeds up the breakdown of organic material in the soil and promotes the repopulation of worms, bacteria, and other helpful organisms. The end result is that not only will you have eliminated many of the pests that had been hampering your plants, but also your soil will be in better shape than before you began. After allowing the process to work for the recommended amount of time, carefully remove the plastic to keep it from shredding, and get ready to start planting!