Soil Solarization for Weed Control

Soil Solarization for Weed Control

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The habits of residence gardeners develop principally by trial and error influenced by outdated wives’ tales. Too typically, there isn’t any science obtainable to verify or deny the worth of a gardening observe, since most scientific research are targeted on industrial agricultural practices that don’t essentially scale to the house gardener.

Solarization Works

Now there may be new science that validates one old school, chemical-free weed suppression methodology. Soil solarization shouldn’t be a brand new weed management observe for natural gardeners, who’ve practiced “tarping” for years, particularly in sizzling climates. But Dr. Sonja Birthisel studied it as a part of her postdoctoral research in 2018, confirming that mulching ready beds with plastic for a number of weeks previous to planting can lower weed stress within the subsequent crop — even in cooler climates just like the American Northeast.

What Is Solarization?

For scientific functions, solarization refers to overlaying the soil with clear plastic. Tarping refers to using black plastic, which, maybe counterintuitively, is much less efficient in suppressing weeds. Both practices can elevate soil temperatures sufficient to kill dormant weed seeds. Even at decrease temperatures, analysis discovered a weed-suppressing impact. It’s attainable that the hotter temperatures encourage “suicidal germination” whereby seeds germinate however fail to develop underneath the plastic.

Salvaged greenhouse plastic applied to solarize a field in Old Town, ME. Photo credit: Eric Gallandt, University of Maine.
Salvaged greenhouse plastic utilized to solarize a discipline in Old Town, Main. Photo credit score: Eric Gallandt, University of Maine.

How to Solarize Your Soil

Solarization is best on moist soil, which conducts warmth higher. Moist seeds are additionally extra prone to warmth. You can improve effectiveness by utilizing two layers of clear plastic or a layer of clear plastic over black. The optimum mixture of plastic sheets and size of time underneath plastic could rely in your native local weather. But the plastic ought to be utilized after the mattress is ready for planting and ought to be left on for a number of weeks. This means it ought to be executed after the soils first thaw, however earlier than the typical final frost date. Alternatively, you can put together the mattress within the fall and solarize by means of your entire winter.

soil solarization
Soil solarization kills weeds with out chemical compounds, however what occurs to the plastic used? Photo: RAHUL143 (CC BY-SA 4.0), Wikimedia Commons

But Plastic Is Bad

This information raises a quandary for many who are attempting to scale back their use of plastic. Gardeners with the time and skill could select extra labor-intensive natural ways to kill weeds relatively than buy sheets of polyethylene that can in all probability not be recyclable when they’re not usable. But for these dealing with persistent perennial weeds or remodeling a uncared for garden into a brand new backyard mattress, the choice to soil solarization could also be chemical options. For them, there are methods to attenuate the impression of solarization plastic.

It could also be attainable to acquire used greenhouse plastic. If that isn’t an choice, buy thick plastic sheeting as an alternative of movies. Gardeners can take away thicker plastics earlier than planting and reuse them for a few years. If you possibly can recycle plastic in your neighborhood, achieve this. Otherwise, eliminate plastic sheeting correctly as soon as it turns into brittle and items begin to break off. It could also be galling to ship large items of plastic to the landfill, nevertheless it’s higher than leaving degrading plastic exterior to shed microplastics into waterways.

This article was initially printed on March 12, 2019.