It’s about this time of the year when many spring vegetable gardens start fizzling out. Most of the crops have produced to the best of their ability and are now getting leggy and nonproductive. It’s time to pull most of these plants out and get ready for the fall garden. Nonproductive plants can become weak and sickly. Many insect pests are drawn to sickly plants.
If you plan to have a fall garden but still need to clean out the spring garden that is full of weeds and old plants, then consider solarizing the area. July and August are great times to solarize a garden.
Solarizing a garden is a cheap nontoxic way to clean out weeds and weed seeds. Solarizing can also eliminate plant pathogens like verticillium wilt and bad nematodes.
The solarizing method started in the ’70s to kill off heat-tolerant weeds that were especially hard to kill in vegetable gardens.
If you need to get rid of common garden weeds and grasses, then the first step is to thoroughly water the area. If you’re dealing with hard-to-kill weeds like nut grass or Bermuda grass, instead of watering, thoroughly spray the area with 20 percent horticultural vinegar before solarizing.
After soaking the area with water or vinegar cover the area with a 4 or 6 mm thick piece of clear, heavy-duty plastic. Use rocks, bricks or soil to securely hold the plastic in place. Heat from the sun will be trapped under the plastic, the moisture will intensify the heat, which will then bake the upper layer of soil, weeds and seeds. Ideally the plastic should stay on long enough to bring the top 2 inches of soil to 140 degrees.
After a couple of weeks, you can pull back the plastic and till the area to bring up any weed roots or seeds to the surface. Next, water the area again and put the plastic back over the area. After another couple of weeks, or longer if you want, remove the plastic and start watering the area to see if anything sprouts. At the first sign of anything still alive in the area, spray it with the 20 percent vinegar. After all this, you should begin to notice a lack of weeds. Remember that 3 to 4 inches of mulch will also help to deter weed growth.
Until next time, let’s try to garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.