Weeds the Way

The past warm weeks of summer and the first days of autumn are perfect times to get a jump start on pest and weed management for next spring’s blossoms. Smothering and solarization are two ways you can use to prepare backyard spaces — both large and small — if time is not a variable. Both methods use simple, cheap and chemical-free methods that result in healthy and nutrient-rich soil for planting.

Jocelyn H. Chilvers

Smothering is an exaggerated form of mulching. A thick coating of paper or cardboard, topped by several inches of organic matter, deprives existing weedy plants of light, thus inhibiting their development. By utilizing organic substances that decompose quickly, you also get the benefit of composting. Plant directly to the darkened area once the current weeds are conquered.

How to smother weeds:
Mow or chop the existing vegetation from the area selected for future planting.Spread a layer of paper (exclude coloured pages), newsprint or brown kraft paper (eight to 12 sheets thick), or three to four layers of cardboard. Be sure to overlap paper edges so there are no gaps.Saturate with water.Cover the whole paper area using a 4-inch-layer of natural material — Engineered wood fiber, wood chips, pine needles, cocoa hulls, etc.. Alternatively, an 8-inch-layer of lighter stuff, such as dried leaves, grass clippings, or weed-free straw, may be used.Let the area remaining autumn and winter.This technique functions for regions both large and small, at the sun or in the shade. It’s not a cure for noxious, perennial weeds that have aggressive root systems, but it is fairly prosperous means to get rid of yearly and biennial weeds as well as several grasses.


Solarization uses radiation from the sun plus moisture to warm soil to 99 to 125 degrees Fahrenheit. This treatment not only kills weeds and weed seeds, but in addition soilborne pathogens such as fungi, parasitic nematodes, insects and a few bacteria. Soil solarization also speeds up the breakdown of organic matter in the soil, resulting in more available nitrogen, calcium, magnesium and potassium. It’s a easy, chemical-free way to revitalize an older planting bed or prepare a new one.

How to solarize weeds:
Rototill or spade existing plant material and extra organic matter (chicken manure, grass clippings, etc.) to the soil. Decomposing organic matter contributes additional heat to the process and can also protect soil microbes. Rake the soil smooth and lump free — the aim is a clean, horizontal surface.Wet the soil to a depth of 12 inches (the moisture is crucial to conduct heat through the soil). Keep the soil moist throughout the solarization period.

Jocelyn H. Chilvers

Cover the soil surface with clear (preferably UV-stabilized) vinyl, 1.5 to 3 millimeters thick. The plastic has to be held closely against the ground surface; secure the edges by burying them to 6 inches into the ground. Note: Thinner plastic is less costly and may be utilised in a double coating, but is more prone to animal or wind damage. In cooler climates, using black vinyl for a longer period of time may be as effective as clear plastic.

Four to six weeks of solarization during the long, hot days of summer are enough to kill most weed seeds and soil pests. In the cooler days of autumn and spring, six to eight weeks may be critical.

Jean Marsh Design

Solarization is particularly effective for controlling annual weeds and pests in gardens with loads of sunlight and available moisture. It can be utilised in raised gardens as well as regions slated for new yards. More detailed research information and technical information on solarization can be found here and also here.

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