How (and why!) to Solarize a Garden Bed

At the beginning of a garden season, you will have high hopes for your garden production.

Along the way, things like weeds, garden pests, and even some soil issues can crush those dreams.  That’s why it is important that you solarize your garden beds to prepare them.

Solarizing garden beds is done by using plastic soil solarization film, and the power of the sun,  heating the soil to a high enough temperature to eliminate those pests, weeds, and soil issues. It is also important to do this if you think you may have had cats using your beds as a litter box, as their fecal matter may contain contaminates that do not compost.

For ideas of how to keep cats out of your garden beds, read this post here. 

solarize garden bed post

The idea behind solarizing  is to raise the soil temp to 120° or more.  This can be effectively done with clear plastic.  Black plastic may also work, but the sunlight may not be able to penetrate as well.  Clear, thinner plastic (1-2 mil.) is most often recommended. Let’s look at one of the simplest soil solarization methods.

To begin solarizing your garden beds, simply remove all the plants and debris.

If you are adding compost from the chicken coop, rabbit cages, or the compost pile, add it now.  Solarizing will help eliminate unwanted weeds or seeds from growing in the compost.  Gently water the soil until moist, but not soaking.  The moist soil will hold the heat in better. Lay your plastic sheets over the beds and smooth as tightly as possible.  Secure with rocks or bricks to keep the heat in the soil and allow the sun to do its work.  You will see the plastic begin to heat up almost right away on a sunny day. Allow the plastic to remain 4-6 weeks for best results.

solarizing

Solarizing the garden beds is best done in the hot summer months, but most of us cannot sacrifice garden space to do so in this season.

It can be effective if done in the Spring before planting, and in the Fall after the harvest.  Solarizing in the Spring can also help you get a jump start on the season by warming up the soil for planting.  After 4-6 weeks, remove the plastic and either plant your garden or mulch it for the winter.

The disadvantages of soil solarization are that it CAN kill off some beneficial bacteria. However, the benefit of removing the weeds and bad bacteria are going to outweigh this. You can add beneficial bacteria back into the soil by adding good compost later. Also, don’t forget to add worms if you can. Read more about growing worms here.  That will help repopulate the soil with beneficial bacteria.

Check this post on composting for more information. 

Have you ever solarized your garden beds?  What was your experience with it?  Be sure to pin this for later!

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5 thoughts on “How (and why!) to Solarize a Garden Bed”

  1. This is truly one of the best (natural) ways to prepare your garden and keep weeds and pests away. Even though it takes time to prepare, but what’s 4-6 weeks compared to a bountiful harvest.

  2. I want to use this method on grass to create a new bed around a tree in my yard. Will this damage the tree roots?

    1. Heather Harris

      the roots are deep enough on most trees that it shouldn’t hurt them. However, since I am not seeing the tree or how deep the roots go, I would use extreme caution and only leave the plastic in place for a short time and remove within a week.

  3. I have used plastic to kill weed beds, but your execution is great I will do this to a few beds.signed on also and passed it on too!

  4. I used this method to kill the weeds and weed seeds in the new beds. I could still garden in the older beds. I stapled the plastic over the raised beds and left it. I also tried old pieces of plywood on top of the new beds to kill the grass underneath them because I didn’t have time to scrape the sod. I really like this all natural idea!

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