Sunshine: Enemy or Friend?

Wednesday, June 29, 2011
This time of year, heat can be the entire conversation at dinner but that hot sun works for me. I’ve used this method to prepare a weedy lawn for replanting, to start a new bed where weeds and grass are thick, and to get rid of the wretched nut grass that tried to take over the vegetable patch. Solarization uses the sun’s rays to kill a high percentage of existing weedy plants and future invaders. Here’s how it works: cut down the weeds in the area that needs help and cover it completely with thick, clear plastic. That’s thick, like 6mil, and clear, not black, plastic sheeting. Secure the edges of the plastic. I use bricks and boards because I have them, but you can also bury the edges or heap dirt on top of them. Sunshine hits the plastic and gets a boost in its power from the greenhouse effect to focus its rays on the weeds below. The heat builds underneath to translate solar power into a death ray and that makes me very happy, indeed. In 6-8 weeks, there’s a real ‘ta-da’ moment when the plastic comes off and the dead-as-a-hammer weeds rake right out. Here’s the best part – they don’t come back. Of course, there are always other weeds waiting to blow in or drop in with new mulch or plants, but the evil nut grass, for example, has been gone for more than a decade. Research shows that seeds can be suppressed to a depth of 8-10 inches with this simple solarization.
Solarization can’t be done everywhere, of course, because existing beds cannot be covered without doing in our desirable plants. In those situations, targeted herbicide sprays, hand pulling and heavy mulching work best. But if you can leave an area alone for a couple of months, or if a persistent weed like my nut grass is nagging at you, try solarization.
More summer suggestions
·         To start flower and vegetable seeds for the fall garden, set up a bench outside. Give those seed flats bright light, slight elevation for good air circulation and a devotion to their needs for water. Recycle cell paks or grab peat cups or pellets and get planting.
·         Pack a bag or bucket for daily garden walks. Gather up sunscreen, insect repellant, hat and gloves, hand tools and a radio for Saturday morning. Keep the first 4 items handy and use them, please, so you’ll be around to garden for a long time to come.
·         Give yourself a gift – a bucket of sand to store those tools when not in use. Gardeners up north use one to keep tools dry in winter, but the humidity around here in summer can wear them out, too.
·         Broken clay pots deserve to be recycled and will improve drainage in potting mixes, particularly those for orchids and cacti. Crushed terra cotta is actually a product called turface but I make my own after a crack-up catastrophe. Those with a more creative bend have been known to break the clay into random quarter size pieces and create mosaics, but I’m just not that arty. But I’ll confess that one bed is edged with the curved pieces of huge broken pots that didn’t deserve crushing. Lined up, they make a scallop design that I think is amusing. Fortunately, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
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