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Solarizing Your Lawn to Create a Garden

Black plastic is used to solarize a section of my lawn as a first step in turning it into a garden bed

Leaves are put down in a layer to mark the new bed and acts as the first layer of the lasagna method of alternating green (nitrogen rich) and brown (carbon rich) layers.

Turning your lawn into a garden is a really easy. Well, it can be easy, or it can be a lot of hard work, depending on your method. You can tear up the sod with either a sod cutter or a shovel, compost the sod, add your amendments and Voila! – garden bed. While this method is fast, it’s a lot of hard work. It’s too hard (for me at least). I attempted this method when I first moved into our house and quickly realized it totally sucked, so when I heard about solarizing – I knew this method was for me. I have since solarized many areas of my yard and have learn a few things along the way.

Solarizing is a method of heating the soil and blocking light by placing plastic, cardboard, newspaper, etc. over an area of lawn for a length of time, killing off whatever lies beneath. I have used cardboard, I have used a large blue tarp, and the ONLY thing I will ever use from now on is black plastic. Why? Well…let me tell you.

I found that the blue tarp, even in the heat of summer, was still transparent enough to let a little light through which didn’t not kill off the hardiest plants (aka weeds). The cardboard was a DIS-AS-TER. I know people who have used cardboard effectively, and trick is use at least 3 layers of cardboard. But that’s A LOT of cardboard, especially if you have a large area to cover. In one section of my yard, I only laid down one layer and put really expensive mulch on top of it. It looked FABULOUS for a while, but the cardboard quickly disintegrated under the rain. The weeds and grass didn’t have time to die, and grew right up through the cardboard and the mulch which created a God awful mess I am STILL dealing with. Black plastic gets hot, and it blocks light – it works. Not to say I don’t use cardboard, but I’ll get to that. So, to begin you will need:

  • black plastic – you can get this on rolls at the hardware store
  • mulch of choice for cover once the areas has been solarized, right now I am loving straw
  • lots and lots of cardboard (optional)
  • lawn staples or anything you can get your hands on to keep the plastic in place

Lay your plastic over the area you wish solarize, cutting it to fit. Use the lawn staples to secure the plastic so that it can’t blow up in a gust of wind and let light in. I have also used scrap pieces of wood (see top photo) with much success as well. Once the plastic is secure, all you have to do is wait. I think the fall is one of the best times to solarize, because you can just let that plastic do it’s work over the next few months, and when spring comes around, pull up the plastic and you are good to go.

I solarized the patch in the photos this summer, and left the plastic only for a few weeks. The grass did die, but because I didn’t leave it for months and months, I laid a layer of cardboard down before I put down the straw for extra light-blocking action. I am going to use the lasagna method to create this bed, and I have put down my first carbon rich layer which is leaves raked up from another area of my yard

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. I will continue to alternate “green” and “brown” layers, with some compost throw in until I get a bed about a foot or so high.

So there you have it! Get rid of your lawn by solarizing and plant something you can eat instead!

Comments: 5
  • mhee April 13, 2012 1:33 am

    CLEAR plastic
    Black may work especially when left on for a very long time.
    Clear is so very much better and if you are trying to kill nematodes an absolute must as black will not heat the soil enough at any depth let alone required depth. No not even in the hottest and most sunny places.

  • Christina January 13, 2011 3:54 pm

    If I put black plastic down now, do you think I could have a garden bed by May?

  • UGG boots UK November 22, 2010 10:57 am

    It’s good infomation for me,thanks very much! Hope do something more like this!

  • Kawi gurl November 13, 2010 12:36 am

    I wish I could write like you as Margaret Laurence once said “When I say “work” I only mean writing. Everything else is just odd jobs.”

  • Christina November 3, 2010 5:55 pm

    This was VERY interesting and helpful. I’ve wondered for a long time how to create new beds without using round-up or something like it. Now I know! 🙂

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