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Extension: Sterilizing the Soil With the Sun

Extension: Sterilizing the Soil With the Sun


Q: What is the proper way to solarize soil? I have heard that the summer months are the best time to do it.

Answer: The summer months are an excellent time to use the power of the sun to sterilize the soil. Often, the challenge is that most gardeners have their gardens at peak production during this time. If you are experiencing high disease pressure or battling weeds and Bermuda grass, then solarizing may be a practice you want to employ. To properly solarize an area of the garden, start with bare ground that has been turned and raked smooth. Cover the area with a sturdy sheet of clear plastic, burying the edges in the soil. The temperature will rise to about 125 degrees over the course of several sunny days. Ideally, the plastic would stay in place for 4 to 6 weeks.

The heating of the soil under the plastic will kill many soil born pests including plant pathogens, nematodes, insects and weeds. After solarization and before planting your next garden, you will want to add some life, in the form of microbes, back into the soil via a high-quality finished compost or vermicompost. By encouraging the good players in soil microbiology, gardeners can improve plant health and in turn, increase what they are able to harvest.

Q: Can you prune fruit trees in the summer? I have observed long, leafy sprouts growing in my apple trees.

Answer: It is fine to remove these sprouts during the early months of summer. The purpose of summer pruning is to remove small sprouts to allow optimal sunlight into the canopy of the tree and to increase air flow. Avoid major pruning in the summer because it invigorates the tree to grow vegetatively, producing many new shoots. If the tree has been triggered to grow actively into the fall, major cold damage could occur if there is an early cold snap. Major pruning should be done in late winter or early spring.

Mary Jac Brennan is the agent for fruit and vegetable horticulture for small farms and local food for the Forsyth Cooperative Extension. Contact Mary Jac about commercial production, local foods, and sustainable agriculture questions. For information on home and gardening issues, contact the Forsyth Cooperative Extension office at maryjac_brennan or call 336-703-2850.

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