In Texas, the summer of 2022 looks to be shaping up as the hottest in history. istoric drought, rampant wildfires, and a stunted insect population–including monarch butterflies.
Front yard struck by high temperatures and a lack of rain? Grass looking a little dead? Perhaps you should consider solarization, an easy, chemical-free method that can convert water-guzzling grass to a glorious butterfly garden.
Solarization offers a low-cost, low tech, low impact, chemical-free approach to weed removal and bed prep. Plus, why not take advantage of the free solar power that shines on our part of the world an average 300 days a year?
The idea of solarizing the soil or killing turf in such a way is to smother, almost pasteurize the soil, killing most weeds and undesirable live organisms by raising the temperature and “cooking” the earth–much like a compost pile.
Piling mulch on top of layers of newsprint or cardboard ensures darkness, making photosynthesis impossible and preventing seeds from sprouting. It also insulates the ground and boosts the temperature–up to 140 degrees, depending on the time of year you do it.
Solarizing in the coming hot summer days makes for a pressure cooker, killing pathogens, nematodes, weed seeds and seedlings. It also speeds the breakdown of organic material, resulting in more soluble nutrients for future plants. The process can take as little as three – six weeks, which is why summer is an excellent time to do it. Your beds will be ready for an early fall planting, when the sun backs off a bit.
I have personally tapped solarization to conduct “turf to bed conversions” several times in recent years. An expanse of St. Augustine in Alamo Heights, Texas, morphed into a vibrant butterfly garden within two years. A Bermuda grass stricken plot in front of an Austin apartment became another pollinator haven, in just six months.
Just this week, a small team of future pollinator gardeners tackled a new project in downtown San Antonio as part of our city’s Tricentennial 300for300 Pollinator Habitat Challenge.
The community gardening initiative challenges the community to plant 300 new pollinator gardens for San Antonio’s 300th birthday–30 in each of our ten city council districts.
Our friends at Reata Real Estate and the Rivard Report decided that the neglected Bermuda grass plot behind their future office near San Antonio’s Sunset Station was ripe for a reboot and would make a fantastic pollinator garden. With its high visibility in the downtown area, proximity to the train station and the Alamodome, excellent favorable sun exposure and access to a nearby water spigot, the plot is ideally suited to draw birds, bees and butterflies. We decided to assist in the transformation with a lesson in solarization.