I'm taking time off work this month to landscape the front yard. I solarized the grass out front and will be doing a sort of lasagna-bed thing to plant some drought-tolerant shrubs and make our lawn a little smaller. A few people have asked me how to do that, so I thought this would be a fine place to lay it all out.
Here is the front yard in mid-August. It looks like the lawn is already dead, because Austin is a dry hell in the summer. But it's just dormant. Waiting, watching.
Especially the bermudagrass, which is almost impossible to kill. When you pull it out it grows back even more vigorously from the remnants you inevitably leave behind, like the splinters of Mickey Mouse's broom in The Sorcerer's Apprentice. If we didn't have the bermudagrass, I might have just thrown some cardboard down and dumped a bunch of mulch on it and been done months ago.
The best time to solarize is in the summer so you can get the soil good and hot and completely inhospitable to vegetative life. You start by cutting the lawn/grass/weeds as short as possible and raking up as much debris as you can. Then you water deeply. The idea is to get everything trying to grow and ready to absorb some heat just before you smother it.
After the water has soaked in, cover the area with clear plastic sheeting. (Some people use black plastic because it absorbs the sun, but much of what I read said you really want the sun beating through the plastic and onto the grass.)
I used this stuff. You could probably get away with clear painter's tarp if you were careful. The thinner plastic might even be better, so long as it doesn't tear.
Be sure to lay the plastic as tightly as possible against the ground, and try to seal the edges well so that very little air can escape.
Place some boards or bricks or something at intervals on the first layer so you have a few inches between that and the second layer of plastic, which you then put down and also seal as well as possible. (The second layer is optional, but the air in the space between layers helps it get extra hot.)
Then you have to be okay with your yard looking kind of dumb and ugly for at least a month to six weeks while the sun does its work. It helps that no one's yard looks good at the end of summer.
After a few months, pull up your plastic and be amazed. Or sort of amazed. It worked pretty well, although I probably should have taken everything up before it got cool and wet. You can see the bermudagrass already trying to come back in patches, and the plastic was wet and muddy and smelled like both dog and cat pee.
I have since sprayed Round-Up on those tufts of grass. My gardening principles call for me to make a good faith effort to try the least toxic methods first. If those fail, I have few qualms about breaking out the poison, at least where I'm not growing food.
About a week after I put the plastic over the front strip, I decided the strip of weeds and eternally struggling palm trees next to the driveway would look nice if I made it into a bed too. But by then it was humid and mosquitoey and I only had an hour or so each day to work on it, so I did what any self-respecting woman would do and completely half assed everything.
I waited too long after cutting the grass, so it was all puffy and uneven. I had to cut the plastic to fit around the palms, and I did a terrible job of both cutting and sealing it. And then I only put down one layer because I decided in August it is better to sit inside and drink chilled vodka and cry than do anything outside, ever.
As you can see, my slapdash method didn't work at all. All I did was create a miniature greenhouse where weeds could grow, thrive, and multiply, probably giggling quietly all the while.
Luckily most of that is not bermudagrass, so it can be dug up or smothered with cardboard. WHO LAUGHS NOW?!?
So yeah, if you do this, do it right. Don't be lazy and sad like me.
Tomorrow I will dig up all the weeds I can, draw out the contours of the beds, and begin to install the metal edging. The weather will be perfect, and I can't wait.
I think I'm going to blog this whole process, so if you like long, dull descriptions about yard work, stick with me and I'll take you places. Really, really boring places.