soil sterilization - Knowledgebase Question

Southbury, Co
Avatar for nef824
Question by nef824
August 26, 2010
The veges in my garden are plagued by bugs and fungus/disease. What are pros/cons for electric soil sterilizers? How deep does the soil need to be sterilized? Any other options (other than chemicals?)

Answer from NGA
August 26, 2010
The only reasonable method for home gardeners to use for outdoor soil is soil
solarization, in which moist soil is covered by clear plastic, and the heat of
the sun is used to heat sterilize the soil. It takes 4 to 6 weeks and needs to
be done during the hottest months, usually June and July.

Garden soil can be sterilized with aerated steam, electricity, or toxic
chemicals, such as methyl bromide or chloropicrin. These methods require
specialized equipment so are usually done only by professional plant growers.

I'm familiar with electric soil sterilizers for greenhouse use - where small batches of potting soils are heat treated to kill disease pathogens and insect eggs, but I'm not familiar with any equipment available to homeowners for such use outdoors.

If you have a real problem with your vegetable garden, why not remove the plant material now, work in some compost or aged manure, and then plant a cover crop? In the spring you can dig the cover crop into the soil and leave the bed empty for a season. Any overwinter insect eggs or plant pathogens will die out because there will be no plants growing in the bed. The following year you can plant in the garden.

While you're waiting for your veggie garden to correct its own soil problems you can plant your veggies in containers, using fresh potting soil. I'm sure your plants will be much healthier!

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