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Henry Homeyer is a life-long organic gardener who has lived in Cornish Flat, NH since 1970 (except for his time in Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer and country director).He writes a weekly gardening column that appears in 12 newspapers around New England, and has written for the New York Times, The Boston Globe and other newspapers. Henry teaches organic gardening workshops throughout New England at garden shows, clubs, nurseries, public gardens and other venues, and is a regular contributor to NHPR and Vermont Public Radio.

Garden Weeds: Be Vigilant And Get Them While They're Small

Robert Bell via Flickr CC

Last week we talked with Cornish resident and gardening guy Henry Homeyer about bugs—more specifically bugs in the garden. Henry writes a weekly column for several newspapers around New England, and this week is tackling another bane: weeds. Let’s find out how he deals with them.

Want to learn more about Henry? Click here to read his blog.

Henry, plenty of sun, heat and rain throughout this month, and that equals plenty of plant growth. That’s good, but that also means a lot of weeds too, doesn’t it?

Yes it does. Weeds are very happy right now, but I’m deterring them somewhat by mulching on a regular basis, and keeping the weeds down.

So mulching, you hear that often—you know you’ve got to mulch, and that’s going to keep the moisture in, and that will keep the weeds from growing, but that’s not really a cure-all is it?

No, you still have to weed; you have to weed every day. It’s like brushing your teeth: you can’t brush your teeth on Monday and think it’s going to last all week. It’s the same thing for weeding.

So what do you do to keep that vegetable garden weed-free? Now, you mulch, but you still have to weed every day?

Weeds are persistent, and they find little places to sneak in. What I don’t want are weeds getting tall enough to flower and make seeds. So long as I can keep them from producing seeds, they won’t be back later in the summer; they won’t be back next year. Some weed seeds can last for multiple years.

So the idea is, to get them while they’re small, and do a little bit every day?

That’s right.

And how do you get that beautiful weed-free garden that sometimes you see in a magazine?

Well those are photo-shopped, don’t kid yourself. But in a vegetable garden in the spring, I wait for my soil to warm-up, then I weed it thoroughly—either slicing off the weeds with a hoe in the walkways or pulling them in the raised beds. Then I put down six sheets of newspaper everywhere, and cover it with mulch hay.

Do you have a different approach for your flower gardens as opposed to your vegetable gardens?

I do. For some of my flower gardens, I plant my plants so close together that they really shade out weeds that are starting up from seed. But in general, I like to use some either chopped leaves that I collected last fall, or I like to use bark mulch.

How much mulch is enough?

Two inches of bark mulch is fine. I’ve seen gardens where people put down five or six inches of mulch, and it’s way too much. You get a short rain shower, the water can’t get through to your soil, it also inhibits airflow, and it’s in the soil that plants get their oxygen. I really object to the color-enhanced mulches that come in bags, and you really need to read the bag of anything before you buy it, whether it’s at the grocery store or in the garden center. And these bright orange mulches, for example, are chemically dyed; even some of the dark mulches are color-enhanced. Look for that on the bag, and if it says “color-enhanced”, you don’t want it. Most garden centers will sell you natural cedar or pine, or hardwood mulch that is just chopped-up branches, or leaves and branches, and is pure with no coloration. You can buy it by the pick-up truck load.

Again, whatever you do for mulch, it doesn’t really replace the weeding, does it?

No, you have to keep on weeding, that’s the key. I would like to think that even if I were invited to dinner with President Obama and I was walking out the front door, if I saw a big tall weed that was flowering and ready to seed, I’d pause for a moment and at least snip off or pull off the head of that weed before getting into my limousine.

So do a little bit every day, and it doesn’t become a big problem. 

For many radio listeners throughout New Hampshire, Rick Ganley is the first voice they hear each weekday morning, bringing them up to speed on news developments overnight and starting their day off with the latest information.
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