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The Art of Weeding

07/09/02 12:00AM By Henry Homeyer
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(Host) Commentator Henry Homeyer reveals some of his master gardening techniques for the art of weeding.

(Homeyer) Weeds to a gardener are like fleas on a dog. They're a nuisance, but rarely fatal. They're easier to get rid of if dealt with promptly. And although I'd like to say I have no weeds and my dog Abigail has never had a flea, I cannot.

I've read ads that tell me that I can keep weeds out of my garden for three months at a time with a simple chemical treatment. The flea collar for a garden, if you will. But I must admit to being skeptical about the claims of the chemical companies, who have a financial interest in convincing me that their products are as safe as soap.

So I go about weeding my garden by hand, and I've actually come to enjoy it. It can be a quiet time, and good for contemplation. But if you'd rather spend your time in a hammock, here are a few tricks that will reduce your weeding time.

First, never let weeds go to seed. Keep an eye out for seed heads and pull the weed, or at least cut off the seeds. If you keep a pair of garden scissors in your back pocket anytime you go outside, this will make it easier. And don't throw seeds into the compost pile, as some can survive in compost for years.

Weeding itself is an art. And like a musician, you must select an instrument carefully to suit your particular style. Some sort of hand weeding tool is needed to loosen the soil and to get under the weed. If you just give a sharp yank, some - or all - of the roots will stay in the ground, and may send up a new plant as soon as you turn your back - and that's very discouraging.

I like the Cape Cod Weeder, which has a short blade on a right angle to its handle. But anything that will get under a weed will do. Loosen the soil and get your weeder under the weed. Grasp the weed firmly just above ground level. Then pull gently from above and below at the same time. A weeding tool can also help you to comb through the dirt to find errant roots, particularly those that travel long distances looking for a new foothold.

Prevention is better than cure, as we learned from our grandmothers. In the vegetable garden I weed thoroughly, then lay down six sheets of newspaper in the aisles and around the big plants. I cover it with about 4 inches of mulch hay, which keeps down the weeds, and holds in the moisture on hot, dry days. A mature perennial bed will shade out most weeds, but new flowerbeds need mulch. Newspapers covered with bark mulch or ground leaves will do wonders. I like to weed after a rain or a watering. Weeds come out more easily then, particularly in clay soils.

You may never learn to love weeding, and sometimes weeds beat even the best of us. So here's my last trick: when company is coming, cut the lawn and weed the front of your flowerbeds. Weeds in the back will blend in with your flowers, and your company will never notice them.

This Henry Homeyer, the gardening guy, in Cornish Flat, New Hampshire.

Henry Homeyer is a gardener and writer. His new book is Notes from the Garden: Reflections and Observations of an Organic Gardener.
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