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Homeyer: Green Thumbs

07/02/12 5:55PM By Henry Homeyer
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(Host) Commentator Henry Homeyer is a gardening writer and educator, who claims that his success in the garden isn't due to having a green thumb. He says anyone can have a green thumb - because a healthy garden is mostly about the soil.

(Homeyer) Some folks say I have a green thumb. I don't. I have a pretty ordinary thumb, often with some good garden dirt under the nail. I tell people there's no such thing as a green thumb. There's only good soil or bad soil.

Actually it's a little more complicated than that. Good gardeners do have good soil. Even so, every year we add compost to replace nutrients that get used up by our plants. Pull a sweet orange carrot or snack on a crisp green cuke and you're using up soil nutrients - minerals that were in the soil before being taken up by your plants. They need to be replaced on a regular basis, or your soil will get tired.

By adding compost, good gardeners do more than just add nutrients. We improve the ability of our soil to hold water and to allow excess water to drain off. Plants do best in fluffy soil - so they can extend their roots, and so they can get oxygen. Plants need oxygen, but can't get it from their leaves. They only get it from their roots, which is why compacted soil or water-logged soil isn't good for our garden plants. Weeds, on the other hand do pretty well in compacted soil and crummy soil in general.

Speaking of weeds, good gardeners, those with the proverbial green thumbs, don't have as many weeds as gardeners struggling to succeed. Good gardeners try hard to pull weeds before they blossom and produce seeds. Consistency is the name of the game. Pull weeds for a few minutes every day and you'll never be plagued by them.

It's also important to put the right plant in the right place. Yes, I can grow a sun-loving rose bush in deep shade. But it won't grow much, and probably won't produce many blossoms. That same rose planted in full sun and rich, dark, well drained soil will bloom its fool head off.

If you have the time and really want to be a good gardener, I recommend going through the Master Gardener program. It involves class time and volunteer time afterwards, but it's a good solid base of knowledge.

Call your university extension program to find out when the next classes begin. Vermont has an excellent program that uses interconnected video conferencing, so that you should have a program near your home.

If you want a green thumb, do your homework. Read gardening books. Talk to your neighbors. Go on garden tours and ask questions. Things like, "How in the world did you get that ladyslipper orchid to bloom in your garden?" Good gardeners love to answer questions like that, and love sharing their knowledge.

Green thumb or not, I lose a few plants each year, so don't get discouraged if you do, too. After all, no one has a green thumb all the time.
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