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Bugs and Slugs Q&A

Q: Ants! Ants! Ants! Their hills are everywhere! How can I evict them from my property without resorting to toxic chemicals?

A: You can try either of the following controls: Make your own ant bait by mixing 1 tbsp. of bakers' yeast and 2 tbsp. of sugar in 1 pint of water; spread this mixture on pieces of cardboard, and place them around your yard. Pile up instant grits or corn meal in and around their hills; once eaten, the grits expand inside them, and they soon go to that big anthill in the sky! For more quick and easy insect controls like these, check out my Bug Off! book.

Q: I have box elder bugs all over the side of my house. What do I do?

A: These critters especially seem to like to hang out in the fall on the warm side (south or west) of light colored houses, especially when there are female box elder trees nearby. Outdoors, it's a good idea to spray and cool off the sides of the house daily with water. You can spray the bugs with 1/4 cup of laundry detergent per gallon of water to kill them, just be careful 'cause the detergent mixture can harm or kill any plants that may be growing below. You can also get some temporary protection around windows and doors by using an insecticide containing pyrethrin around these areas. Be sure to follow label directions.

If the critters are indoors, the best way to take care of them is to vacuum them up. Then check to see that the seals around your doors and windows are good and tight. This'll make it tougher for the pests to get in.

Q: Do you have a remedy to keep fleas off dogs? I have a terrier, and he is a house dog, but every time he goes outside, he gets loaded with fleas. Please help!

A: There are a number of things you can do to get rid of fleas. First off, outside, you can get rid of them by spraying your yard with 1 cup of dishwashing liquid in your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer, followed by

an insecticide containing pyrethrin at the recommended rate. Or for an all-natural control, check local garden supply centers or online for beneficial nematodes. They'll go after the flea larvae in the soil.

Q: I live in the southwest, and the grasshoppers are out of control here. What do I do?

A: A great way to control 'em long term is to use a product called Nolo Bait . This is a bait made with a biological, natural-occurring spore that infects the 'hoppers with a disease once it's eaten. The spores are not harmful to people, pets, birds, or the environment, but cause havoc to the 'hoppers. Infected 'hoppers don't immediately go belly up but they will become slow, lethargic and begin to eat less and less, reducing vegetation loss. Those that don't die in 3-4 weeks become food for the healthy 'hoppers that continue to migrate in. These then become infected, and so on. Egg laying is affected, too, which helps reduce populations for future years. When quick, immediate belly up control is needed, apply an insecticide containing pyrethrin at the recommended rate. Then create a buffer zone around the perimeter of the treated area with Nolo Bait for long-term control.

Q: There are ladybugs all over the inside of my house. How do I get rid of the them?

A: What you have are probably the Asian Lady Beetles. Generally, ladybugs are good guys, and Asian Lady Beetles were actually imported to gobble up bad bugs like aphids. Unfortunately, unlike our native ladybugs, these swarm in the fall looking for niches and crooks to hibernate in for the winter, and all too many of them find their way indoors. To keep them out, before they start to swarm, seal and caulk any cracks or other areas where they might enter.

For some temporary control in the fall when they are swarming, you can try spraying an insecticide containing pyrethrin outdoors around the perimeter of windows, doors, and other areas where they may enter the house. This will give some short residual, although not long lasting, control. Once they come in the house, you'll have to vacuum 'em up. And remember to change the vacuum bag after each use. There has been some research that shows that the smell of camphor and menthol repels them. If you can find where they're entering the house, you might find a way of using these smells to discourage them. Good luck!

Q: Slugs are ripping my plants and vegetables to shreds. How can I get rid of these pests?

A: There are many effective ways to get rid of them. A few of my favorites are: Handpick them and dump them in saltwater or kerosene. Set out pie tins filled with beer or grape juice. The slugs climb in, and drown. Apply a barrier of diatomaceous earth, ashes, or gravel around your plants. These items lacerate the slugs bodies, causing them to dehydrate. Wrap aluminum foil loosely around the plant stems. Slugs can't climb it. Q: Creepy, crawly spiders have invaded my flower garden. What can I use to get rid of them?

A: Don't forget that spiders are generally good guys, gobbling up bad bugs like nobody's business. But if they're really taking over your flower garden, you can spray the beds with insecticide containing pyrethrin according to label directions. Overspray the area with 1 cup of dishwashing liquid in your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer first for better adhesion and more effective control.

Q: My yard is swarming with mosquitoes. How can I get rid of them so I can enjoy my backyard again?

A. Remember that any standing water in your yard or garden can turn into a mosquito breeding ground, so get rid of any puddles around your yard. Then, overspray your yard with my Buzz Buster Lemonade: 1 cup of lemon-scented ammonia and 1 cup of lemon-scented dishwashing liquid in a 20 gallon hose-end sprayer, filling the balance of the sprayer jar with warm water. Repeat this treatment 3 times a week in the evening, and the little buggers will be history..

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Spring Into Action

There s no doubt about it now, folks spring is definitely in the air! And that means it s time to get moving! I hope you rested up over the winter, because you ve got a lot of growing ahead of you. So first things first by now your lawn s really up off it s grass, so you d better join it!

Now s the perfect time to remove thatch. Afterwards, spread screened compost over your lawn, and apply a dose of my Kick-in-the Grass Tonic: 1 can of beer, 1 cup of antiseptic mouthwash, 1 cup of liquid dish soap, 1 cup of ammonia, and cup of Epsom salts. Mix these ingredients together in a large bucket, and then pour the mixture into your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer. Apply liberally to the point of run-off; wait 2 weeks, then apply again.

If dogs have spent the winter doing their business in your yard, apply my Doggie Damage Repair Tonic. Start by overspraying the turf with 1 cup of baby shampoo per 20 gallons of water, then apply gypsum at the recommended rate. One week later, mix 1 can of beer, 1 cup of ammonia, and 1 can of regular cola (not diet) in a 20 gallon hose-end sprayer, and overspray the turf every other week until its normal color returns.

And speaking of dogs, now s the best time to set some boundaries. Use my Dog-Be-Gone Tonic to keep em out of any particular parts of your yard. To make the tonic, you ll need: 2 cloves of garlic, 2 small onions, 1 jalapeno pepper, 1 tbsp. of cayenne pepper, 1 tbsp. of hot sauce, 1 tbsp. of chili powder, 1 tbsp. of liquid dish soap, and 1 quart of warm water. Chop the garlic, onions, and pepper, then mix with the rest of the ingredients. Let the mixture marinate for 24 hours, strain it through cheesecloth, and sprinkle it on any areas where dogs are a problem.

Think you re done yet? No way we re just getting started! You've got mowin , checkin for grubs, feedin , weedin , and waterin and a whole lot more. So, what are you waiting for? Let s dig in so you can really get into the "spring" of things!

Fall/Winter Wrap-up

You should already be taking care of fall cleanup. If not, you d better hop to it. If you are, good for you! Now you re ready for the next step. After cleanup, cover your garden with finely mowed grass clippings and leaves, and overspray the debris with a mixture of: 1 can of regular cola (not diet), 1/2 cup of Plant Shampoo, and 1/2 cup of chewing tobacco tea*.

Apply this mixture with your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer, filling the balance of the jar with warm water. A week to ten days later, you should lightly spade this material, and then let it set for winter. *Chewing tobacco tea: Place half a handful of chewing tobacco in a small piece of cheesecloth or pantyhose, and soak it in a gallon of hot water until the mixture is dark brown. But, wait a minute! There are a few other last minute things that may need to be taken care of: If any of your trees are in the way of heavy winter winds, brace them with nylon cord threaded through pieces of garden hose, then use wooden stakes to tie them down. Wrap the trunks of all young trees with tree wrap, burlap, or roofing paper panels taped with duct tape. Clean up your mowers, rakes, shovels, and other tools before you put them away for the season.

Awesome Annuals

A bright, bloomin bed of annuals is one of the best ways to say "summer." So, keep on plantin em anywhere you think things need a little brightening up. And, besides the bright lights, they re a cinch to care for what could be better than that? Annuals hardly need any attention, yet they ll give you loads of blooms day after day throughout most of the summer, and even into the fall. They re a great addition to just about any yard or garden. Why, once you learn how easy they are to grow, I ll bet you ll want a whole yard full of em! So, get ready to grow up a storm, and have a whole lot of fun in the process! Remember, anyone can grow annuals, so relax.

Once your annuals have become established, but before July s heat really sets in, give em a light mulch of compost or shredded leaves. This helps hold in moisture and gives the plants a little something to snack on. Avoid gravel and stone dust, since they tend to get too hot.

Keep your annuals deadheaded and pinched back so you have compact, bushy, and bloomin plants all season long.

Your annuals need about 3" of water a week, between you and the rain. So make sure you re picking up any slack! Soak em at soil level in the early morning for best results. If you do have to water from overhead, give the blooms a gentle shake when you re done to dry em.

Feeding your annuals doesn t have to be a chore just give em leftovers. Take your vegetable-matter kitchen scraps out to the garden, and bury them around your plants. It s a great way to recycle your kitchen waste, and feed your garden at the same time!

If your annuals seem to be on the brink of exhaustion come the dog days of summer, pinch em back severely and give em a dose of my Summer Rejuvenating Tonic: cup of beer, 1 tbsp. of corn syrup, 1 tbsp. of Plant Shampoo, and 1 tbsp. of 15-30-15 fertilizer. Mix all of these ingredients in 1 gallon of water, and slowly dribble the solution around the roots of your plants. This potent pick-me-up will get em back on their feet in no time!

Perennials Super Summer Standouts

As the temperatures start to heat up, so do your perennial beds! Come June, those blooms should be just about burstin with enough energy to light up your gardens right through the dog days. But they can t do all that bloomin on their own. It s up to you to give em a helping hand. Here s a quick-and-easy perennial to-do list: Keep em bug- and thug-free with my Simple Soap-and-Oil Spray: 1 tbsp. of liquid dish soap, 1 cup of vegetable oil, and 1 cup of water. Mix the soap and oil together, and add 1-2 teaspoons of the mix to the water in a handheld sprayer. Shake to mix, then spray on plants to control aphid, whiteflies, and spider mites. Watering wisely means paying attention to your plants, not just dumping water on them every Tuesday. Perennials need about 1 to 1 " of water every week or so. That means that if Mother Nature is generous, you probably won t have to water your beds at all. But if she s holdin out on you, get out that sprinkler. When it comes to feedin , my Year-Round Refresher Tonic is just what your perennials need to keep bloomin their best. To make it, mix 1 cup of beer, 1 cup of Plant Shampoo, 1 cup of liquid lawn food, 1/2 cup of molasses, and 2 tbsp. of fish emulsion in your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer, filling the balance of the sprayer jar with ammonia. Spray this elixir on your perennials every 3 weeks from spring through fall (in warm climates, you can use it year-round). And don t forget to stay on top of those weeds! Make a habit of pulling any weed as soon as you see it. The longer you wait, the more nutrients it s going to steal from your perennials. And, pulling a few weeds here and there is a whole lot easier than one of those marathon weekend weeding sessions trust me!

Add deadheading and mulching to the list, and you should have a beautiful bed of perennials throughout the whole summer!

Revive Your Roses With Onions

Roses sure can have their fair share of problems. To keep 'em healthy, you've got to watch 'em closely, and spring into action at the first sign of trouble. One of the most common rose diseases is black spot if you see black spots on your roses before they turn yellow and drop off, then you know you're under attack. To fight back, treat it with my Black Spot Remover Tonic: 15 tomato leaves, 2 small onions, and 1/4 cup of rubbing alcohol. Chop the tomato leaves and onions into finely minced pieces, and steep them in the alcohol overnight. Use a small, sponge-type paintbrush to apply the brew to both the tops and bottoms of any infected rose leaves. Then follow these tips to get 'em back on their feet and keep 'em good and healthy: Pick up all of the leaves that have fallen, clip off those that are about to, and put them all into the garbage. Rake up the mulch under your plants, and replace it with fresh straw or pine straw. Prune your plants, if needed, so that sunshine and fresh air reach every leaf. When you water, take care that you don't wet the foliage. Problem Solver Problem: The Japanese beetles that eat my rose blooms were really bad last year! They were back within 2 days after I sprayed them. Is there something else I can do?

Solution: In the long run, you can reduce Japanese beetle problems by treating your lawn with a safe and effective powder called Milky Spore Powder. That's right your lawn! That's because Japanese beetle larvae live as grass-root-eating, white grubs over the winter. So, therefore, Milky Spore Powder can help your lawn, and your roses, too. Meanwhile, keep spraying your roses as often as you need to with Total Pest Control (the active ingredient, pyrethrin, will knock them down quick). Or, if you want a spray break, go out first thing in the morning and jiggle the beetles into a bowl of soapy water.

Wonderful Wildflowers

If you decide to buy wildflower plants, make sure that they are nursery propagated, meaning that someone has grown them in cultivation. Plants labeled merely as nursery grown, or with no notes about their origin, may have been collected in the wild, stuck in a pot for a few weeks, and then set out for sale. Sure, they may be a little cheaper, but it s worth paying more for plants that were produced responsibly, without harming natural populations. Another alternative is to start your wildflowers from seed.

One special group of wildflowers is the early bloomers known as spring ephemerals. These delicate beauties emerge in early spring, do their thing, and then retreat back into the ground by midsummer. This makes them a perfect choice for planting under deciduous trees you have a bounty of color in spring, and the plants will store up all the energy they need before the trees fully leaf out. Some of the most beautiful and easiest to grow spring ephemerals include bloodroot, May apple, and Virginia bluebells.

Most woodland wildflowers grow best in light shade with a few hours of morning sun or with dappled shade all day. Shade-loving wildflowers thrive in humus-rich soil, so work plenty of compost into the soil before planting, and mulch with chopped leaves through the year.

If you want to try your hand at a meadow garden, go ahead. It s easier than you think! Water it lightly, but often, during the first three to four weeks after seeding, to encourage good germination. Pull any weeds that appear. Each year, mow your meadow in the fall or early spring. During the growing season, keep after the weeds with my Easy Weed Killer Tonic: 1 gallon of white vinegar, 1 cup of table salt, and 1 tbsp. of liquid dish soap. Mix all of the ingredients together and spray on weeds; just make sure you don t get it on the plants you want to keep!

Perfect Perennials For Sunny Meadows Bring the beauty of nature to your backyard with a meadow planting of these pretty, sun-loving perennials: Bergamot Black-eyed Susan Butterfly weed Gayfeathers Goldenrods New England aster Purple coneflower

Fabulous Flowers Q&A

Q: How deep should I plant my bulbs?

A: That depends on what you're planting. As I discuss in my Year-Round Bloomers book, small bulbs like crocus, muscari, and scilla will do just fine if planted 3 inches deep. On the other hand, tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils need a bit more room, and should be buried 6 inches deep. After planting, sprinkle a little bonemeal over your bulb bed to help your bulbs get off to a flying start.

Q: Should I remove the dying leaves after my daffodils and tulips fade?

A: Absolutely not! Go ahead and remove the flower stems after the flowers fade, but leave the leaves alone. The bulbs need the leaves to develop strength and energy for next year's flowers. So leave them on as long as possible. You might try rubberbanding them in place, or planting daylilies around them to hide the dying foliage.

Q: I have a beautiful fern that's been growing great for years, but lately its leaves are turning brown. What am I doing wrong?

A: Your fern is probably suffering from scorch, which occurs when the soil dries out, if it just gets too darn hot, or the fern's exposed to a lot of windy weather. Your best bet is to keep your fern in a moist, shady area that is protected from strong winds. Be sure to water it frequently and deeply to keep the soil from drying out.

Q: How can I protect my geraniums from the cold winter ahead?

A: My Grandma Putt's solution was to jerk 'em out of the soil when they turned brown after the first frost. Then she wrapped each one in a double layer of newspaper, and put them in her cold cellar until March. (If you have a damp basement, I suggest hanging them upside down, and spacing them well apart to allow air to circulate. Otherwise, they may rot.) In the middle of March, she unwrapped them, cut off a third of the roots and two-thirds of the tops, and repotted them in clay pots. She gave them a light feeding, and slowly brought them back to life. For more of my Grandma Putt's gardening tips, check out Old-Time Gardening Wisdom.

Q: How can I treat hollyhock rust?

A: First thing, you'll want to destroy all the infected leaves that you see. Then you'll need to treat the plant with sulfur. To prevent rust from breaking out in the future, be sure not to get the leaves wet when you water them. Hollyhocks also need room to breathe, so if they're getting too crowded, divide some of the clumps to allow air to circulate.

Q: All of the leaves on my hostas are getting brown edges. What's causing this, and what can I do?

A: Hostas get brown edges when their roots get too dry or they are in an exposed location. They do best when they are kept out of a lot of direct sun or wind. Whenever the weather gets dry, be sure to give 'em lots of water.

Q: For some reason this year my peonies are not blooming. Is there something wrong with them?

A: If the peonies have been in the ground for many years, I suspect they might need to be lifted. The "eye" of the roots shouldn't be planted any more than 1-2 inches below the soil. If they're deeper than this, (which can happen over time) then they won't bloom. Lift and replant them to the proper depth in the fall. Another possibility is that some of the trees in the area have grown since the peonies were put in, causing them to sit in the shade all day long. They need full sun (afternoon shade in the south). Feed them with a balanced fertilizer such as 8-8-8 and bonemeal after they would normally flower and again in the fall. This should do the trick.

Q: What should I do to protect my roses from the freezing temperatures this winter?

A: Most roses are fairly hardy, but they still need a bit of protection to do well. To start with, you need to make sure you clean up all the leaves and debris under your roses and dispose of it. After the first killing frost, but before the ground freezes, pile up 8 to 10 of soil around the canes. Then pile hay, straw, or leaf mulch over the mounded canes, and add a half-cup of crushed mothballs per bushel of mulch. Mix it all up well, mound over the canes, and then throw a few shovelfuls of soil on it to hold it all in place. You can find lots of other tips for keepin' those roses healthy and beautiful in my Year-Round Bloomers book.

Q: My roses have big, beautiful blooms. When should I prune them so that they look just as good next year?

A: It will depend on the type of roses that you have. My book, Flower Power!, gives information on when and how to prune the different types such as climbers, ramblers, bush, or tree roses. For regular bush type roses, you'll want to do your pruning in the early spring in order to get good growing shoots. When the buds begin to swell in the spring, prune back any dead or diseased wood. Stop when you hit healthy green wood and an outward facing bud. Then you'll want to sterilize all of the cuts you made with a mixture of 2 tbsp. of ammonia and 2 tbsp. of dishwashing liquid per quart of water. Once the pruning is done, lay a few tea bags on the soil under each bush. The tannic acid in the tea bags gives the roses a little acidic pick-me-up.

Q: How do I get rid of black spot on my roses?

A: The first thing you need to do is cut off and destroy all of the infected leaves. You don't want any trace of the disease hanging around. Then, when you first start to see the spots appear, apply a fungicide that is safe for use on roses, and is labeled to treat black spot. This should heal your roses, and help prevent future outbreaks.

For a homemade control, spray them with a mixture of 1 tbsp. of baking soda, 1 tbsp. of light vegetable oil, and 1 tbsp. of dishwashing liquid in 1 gallon of water. If all is lost, and you can't save your plant, next time, try buying a black spot resistant rose. Your local nursery should be able to point you in the right direction as far as which roses grow best in your state.

Q: When is the best time to separate and divide my perennials?

A: I devoted a section to this subject in my book Perfect Perennials, along with my Steps to Division Success to walk you through it. The best time to divide perennials is when they're not actively growing. For most, this means early to midfall, although there are exceptions. The temperatures are cooler, and a gentler sun allows divided plants to recover quickly. For this reason, it is also important to start digging in late afternoon, after the hot morning sun has cooled down. To avoid having to redo all of your perennial beds at the same time, plan on dividing only a few at a time. This way, you'll always have beds in bloom.

For an extra special "perk-me-up," saturate the area with my Perennial Perk-Up Tonic: 1 can of beer, 1 cup of ammonia, 1/2 cup of dishwashing liquid, and 1/2 cup of corn syrup in a 20 gallon hose-end sprayer after planting.

Q: How often should I water my annuals?

A: If the weather is hot, sunny, or windy, water the plants at least once a day; twice a day is even better, so long as the soil is dry to the touch. Do this until the plants have adjusted to their new surroundings, for about a week. After that, water thoroughly to a depth of 6 to 8 inches, once a week in cool weather, and every three or four days during the hot summer months. Never let your plants wilt; it will seriously weaken them.

Houseplants Q&A

Q: I have an African violet that's healthy, but it has no flowers. Can I make it bloom?

A: You sure can! The difference between a greenhouse and an ordinary living room is often the reason for non-blooming plants. It's the amount of light that they get. They need bright light. Ideally an east or south window in winter, and a west window in summer. They should be protected from strong sunlight. For winter bloom, it can help to provide some artificial light in the evenings. You can purchase grow lights at your local hardware store and put them in a nearby lamp. African violets also flower best if they are kept standing on moist pebbles which gives them a lot of humidity. You must remove faded flowers promptly to prevent seed formation, which is a deterrent to further bud development. Plenty of indirect fresh air is also important. Repotting may be necessary, but other factors should be considered. An African Violet plant food may be applied according to the label directions when buds begin to appear. But do not feed during the short periods when plants are resting and producing no new growth.

Q: I recently got an amaryllis bulb as a gift. How do care for this plant so I get big, beautiful flowers?

A: Plant your bulb in a pot that's about 1 inch larger in diameter than the bulb. Leave the top 1/3 of the bulb exposed. When it's in full growth, water regularly, and feed the plant once a month with a balanced fertilizer. Your amaryllis will do best with full sunlight during this time. When summer rolls around and the leaves dry out, cut it back to 3 inches and store the bulb in the pot in a cool, dry, dark location for at least 2 months. When it show signs of growing, or about 8 weeks before you want it to flower, bring it out and repot it in fresh soil and larger pot if needed, and begin watering. Remember to keep it between 60-70 degrees.

Q: How can I get rid of aphids that are all over my houseplants?

A: Aphids hate soap. Give your plants a good soapy bath using 1-2 tbsp. of dishwashing liquid per gallon of room temperature water. Spray the plants thoroughly making sure to get the undersides of the leaves, too. If you can, wipe the aphids away with a soft cloth. Repeat weekly or every other week as needed until you don't see 'em anymore. For something with an even stronger punch, you can use my

All-Season Clean-Up Tonic (above) at a rate of 1 tsp. of tonic to a quart of tepid water. Give your plants a good dose of this every 2 weeks and those aphids will be history.

Q: Is there a way to grow avocados from seeds?

A: Avocado seeds are great fun for planting indoors. First remove the thick brownish hide that covers the seed and then wash the seed well. After soaking a 4-inch clay pot, plant the seed in it with 1 inch of the pointed end above the soil. You can use any commercial potting mix. Water it with a solution of 1 tsp. of Epsom salts per quart of water, and put it in a dark place for one week. Then, move it to a nice, bright location. When it's 6-8 inches tall, cut it in half to encourage branching.

Q: Why can't I get my Christmas cactus to bloom?

A: Here's what you can do to get your Christmas cactus bloomin' again. This plant needs a temperature range of 55-70 degrees F. Anything higher or lower, and you'll have blooming problems. The amount of light (or more specifically darkness) it gets also affects blooming. If you want it to bloom for Christmas, you'll have to keep your cactus in an area that's cool and on the dryish side during mid Sept. to mid Nov. until flower buds set. During this time, it should not have more than 11 hours of light during the day. It needs to be in a spot that gets bright light with no direct sun during the day and uninterrupted darkness at night. Watch out for any artificial light sources that can interfere with the dark period. Put a box over it at night - say from 7pm to 8am, if you need to. Water it normally when it's in flower and during periods of growth. You'll also want to give it a rest period after blooming, which means watering less frequently during February and March. Then in April, begin treating it normally again.

Q: Our ficus tree seems to be going through shock ever since a recent move. The leaves are yellowing and dropping off. What can we do to save it?

A: Weeping Figs (Ficus benjamina) don't like changes. They drop their leaves to adjust to changes in light and temperature. Put it in a bright spot and water with care. Let the soil dry out between waterings, particularly in the winter months, and make sure you don't overwater it. If it's happy with its new home, it should put out new foliage and adjust.

Q: My potted gardenia is dropping its flowers all of a sudden, some even before they open. What am I doing wrong?

A: Bud drop is common in gardenias. This occurs because of uneven temps and moisture. Your gardenia should be kept at 72 to 78 degrees by day, and not less than 60 degrees at night. It needs plenty of bright light, humidity, and good air circulation. Mist it regularly, but make sure the plant isn't damp at night. Keep the soil moist, but not wet.

Q: There are little flying bugs that look like gnats all around my houseplants, especially around the soil. What are they and what do I do?

A: It sounds like you've got a problem with fungus gnats. These pests look a whole lot like fruit flies and hang around the soil at the base of the plants. They often occur from using unsterilized soil or from keeping the soil too wet. The adults aren't harmful, but they sure are a nuisance! It's the little baby larvae that hatch in the soil that are the problem. Treat the soil with beneficial nematodes according to directions to get them in their larval stage. This should wipe 'em out very effectively.

Q: What can I do for my hoya plant that has no blooms?

A: It sounds like it might not be getting enough light, or it might have been pruned incorrectly. Hoya need bright light, but be sure to keep them out of hot direct sunlight. They bloom on vines that are about 3 feet long. If you cut the vines back, or cut off the short leafless stems that grow toward the end of the vines, you loose its flowering ability. If you need to keep those vines in check, a good way to do it is to wrap the vines around a wire loop or trellis rather than cutting them off. After flowering, remove the dead flowers, but not the stems that produce them, so that they will flower again for you.

Q: What should I do for my potted palm that has some brown leaves?

A: It's natural for the lowest leaves to turn brown on a Palm. Just cut them off. If, however, the browning is more widespread, and there's some rotting, then you're probably overwatering it. Remove the plant from the pot and inspect the root system. If all of the roots are brown and mushy, you may not be able to save it. If you still have some firm, white roots, wash away the soil from the root ball. Cut away the brown roots and any stems or leaves that are showing rot. Then repot it carefully using a new

pot and fresh, sterile potting soil. Keep the plant in a well-lit location away from direct sunlight, and be careful not to overwater it.

Q: My peace lily has developed brown tips. What's wrong?

A: Peace lilies just love humidity, and brown tips are usually caused by air that's too dry for them. Fluoride in city tap water can also be the culprit. Mist the leaves often - once or twice a day. You'll also want to set the plant on a pebble tray filled with water. The plant sits on pebbles above the water level. This helps increase humidity around the plant, and should perk your lily right up. If your water is treated, water instead with bottled or rain water.

Q: How can I get my poinsettia to bloom at Christmastime?

A: In order to get a Christmas bloom, place the plant in a dark closet for 12 hours each night, say from 8pm to 8am, starting in early October. Keep the plant in a sunny window for the other 12 hours of the day. Keep this up until it starts to turn color. This should get your plant turning as red as Santa's nose just in time for the holidays.

Q: There's a crusty white substance covering the top of the soil in all of my houseplants. I can remove it, but it keeps coming back. So, what can I do?

A: It sounds like you might have an accumulation of salt in your soil. This can be caused by a few things, such as watering your plant from the bottom, using liquid fertilizers, or from watering with hard water. When you see it, it's a good time to repot with fresh soil. If the plants are so large that you can't repot, change the soil in the top of the pot. Then in the future, be sure to water well from the top (until it runs out the bottom) with unfertilized water once a month. This helps leach the salts out of the soil so that they don't accumulate.

Q: My houseplants have been invaded by whiteflies. How do I get rid of them?

A: Be sure to isolate the plant from any other houseplants. Give the plant a good bath with 2 tsp. of dishwashing liquid in a quart of tepid water, making sure to wash all parts of the plant. This will help to get rid of any eggs and nymphs on the plant. Rinse it with the same temperature water, and spray with a weak tea solution. Retreat weekly until you get them under control. You can also place yellow cardboard strips coated with petroleum jelly near, or in, the plant to trap the adults. Replace them when they are full.

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Trees & Shrubs Q&A

Q: I've got a problem with bagworms all over my favorite evergreen tree. What should I do?

A: Picking off the bagworms is your best bet if you've got just a light infestation. However, for heavier infestations, you'll want to use a biological control containing BtK. This is best used when the worms are small. If the worms are larger and you find that you do need a chemical control, you can use an insecticide containing pyrethrin to get rid of em. Keep in mind that it's best if you can get to 'em before late August, which is when they begin to pupate. Once they pupate, they will be protected from the controls.

Q: I'm having problems with black, sooty mold appearing on some of my trees. What can I do about it?

A: This is actually an indication of an insect problem. Black, sooty mold often appears when there is a problem with sucking insects such as aphids, scale, whiteflies, or leafhoppers. They secrete a "honeydew" substance that encourages the mold growth. Taking care of the insects is the best solution. Spraying with a horticultural spray oil can help for scale. Using a good liquid fruit tree spray, or an insecticide containing pyrethrin, may help for the others depending on the type of tree and bug that it is. The folks at your local garden center can steer you in the right direction. Once the insects are gone, the sooty mold will eventually wash away. To speed it along, wash the trees down with 1 cup of dishwashing liquid in your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer.

Q: What is dormant spraying, and how do I do it?

A: Many bugs survive the winter by hiding in tree and shrub cracks and crevices. They hatch in the spring with an appetite that would make a hibernating bear proud! To kill the bugs before they hatch, you should dormant spray in late fall, as soon as the leaves of your fruit, nut, and other trees have fallen. You can use a dormant/horticultural oil from your local tree nursery or garden center to nail them in their tracks. First, mix up a batch of my All-Season Clean-Up Tonic (above), and douse your trees with it to the point of run-off. Then apply the dormant/horticultural oil over the top. Repeat these steps in early spring, before the buds swell up and open. The results will be the happiest and healthiest trees and shrubs you've ever seen!

Q: My evergreen tree sometimes sheds some areas of brown needles it develops during the winter. Come spring it's always looking great again. Is this normal?

A: If you don't see any signs of insects or other problems, then this sounds pretty normal. Needle browning and shedding of older needles is normal with many types of evergreens in both spring and fall. In the fall, it's similar to what happens to deciduous trees when they shed their leaves. The browning that occurs in spring is usually due to moisture loss from the winter winds and/or from sunscald in areas of snow. As long as the tree greens up later, it's not a problem. But to minimize the browning, you can wrap small trees with burlap for the winter. Make sure the burlap does not come into contact with the foliage of the tree. Giving your trees a good, deep watering just before the ground freezes in the winter helps, too.

Q: How should I care for my gardenias?

A: Gardenias really do like a lot of attention. They need full sun or light shade, acidic soil, regular water and feeding, and warm day temperatures with cool nights to bloom. Feed them with fertilizers for acidloving plants unless the soil where you are located is naturally acidic.

Q: We have had a beautiful lilac that's grown well for many years. All of a sudden though, it's not blooming. What could be the problem?

A: Usually, problems with blooming occur for several reasons. First is light. They need at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. If there is shading from trees or buildings, this can affect how well it blooms. Next is improper pruning. Lilacs flower on the previous years growth. If they are pruned at the wrong time, such as fall or early spring, the flower buds are cut off, and there will be no flowers in the spring. They should only be pruned when they finish flowering. Lastly is fertilization - either too little fertilizer, or too much nitrogen. Nitrogen can cause a lot of lush foliage at the expense of forming flower buds. So if you fertilize, cut back on the nitrogen. And if you don t fertilize at all, you d better hop to it!

Q: The leaves on some of my trees turned yellow, then brown, and now they're starting to fall off! What can I do to make my tree better?

A: There are a number of things you can do. First, make sure they are getting plenty of water at regular intervals. Then make sure they are mulched well. Regularly bathing them every 2 weeks with my AllSeason Clean-Up Tonic (above) will help eliminate any natural enemies. To seal out dust, dirt, pollutants (including chemicals), sunscald, winter burn, etc., thoroughly soak the trees with an anti-transpirant (can be found at most tree nurseries) just before the real hot or cold weather sets in; it's better than buying life insurance for your plants!

Q: What does it mean to root prune a tree?

A: To root prune, you push a sharp, flat spade in and out of the ground all the way around the plant. This should be done at the weep line (the farthest point to which the branches extend) for trees and shrubs. Sprinkle some Epsom salts into the cuts. Next, mix 2 tbsp. of tea, 2 tbsp. of dishwashing liquid, and 1 can of beer in 2 gallons of water. Pour this mixture into the cuts. If you would like to see how this is done, you might want to check out my, Year 'Round Tree, Shrub & Evergreen Care DVD, where I take you through this process step by step.

Q: We're moving soon, and would like to take our favorite tree with us. When is the best time of year for transplanting a tree?

A: Fall is the best time of the year to transplant trees, shrubs, and evergreens because they've quit growing for the year, and have some time to recover from the shock before the next growing season. Early spring is the second best time. To get them off to a good start, give each newly moved plant a quart of the following tonic: 1 tbsp. of tea, 1 tbsp. of whiskey, 1 tbsp. of baby shampoo, and 2 tsp. of fish

emulsion in 1 quart of warm water. Then sprinkle a handful of Epsom salts over the soil, and say "nightynite" for the winter.

Q: How do I get my trees and shrubs ready for the long, cold, winter?

A: There are several things you should do: Thoroughly soak the area around the plants before the ground freezes. Spread a deep later of organic mulch around them to hold moisture in, and to prevent the ground from freezing in the absence of snow. Wrap the trunks of all young trees with an all weather tree wrap. Coat the foliage of evergreens to the point of run-off with an anti-transpirant. Where appearance is not a concern, set up burlap or other windscreens for smaller trees and shrubs. You can find lots more helpful winter hints and tips in my Year 'Round Tree, Shrub & Evergreen Care DVD. Q: I was shocked to discover moss and mold on several of my shrubs. How can I get rid of it?

A: You need to spray them to the point of run-off every 2 weeks throughout the growing season with a mixture of 1 cup of antiseptic mouthwash, 1 cup of Chamomile tea, and 1 cup of Murphy Oil Soap in your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer. For small areas on branches and trunks only, a mixture of one part bleach to 10 parts of water should do the trick.

Q: We have a lilac bush that is about a foot tall. It was doing great, then I caught the neighbor's dog urinating on it. It turned brown, and lost its leaves. Can it be saved?

A: Yes - if you act quickly. First, apply pelletized gypsum all around the plant at the recommended rate. Then give it a good, thorough soaking with 1 cup of dishwashing liquid in your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer. Two to three weeks later, apply an anti-transpirant to the point of run-off.

Q: I have shoots growing up from around the base of a plum and a crabapple tree. How do I get rid of the shoots without killing the tree?

A: If the shoots are suckers, growing from the base of the tree or from the roots, you don't want to use a weed killer. Just prune them out, preferably below the soil line. If the shoots that are growing under the trees are seedlings growing from fallen fruit, use one of the systemic plant controls containing glyphosate, like RoundUp, at the recommended rate. For super control, overspray the whole area with 1 cup of dishwashing liquid in your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer first - it won't hurt anything, and it will help the control adhere better. Make sure you apply this chemical on a wind-free day, and be careful the glyphosate kills all that it touches, so spot treat the shoots only!

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All-Season Tonics

Everywhere I go, folks want to know what the best tonics are for cleaning and greening up their yards. Well, here's how to make my amazing All-Season Tonics that'll turn your yard into a green grass paradise overnight. All-Season Green-Up Tonic 1 can of beer, 1 cup of ammonia, 1/2 cup of dishwashing liquid, 1/2 cup of liquid lawn food, and 1/2 cup molasses or corn syrup 1 cup of baby shampoo, 1 cup of antiseptic mouthwash, and 1 cup of tobacco tea* Mix all of the ingredients in a bucket, and pour into your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer. Apply to everything in your yard to the point or run-off every 3 weeks, in the morning, throughout the growing season. Mix all of the ingredients in your 20 gallon hose-end sprayer, filling the balance of the sprayer jar with warm water. Apply to your entire yard to the point of run-off every 2 weeks, in the evening, to discourage insects and prevent disease. All-Season Clean-Up Tonic

Another Can of Worms

I m sure you know that worms are great for your soil. But how can you use these hungry little creatures to create some super compost for your garden? Easy! By starting a worm compost bin. It s simple; read on to find out how.

No Place Like Home Keep your little worm friends in small, portable bins, rather than one big one. Plastic or wood are good choices for bins, provided that you punch plenty of airholes in the sides and top (you ll need a lid). In cool weather, they ll need to stay indoors they prefer warm temps, at or above room temperature.

Line the bin with nylon net to keep the small worms inside. You ll also want to allow for drainage, so punch holes in the bottom and put a tray underneath. Next, fill the bin with about a foot of bedding, making it as wet as a wrung-out sponge. Good bedding material includes loam, black topsoil, or newspaper (black-and-white print only).

Choosing And Feeding Worms Now, don t go out to your friend s farm to pick your worms; they won t survive in your bin. Instead, choose the kind of worms used for fishing bait red wigglers or brandling worms. Ask your fishermen neighbors for a good, local fish bait store or search for worm farming sites on the web.

For food, bury your leftover coffee grounds, vegetables, fruit, and dried and crushed eggshells in their bedding. Avoid potato peelings, bones, dairy products, meats, and garlic.

Harvesting Compost It s easy to harvest worm compost; do so every few months, when the castings outweigh the bedding that remains. Simply take the lid off and put it under bright light for 10 minutes. Since worms hate light, they ll squirm to the bottom. Take the first layer of castings off. When you see the worms appear, expose them to the light again for another 10 minutes before taking the next layer of castings off. Now just add this black gold to your garden for super results!

Veggies Q&A

Q: How can I get my asparagus ready for the upcoming winter?

A: To put your asparagus to bed for the winter, cut back the ferns once they have turned brown and brittle, and burn them, or have them hauled away (you don't want to add these to your compost pile). Then test your soil's pH again to make sure everything is as it should be. Then spread at least an inch of compost over the bed, and top it off with about 6 inches of chopped leaves or straw. My book,Terrific Tomatoes, Sensational Spuds, and Mouth-Watering Melons. has lots more great tips like this for growing absolutely heavenly asparagus.

Q: The broccoli I'm growing seemed to develop small heads this year. What can I do so that I get big, beautiful broccoli in the future?

A: The smaller heads on your broccoli could be caused by a number of reasons. Broccoli may experience stunted head growth if it didn't get enough water, especially when it's just starting out. Cool weather can also do it. Spacing is another factor. Spacing them farther apart will help give larger central heads, but fewer side shoots. Closer spacing gives smaller central heads, but more side shoots. Be sure to follow the spacing suggestions given on the label of the variety that you plant. You may also want to consider the variety of broccoli that you have. There are several that will normally grow smaller heads than others. This would mean that there isn't necessarily anything wrong with your broccoli; it's just in their nature to grow smaller heads.

Q: My beans have been overrun by Mexican bean beetles. What should I do?

A: Adult Mexican bean beetles overwinter in plant debris, so make certain that you clean up and destroy all plant debris after harvest to reduce their numbers for the following year. To treat for these pests, you can use commercial controls such as Rotenone or Carbaryl (also known as Sevin). Be sure to pick off and destroy any eggs, larvae, and adult beetles that you see.

Q: Do you have any information on how to grow gigantic pumpkins? I'm thinking about entering a pumpkin contest this year.

A: I sure do! In fact, I give my 12 steps program for growing them in my Terrific Tomatoes, Sensational Spuds, and Mouth-Watering Melons book. A secret I learned years ago, too, was to remove all but the biggest two fruits from each vine and to be sure to give them plenty of water - they can grow as much as 8 a day!

Q: How do you grow rhubarb, and when is the best time to water and harvest it?

A: You should mound-plant rhubarb in the fall in soil that has a liberal amount of human hair and oatmeal mixed in with it. Feed it with fish emulsion every 3 weeks throughout the growing season. Harvest in early summer before the stalks go to flower. During the winter, I want you to emulsify all of your table scraps in a blender, and pour this liquid "compost" on the rhubarb. They'll wake up in the spring rarin' to grow!

Q: My tomatoes have blossom-end rot again this year. How can I help them?

A: Blossom end rot can affect peppers, cucumbers and squash, too. It's caused by a calcium deficiency, which can occur from insufficient calcium in the soil, uneven watering that makes it difficult for the plants to take up the calcium, or leaching of the calcium out of the soil by heavy rain or watering. It often appears after a period of rapid growth, followed by dry conditions, or in periods of heavy rain. To help even out soil moisture be sure to mulch well, and water regularly.

Q: Our problem - early and late blight on our tomato plants. I planted disease-resistant seed and sprayed with liquid copper, but I have had limited success. I still lose about half of my plants by August. What can I do?

A: There are 2 things that I want you to try - first, mix 1 tbsp. of bleach in 1 qt. of warm water, and spray it over every 100 sq. ft. of garden area as soon as the temperature gets to 50F. Then wait 3 weeks, and plant. As soon as buds form, overspray the plants with a mixture of 1 part skim milk and 1 part antitranspirant to 9 parts of warm water, or apply a commercial fungicide listed for use on tomatoes regularly at the recommended rate. Try either one - both should keep the blight away.

Q: I had some watermelons and cantaloupes die this past year. When I pulled the plants up, there were small, white worms about 1/4" long, inside the stems. What can I do to control them next year?

A: It sounds like squash vine borers. They can attack melons and cucumbers in addition to squash plants. With these bugs, the best chance of survival is to prevent, prevent, and prevent some more. One way is to dust around the base of the plants with a vegetable dust containing rotenone. With squash, you can also try either early or late plantings to avoid them, or mound soil over the squash plants to the first leaf joint.

My favorite trick, though, involves my favorite garden helper: panty hose. Wrap it around the stem to keep the borers from attacking. If it's too late and the borers are already in the stems, slit the infested stems open and kill the borers with a crochet hook. If the plant hasn't died, cover the damaged stem with soil to encourage new roots to grow above where the worm was. Then give it a lot of TLC for the rest of the growing season.

Q: Are there any vegetables that are good to grow in a patch of my garden with a lot of shade?

A: Sorry, but most fruits and vegetables need at least 6 hours of full sun during the 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. hours. It's probably best if you find another site if you want to grow vegetables. However, if you want to try, leafy vegetables will do better than fruiting ones in the shade.

Mouthwaterin' Munchies

To get the most out of your veggies, you need to properly water em. Check out these "wet" tips for your vegetable garden: Here s a great watering trick: Bury large coffee cans (with both ends removed) between your plants. Fill the cans with rocks, and water directly into the cans. The water will go right to the plants roots. Beans need more water than most other vegetables. When they re blossoming and growing fruit, they can use up to 1/2" of water a day.

To enhance the flavor of leafy and root vegetables, as well as veggies like broccoli, cabbage, and cauliflower, be sure to keep their water supply constant. To get the hottest hot peppers in town, you need to flood them shortly before harvest time. This stresses the plants roots, which then send out a signal to "turn up the heat." As I have said many times before, mulch, mulch, and mulch some more! It ll help keep water from evaporating, so the moisture level in the soil stays constant. Be sure to continue to water your garden, even when the cool weather arrives. Your plants'll still need plenty of moisture to keep on producin' fruits till the end of the season! Veggies need to be watered consistently the quantity and quality of your veggie harvest can be greatly affected by even a short lapse in watering.

Extra Stuff Q&A

Q: What's the difference between detergents and soaps when it comes to tonic recipes?

A: Actually, all soaps are detergents, but not all detergents are soaps. Detergents that are not soaps can be damaging to plants. When my recipes call for dishwashing liquid, you'll want to use those that are meant for handwashing dishes. Do not use automatic dishwasher detergents or anything containing antibacterial agents. The best ones are sometimes the cheapest. These will often be less concentrated. Also remember not to use any that say they contain degreasers or are antibacterial.

Q: What is a 20 gallon hose-end sprayer?

A: A 20 gallon hose-end sprayer is a 1-quart sprayer jar with a sprayer head that attaches to the end of your garden hose. The sprayer head will siphon and mix the contents of the jar with 20 gallons of water as it is passing through the hose.

Q: I've looked all over and haven't been able to find a 20 gallon hose-end sprayer for your recipes. Where can I get one or does it matter what type of hose end sprayer it is?

A: You're in luck! You can find inexpensive 20 gallon hose-end sprayers right here through my online catalog. Just type in Hose-End Sprayer in the online catalog search box to find it. Using the right kind of sprayers for my recipes is important so that the tonics will be properly diluted.

Q: Can I use my Miracle-Gro Sprayer with your recipes?

A: Nope, sorry. These types of sprayers do not deliver the correct metered dilution rate needed for the tonics.

Q: Can I use my adjustable rate, dial-type sprayer for your tonics, and if so, what setting should I set it at?

A: While some dial sprayers can be used, others will be labeled that they may be damaged if used with soaps. It's usually best to use the recommended 20 gallon hose-end sprayer with the recipes rather than chance damaging your sprayer. Make sure you read the label and instructions for your sprayer before using it with my tonics. If you decide you want to take the chance, the ratio breakdown for my 20 gallon hose-end sprayer recipes is 1.6 oz. of tonic per gallon of water.

Grow big strong plants without costly chemicals!

Gardeners didn t always have all the fancy chemical fertilizers that we tend to rely on these days. So they had to use whatever was on hand that suited the purpose. For my money, you still can t beat these good old-fashioned, stick-to-your-roots kind of plant foods: Eggshells. Crush them, soak them in water for 24 hours, then use the water for your plants. All that calcium is especially good for peppers and tomatoes. Hair. Whether it comes from a human or any other kind of animal, hair is full of iron, manganese, and sulfur. Work it into the soil or toss it onto the compost pile, and watch your plants eat it up. Seaweed. This is still a valuable fertilizer. Before you dig it into the soil, rinse it in fresh water and dry it out to get rid of most of the salt.

Fish. Any fish parts will make your plants take off like a buffalo stampede. Just make sure you bury the stuff deep in the garden. Tossed onto the compost pile or dug in too close to the soil surface, it ll create quite an odor and attract unwanted wildlife besides. Sawdust. Mixed into the compost pile, it s a great source of carbon, which all plants need. But don t use sawdust from pressure-treated lumber. It contains toxic chemicals that you don t want in your vegetable garden

6 Tips for Creating Your Best Compost Pile Ever There s nothing like black gold, so dig in!

Of course, you can buy it by the bag or the truckload at most garden centers, but just like Mom s apple pie, your own home-cooked compost beats anybody else s, hands down. And the process is easy.

Just start tossing all of your grass clippings, leaves, plant trimmings, and non-meat food waste into a pile or bin in your garden. Water the pile until it s moist, and give it a good stir every week. Before you know it, you ll be rewarded with your very own black gold. Here are a few helpful hints that ll really get things cookin : Keep the ratio to roughly three brown ingredients (dried leaves, straw, paper, and wood chips) for every one green ingredient (grass clippings, non-meat food waste, coffee grounds, and garden trimmings). If you ve applied a chemical control to your lawn, wait at least a month after each application before tossing any grass clippings onto your pile. Go vegetarian at least as far as your compost is concerned! Never, and I mean never, use meat, fish scraps, or cooking fats in your compost pile. They ll attract varmints and insects, cause bad odors, and slow down decomposition of the pile. Hair is full of iron, manganese, and sulfur good stuff for your garden. So toss it onto your compost pile! To make sure your compost pile gets the air it needs for speedy decomposition, drill holes along the length of a large PVC pipe. Then place the pipe upright in the center of the pile, and add your compost materials around it.

No space or time to tend a full-scale compost pile? Try this instead: Save your table scraps peels, shredded veggies, eggshells, and the like (just no meat or fat). Every few days, place the scraps in a food processor and cover them with water. Add a tablespoon of Epsom salts to the mix, and liquefy. Pour this compost cocktail onto the soil in your garden, lightly hoe it in, and your plants will jump for joy! Want to start a compost pile, but don t want to deal with the mess? My Speedy Spinning Composter will give you dark rich compost in 4 to 5 weeks without a lot of work on your part. It sure beats turning a pile with a pitchfork!

And for more tips and compost boosting tonics, check out my Terrific Garden Tonics book FREE for 21 days! You ll get everything you need to grow the lush lawn, beautiful blooms, and gorgeous garden of your dreams.

Got Spots in Your Lawn? Here's How to Repair the Bare I ve got the perfect patch-up plan to bring back thick, green turf.

Repairing bare spots in your lawn is easy. Here s how: Rake away the dead grass and weeds. Loosen the soil surface, spread about 1 inch of compost on top, and work it in. Rake the site smooth, and at a level slightly higher than the surrounding ground. That way, when the soil settles, it ll be even with the rest of the lawn. Sprinkle a mix of 1 tablespoon of my All-Season Green-Up Tonic per gallon of water onto the soil. Mix 1 can of beer, 1 cup of ammonia, 1/2 cup of dishwashing liquid, 1/2 cup of liquid lawn food, and 1/2 cup of molasses or corn syrup in a 20 gallon hose-end sprayer, and apply to the point of runoff. Soak the seed in a mix of 1 tablespoon of dishwashing liquid per gallon of weak tea water, and refrigerate for 48 hours. Let the seed dry out before sowing.

Sprinkle the seed on the soil. Then apply a pre-plant type of fertilizer (not a mix for established lawns) over it. Lightly cover the seed with soil. Slightly mound the soil because it will compact in time. Apply a light layer of organic mulch. Firm the surface with gentle foot pressure. Keep the soil surface moist until the seedlings are well established. Now give yourself a big pat on the back! Once you ve put this plan to the test, no one not even you will be able to find the former bald spots in your lawn

6 Fresh-from-the-Garden Secrets for Cultivating Cucumbers Skip the pickling and bite right in to crunchy cucurbits.

Every time I look at my cucumber patch, I think about all of those jars of pickles lined up, straight as West Point cadets, on Grandma Putt s pantry shelves. I still grow plenty of cucumbers myself, but I don t pickle em. I like to just rinse them off and eat them straight from the garden. Here are a few helpful harvesting and eating hints that ll keep you in cukes for the rest of the growing season: Leave only four cucumbers on a plant at any one time. Pinch or cut off other small fruits as they form, and you ll be rewarded with a much better, all-around harvest. Get cucumbers off the vine while they re still of moderate size between 3 and 4 inches for pickling varieties, and 6 to 8 inches for slicers. If you let them get much bigger than that, they ll turn seedy and bitter. Cukes mature very quickly, so check your plants at least every other day. While you re picking, don t move the vines any more than necessary. Why? Moving them will destroy blossoms and you ll end up with a crop of misshapen, inedible cukes. Don t set aside all of your cucumbers for pickling. Here s a tasty snack that s a low-cal, low-fat treat that you can enjoy right now: Cut off the ends of two pickling cucumbers, slice them lengthwise into quarters, and put them in a plastic bag with 1 tablespoon of salt and two peeled garlic cloves. Seal tightly and refrigerate for a few hours.

And here s a yummy late-summer salad that ll be the perfect accompaniment to this weekend s grilled steak: Thinly slice 2 peeled cucumbers and place them in a bowl. Slice 2 vine-ripe tomatoes, then quarter the slices and add them to the cukes. Dice half of a red onion, and chop a handful of parsley, adding them to the mix. Toss the ingredients, then dress them with 3 tablespoons of red wine vinegar, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.

4 Terrific Mowing Tricks for Your Best Fall Lawn Ever! Treat your grass right right now and it ll be thick and green come spring.

Before you know it, your flower and vegetable gardens will start slowing down, but your grass is gearing up for one last burst of growth. Treat it well, and you ll be rewarded with a lush, thick yard next spring. Here s how: Continue cutting your grass to its maximum recommended height until it stops growing or goes dormant. Then drop the blade a notch and mow one last time. Don t know what your maximum height should be? It s easy: Simply set the height of your mower blade so that you never cut more than one third of the grass blade length at any one time. Now s the ideal time to buck up your lawn with a fresh supply of seed. The seed will have plenty of time to establish itself during the cool fall days if you reseed about six weeks before the first frost is expected. It s fine to leave grass clippings on your freshly mown lawn, but fallen leaves are a different story. Left on the lawn, they can block sun and moisture from reaching the grass. So rake up the leaves and add them to the compost pile. To speed up the decomposition process, mow them over several times first, chopping the leaves into nickel-sized pieces. Give your grass a taste of this fortified lawn food, and be prepared for a great-looking lawn that ll sail right through the worst weather winter can throw at it: Mix 3 pounds of Epsom salts, 1 cup of dry laundry soap, and 1 bag of dry lawn food (enough to cover 2,500 sq. ft. of lawn area), and apply at half of the recommended rate with a broadcast spreader.

5 Ways to Keep Your Houseplants Happy They ll liven up the great indoors long after the holidays have ended.

Now that the holidays have come and gone, and all of your colorful decorations are boxed up and stored until next winter, it s time to turn your attention to your houseplants. Use em to brighten up your home when the weather outside is frightful. Here s a handful of hints to keep your plants growing green and gorgeous: The colorful foil wrapping covering the pots of gift plants is just for display, and can be harmful if left on too long. So poke a hole in the bottom of the foil for drainage, then remove it after several days to prevent problems. Water your potted plants well when the soil feels dry to the touch. Use filtered water to quench your plants thirst. The fluoride in tap water causes the tips of houseplants to turn yellow, while other chemicals in your drinking water make the potting soil crust over, slowing plant growth. Before setting potted plants on windowsills, line the sills with aluminum foil, shiny side up. It ll reflect light onto the plants and keep them growin strong all winter long. Keep your plants in the picture of good health with this Healthy Houseplant Tonic. It ll give em a balanced supply of nutrients, and discourage pesky pests, too! Mix 1 can of apple juice, 1 can of beer, 1 can of regular cola (not diet), 1 cup of lemon-scented dishwashing liquid, 1 cup of lemon-scented ammonia, and cup of fish emulsion in a 1-gallon plastic milk jug. Then use 3 tablespoons per gallon of water every other time you water your houseplants.

Tiptoe Through the Tulips 6 fresh ways to keep cut flowers in top form.

One of the easiest ways to add color to winter s gloomy days is with a vase or two of fresh-cut tulips. And now is the perfect time to pick up a bouquet at your local grocery store you can get a beautiful, colorful bunch for not a lot of bucks. Here a few tips that ll help you get the best out of your blooms: Buy tulips with buds that are still closed, but with a hint of color showing. Snip off the base of the stems before arranging them in a clean vase to help them stay hydrated longer. Tulips are thirsty. Check the water level often, and add water daily.

Don t be tempted to mix tulips and daffodils in the same vase. The tulips water channels will become clogged with a substance produced by the daffodils. Keep the vase away from heat sources like direct sunlight, radiators, or lamps. Add a teaspoon of sugar or a capful of mouthwash to keep the flowers from drooping and losing petals prematurely.

5 Simple Steps to Rose-Planting Success Soon, everything will be coming up roses!

I don t understand why roses have such a bad reputation for being hard to grow. Sure, they like a little pampering (who doesn t?), but when you consider the fantastic flowers you get in return, it s well worth the effort! Simply follow my easy, step-by-step system and you ll have bloomin beauties all summer long. So let s get ready to plant!

Step 1: Dig a hole that s at least 16 inches wide and 16 inches deep.

Step 2: Put about one-third of the excavated soil into a wheelbarrow, and mix in plenty of wellcomposted (not fresh!) manure. A 3-inch layer, or half of a 40-pound bag, will do the trick.

Step 3: Shovel half of this mixture into the hole, and mound it into a cone. Set the plant in place with its roots arranged around the cone, and gently cover the roots with more of your soil mix. Continue filling the hole with alternate shovelfuls of soil and the mixture from your wheelbarrow.

Step 4: Finish by sprinkling a tablespoon of Epsom salts over the soil s surface it s a powerful source of magnesium, which roses crave. Then water slowly and deeply. Follow up with a drink of my Rose StartUp Tonic to get your roses off to a healthy start: Mix 1 tablespoon of dishwashing liquid, 1 tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide, 1 teaspoon of whiskey, 1 teaspoon of vitamin B1 plant starter, and gallon of warm water in a watering can. Then pour the solution all around the root zone of each newly planted rose. Step 5: Top off the Tonic with a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch.

Then step back and get ready for a season of beautiful, bountiful roses!

School may be out for the summer, but that doesn t mean you should pack up the chalk. Here are five fantastic ways to use the classroom classic in the yard, garden, workshop, and garage:

1. Say keep out to slugs by sprinkling powdered chalk around the perimeter of your planting beds. The slimers won t dare cross the line!

2. Chalk deters ants, too, so use the powdered version to protect trees, shrubs, and other plants. To keep ants out of the house or she, just draw a chalk line around exterior door and window frames.

3. To keep your tools rust-free, tuck a few sticks of chalk into your toolbox. They ll attract the moisture that would otherwise cling to the metal.

4. Prevent a screwdriver from slipping by rubbing a little chalk on the tip.

5. If you ve got a balky car or house key, rub some chalk over the tip and along the teeth. Slide it in and out of the keyhole several times and you re good to go.

There s gold in them thar grass clippings and food, too! So here s the deal: If you simply leave grass clippings in place when you mow your lawn, you ll be supplying up to half the nitrogen your grass needs and it s absolutely free. But this only works if you don t use chemical fertilizers, which stall the decomposition of the clippings, rob the grass plants of free food, and contribute to thatch buildup.

So what should you feed your lawn? There are some excellent commercial natural fertilizers available, but it s easy to make your own healthy chow. This is the recipe Grandma Putt came up with to keep her lawn in tip-top shape and it still works wonders today!

Thoroughly mix 5 parts seaweed meal, 3 parts granite dust, 1 part dehydrated manure, and 1 part bonemeal in a large wheelbarrow. Apply the mixture evenly over your turf with a broadcast spreader, then stand back and watch that grass go to town!

And there s no better way to do it than to apply my Spring Wake-Up Mix as early as possible. Here s how:

Mix 50 pounds of pelletized gypsum, 50 pounds of pelletized lime, 5 pounds of bonemeal, and 2 pounds of Epsom salts in a wheelbarrow. Apply the mixture to your lawn with a broadcast spreader no more than two weeks before your first fertilizing. This will help aerate the lawn, while giving it something to munch on until you start your regular feeding program.

Spring is also a super time to aerate your lawn. For best results, aerate the morning after you water the grass, or else after a heavy rain the soil will be easier to penetrate then. After you ve poked holes in the soil, put some sifted peat moss, dried manure, or compost in a broadcast spreader, and apply a layer about inch thick to the whole area. Your lawn will love it it s the lawn food equivalent to a hot fudge sundae!

There s no need to kill yourself aerating your lawn. Just strap on a pair of my Aerating Lawn Sandals over your shoes and take a leisurely stroll across your grass. Check out the how-to DIY video to see how easy it is! Each sandal has 13 spikes that penetrate thatch and compacted soil so your lawn can breathe better and grow greener. One size fits all.

Mix 10 pounds of compost, 5 pounds of bonemeal, and 1 pound of Epsom salts in a bucket, stirring them together with a shovel. (This recipe makes enough for 100 square feet of soil.) Top-dress established

bulb beds with the mixture in the next few weeks, after you start seeing foliage emerging from the ground. And for an extra treat, you can add up to 5 pounds of wood ashes (from your fireplace) to the mix.

Mix 2 tablespoons of whiskey, 1 tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide, 1 tablespoon of fish emulsion, and teaspoon each of instant tea granules, unflavored gelatin, dishwashing liquid, ammonia, and corn syrup with a gallon of warm water in a bucket or watering can. Use this liquid instead of plain water on your houseplants, and you won t believe how quickly they will grow big and strong.

Being cooped up inside all winter long will get anyone down, including your houseplants. So give all of your winter-weary friends a good misting with this formula to keep them looking moist and refreshed:

Mix 3 teaspoons of baby shampoo, 3 teaspoons of ammonia, 1 teaspoon of antiseptic mouthwash, and 1 quart of room-temperature water in hand-held sprayer bottle. Mist-spray your plants twice a week to keep the leaves clean and provide a little nutrient boost, too!

And if your poinsettia looked lush and lovely through the holidays and is still going strong consider keeping it around so you can enjoy it for another holiday season. Here s how: Stop watering it and store it in a cool, dry place as soon as the leaves fall off. In spring, water it and cut the stems back to 6 inches tall. From early October until blooming starts, place the plant in a dark closet for 12 hours each night. Keep the plant in a sunny window for the rest of the day, and it should be in full color again in time for the holidays!

When it comes time to start packin your ornaments away, don t just dump your Christmas tree at the curb. Ol Tanenbaum can be recycled in so many ways, it d be a shame to have the garbage men haul it away. Here s how to reuse it:

Set the tree up in your yard, stand and all, and redecorate it with strings of popcorn, peanuts, apple chunks, grapes, dried cherries, and cranberries. Hungry birds will gobble up the treats, and thank you for your generosity. Cut off the tree s branches and lay them over frozen perennial beds for a perfect lightweight, but insulating, winter mulch. Put the tree through a shredder, needles and all, then spread the resulting mulch over your dormant beds. Just remember: This mix will tend to make the soil acidic, so you ll need to add some lime come spring.

Every year, without fail, Grandma Putt poured this elixir into our Christmas tree stand to keep that ol tree fresh and green throughout the year-end holidays. I still use it I ve never found a better formula! Here s how to whip up a batch for your tree:

Mix 2 cups of clear corn syrup, 4 tablespoons of household bleach, 4 multivitamin tablets with iron, and 1 gallon of very hot water in a bucket. Carefully pour the mixture into the stand, and deliver a fresh dose whenever the water level starts going down. Your evergreen will stay fresh as a daisy right into the new year.

Before the winter weather turns icy, liberally sprinkle gypsum in a 5-foot-wide band all over the grass that s within spittin distance of where you re probably going to be using salt. Then overspray the gypsum with my Winter Walkway Protection Tonic:

Mix 1 cup of dishwashing liquid, cup of ammonia, and cup of beer in a 20 Gallon Hose-End Sprayer, and then apply it over the gypsum to the point of run-off. Your soil and turf will be in great shape for even the toughest winter weather.

But this winter, why not try some terrific natural alternatives to melting the ice? Clean cat litter and sand both provide traction on slippery surfaces, and they re cheap, effective, and environmentally

friendly. There s also a whole slew of new ice melters that are salt-free so check em out at your local hardware store.

Revive Indoor Plants With a Terrific Tonic

Indoor plants are exposed to all sorts of household pollutants, and grimy leaves can keep em from growing their best. My Indoor Clean-Up Tonic unblocks leaf pores and gets plants squeaky clean and growing strong.

Mix 1 tablespoon of dishwashing liquid, 1 tablespoon of antiseptic mouthwash, 1 teaspoon of ammonia, 1 teaspoon of instant tea granules, and 1 quart of water in a bucket, then pour the mixture into a handheld sprayer bottle. Liberally mist-spray your houseplants, and wipe off any excess with a clean, dry cloth. Your plants will really enjoy their refreshing shower!

Good ol Jack Frost is staging his return engagement, so now s the time to think ahead and give your annual flower beds and vegetable garden a little pre-winter care to save you time and a lot of hassle next spring. Here s the bedding-down routine:

Step 1: Clean out all plants and toss them onto the compost pile.

Step 2: Loosen the subsoil with a garden fork. By doing this now instead of waiting until spring, the earthworms have time to repair the damage to their tunnels.

Step 3: Dig my Bedtime Snack into the soil:

Mix 25 pounds of gypsum, 10 pounds of natural organic garden food, and 5 pounds of bonemeal together in a wheelbarrow, then apply the mix to every 100 square feet of soil with your handheld broadcast spreader.

Step 4: Spread a thick layer of leaves over the soil and top it off with straw or other organic mulch. This combo keeps the worms warm and busy all winter long, enriching the soil with their castings. Come spring, your planting beds are well fed and all set to grow.

Step 5: Finally, overspray the mulch with a good healthy dose of my Sleepytime Tonic:

Mix 1 can of beer, 1 can of regular cola (not diet), 1 cup of baby shampoo, cup of ammonia, and cup of instant tea granules in a bucket. Pour the tonic into a 20 Gallon Hose-End Sprayer, and saturate the mulch to the point of run-off.

Before Old Man Winter makes a return appearance, apply my Fall Wash-Down Spray to get rid of any bad bugs that are hiding in and among your trees and shrubs. Here s how to do it:

Mix 1 cup of tobacco tea*, cup of baby shampoo, 6 tablespoons of fruit tree spray, 4 tablespoons of antiseptic mouthwash, and 2 tablespoons of witch hazel in a 20 gallon hose-end sprayer (link). Douse your plants to the point of run-off, making sure you hit the plants and the soil underneath them really well. That ll knock out any pesky pests that were planning to spend the winter nestled in your trees and shrubs!

(*To make tobacco tea, place half a handful of chewing tobacco in an old nylon stocking and soak it in a gallon of hot water until the mixture is dark brown.)