Correction to This Article
This column about products for home gardeners incorrectly said that rainfall was above average this spring in the D.C. area. Rainfall in the region has been below average, according to the national Drought Mitigation Center.
Whether to attract (hummingbirds) or repel (mosquitoes), products deliver

By Joel M. Lerner
Saturday, June 26, 2010; F02

A few times each year, I like to review products that I hope will be useful to home gardeners. After a tryout, I find some promising products to be disappointments, and those I allow to die on the vine. Only the winners make it into print.

This spring's product lineup includes organic polymer-based volcanic minerals that increase water efficiency, animal repellents, a fast-acting plant nutrient, a hummingbird feeder, state-of-the-art weeding tools and a blanket that simultaneously delivers irrigation and weed control.

Wildlife

Dr. JB's Clean Hummingbird Feeder: This is a fully sealed, 16-ounce red feeder that is heavy duty, dishwasher-safe, bee-proof and not conspicuous in the landscape.

Constructed of polyethylene with a clear glass jar, it delivers sugar water through a specially designed system that provides easy access for hummingbirds.

Patience is necessary because it can take several days or months for hummingbirds to discover feeders. You can help the process by surrounding the area with plants they like, such as honeysuckle, crossvine, bee balm, hollyhock and lantana. Red flowers are favorites.

Keeping the device clean is an integral part of hummingbird feeding. Before refilling the jar with sugar water, rinse it with a mild bleach solution and flush well with water. $12-$15 from SongbirdEssentials.com. 800-269-4450.

Hummer Helper: You can encourage hummingbirds to nest around your property with Hummer Helper nesting material. It takes the place of spider webs and lichens for lining their nests, which are no larger than a quarter and often contain just two pea-size eggs. This fiber has the texture of cotton batting and is packaged in a holder that will attract hummingbirds. $11.98. Available at SongbirdEssentials.com and other wild-bird stores.

Animal Stopper: To discourage wildlife from eating plants in our garden, we prefer using repellents. Although this is an ongoing process, the ones we apply are fully biodegradable, safe for the environment and keep the garden aesthetically pleasing. Animal Stopper by Messina Wildlife has been effective up to a month, even in rain. Made of rosemary oil, mint oil, cinnamon oil and putrescent whole egg solids, it exudes a pleasant aroma and is approved for organic gardening. It's available at garden, hardware, home improvement and natural-food stores. A 2 1/2-pound container of granular material costs $19.99 and covers 1,800 square feet. MessinaWildlife.com. 888-411-3337

Terro Mosquito Repellent: This repellent is an excellent example of how pest management has changed. The active ingredients -- castor oil, citronella oil and garlic oil -- are safe for the environment. It will not damage your lawn or other plants.

The product repels mosquitoes for up to 21 days, has a pleasant scent and is available in a two-pound jug that covers about 1,000 square feet. $12 to $15. Available from garden stores or from Terro.com.

Soil

Geohumus: This new soil-enrichment product answers the question of how to ensure soil has maximum moisture retention during midsummer dry spells. If you cultivate this product into existing native soil, it will hold a greater quantity of moisture in your garden because the organic polymer in Geohumus stores up to 30 times its weight in water. In addition, this soil additive is mixed with volcanic rock to enhance soil aeration and permeability. Follow the instructions, guidelines and warnings closely. It is a new product, developed in Germany, and it's doing an admirable job keeping soil light and moist. With the above-average rainfall so far this spring in the DC area, using this soil amendment would have required you to do very little supplemental irrigation for container plants, beds and lawns. Call 1-610-444-3040 for more information. It is available in one-pound buckets for $9.99 on the Internet and suitable for mixing into 30 gallons of soil. Ten-pound containers cost $69.99 and produce 300 gallons of spongy, moisture-holding medium. Geohumus.com.

Bonnie Herb & Vegetable Plant Food: This biodegradable, water-soluble plant nutrient that delivers fertilizer in a form that can be quickly absorbed by plants' roots. The plant food analysis is 8-4-4, and it is 40 to 50 percent lower in salt content than traditional dry fertilizer and natural fish emulsion. The nitrogen is derived from soybean and other oilseed extracts. The phosphate and potash are from water-soluble sources.

If you follow the recommended dilution, you can apply a soil soak twice a week. This ensures that your plants are watered and receiving nutrients regularly. One quart of concentrate makes about 64 gallons. Our vegetables and annuals have exploded with growth. $11.95. BonniePlants.com. 800-345-3384.

Tools

Diggit Garden Tools: A gardener and her son, a mechanical engineer, designed Diggit Garden Tools to replace the tent stake she used to pull weeds without disturbing the flowers. Their tool is designed much like a tent stake, but it won't hurt hands thanks to the cushioned handle. The angle of the stake and the serrations down its sides create a handy tool, but in its earlier galvanized form, it lacked strength, and the tool snapped.

A much stronger version is the Diggit 2, which has a heavy-duty, stainless steel stake and is smoother, stronger and worked well. Another tool I tested is the Diggit Duck, which will sweep through rocky soil to lift the most stubborn roots or cultivate weeds. The Diggit 2 is $15.25; the Diggit Duck is $8.25. DiggitInc.com.

U Can watering system: The U Can watering system is the most complete watering tool I have found. It is a two-gallon can with a rubberized grip that reaches into most places that require watering. You can use it with or without the spray head that stores on the front of the can. U Can provides receptacles for fertilizer, a fertilizer reminder dial and a place to hang gardening gloves. $29.95. TheUCanBrand.com. 978-887-4191.

Weed Free Garden Watering Blanket: The most innovative product I have used this season is the Weed Free Garden Watering Blanket manufactured by EvoOrganic. It's a permeable woven fiber "blanket" that connects to a garden hose and delivers water through drip irrigation tubes embedded in the fabric. It is the perfect system for getting water to plants while simultaneously controlling weeds. It is lightweight and easy to work with in the yard, measuring 8 by 10 feet, with the texture, strength and appearance of a tarp. Prepare the site by cultivating compost deeply (8 to 12 inches) into the existing soil. Add about one part compost to two parts soil. Level the cultivated area and lay the fabric over the top, then install plants by cutting through the fabric, being careful not to sever any of the irrigation tubes, which can be felt in the fabric. Turning on the water for 90 minutes each day is sufficient to maintain even moisture. $49.99. OrganicGardenGrower.com. Or call EvoOrganic at 800-731-6461.

Joel M. Lerner is president of Environmental Design in Capitol View Park, Md.

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