Suddenly it's summer. Spring prices for shrubs and trees have been cast aside in favor of summer discounts to reward you for waiting until now to improve your landscape. Prices won't be this low for the rest of the year.
School is out, and youngsters are looking for things to do. Give them wonderful experiences and lessons in growing flowers and vegetables in the backyard garden.
You set aside a plot for a children's garden that is all their own. Quick-and-easy flowers that bloom all summer without insect or disease problems will start them on a winning track record. The best choices are larkspur (rocket), rose of heaven, cosmos, pin-cushion flower, foxglove, columbine, canterbury bells and the cornflower.
Young teens aren't exactly drawn to the garden, as we all know, but wave some money just beyond their reach and they will promise anything. A summer garden business will keep them busy and well-heeled. Seek out neighbors on your street who are looking for a conscientious teen-ager to handle mowing chores for the next eight weeks.
Photocopy a one-page sheet giving details on lawn services your kids can provide, then circulate them to as many neighbors as possible.
The worst insect cycle of the year is over, so relax a bit as far as sprays are concerned. If things get out of hand, such as mites, move to attack quickly.
Most folks have a difficult spot in the outdoor garden for which there never seems to be any hope or promise. No matter how bad it is, attack the problem. Decide what the perfect transformation should be, then do it over a weekend or on weekday evenings. At least the old eyesore won't be an eyesore anymore.
If you're sick and tired of moths flying around night lights outside the house at night, just change to a yellow or red lightbulb and the moths will move down the street to your neighbor's.
To rid your patio of mosquitos, fetch the hose-end sprayer, add pure citronella oil to the jar, no water, and spray the soil near and around the patio. A light sprinkling will do, especially if you apply it an hour before you move outdoors. Pour unused citronella oil back into the original container. An aerosol spray of DDVP makes an excellent spot treatment for mosquitoes if you head for the patio on the spur of the moment. Spray the ground near the foundation.
If rabbits are nibbling your flowers, here's one easy solution. Soak corn cob chunks in vinegar for five minutes, then scatter the parts in the flower bed. Retrieve the cobs two weeks later, soak again, then return to the garden.
Slugs got you down? Use any slug product that contains Mesurol. Scatter the granules where the slugs are every five or six weeks through to mid-September.
If you are vacation bound, water all plants the day before you leave, assembling them in a room with all curtains or shades drawn except those on the north side of the house. Draw a large sheet of plastic over all the plants to reduce water loss, or rely on individual plastic bags drawn over each plant so that the plastic hangs loosely below the rim of the pot. Plants will survive this way for two weeks.
Make sure you also open the doors to the room so air circulates freely. Place a container filled with charcoal briquettes on the floor in the same room to capture excess humidity. Also open the fireplace draft gate a tad to ventilate the room.
Speaking of the fireplace, it's a great showplace for shade-loving plants like Chinese evergreen, spathiphyllum, dracaena, philodendron, palms and ferns. Keep the draft gate shut as long as the plants are there.
If outdoor bugs have your number, protect yourself by coating your arms, hands, neck and face with one of the high-tech repellents containing Deet, such as Detamide, Off, MGK, Metadelphene and Diethyltoluamide, or Permanone. Spray outerwear, too.
To insect-proof outdoor clothes, pour three pints of water into a large plastic tub and slowly add two tablespoons of naptha soap flakes while stirring constantly. Then add three ounces of any Deet-containing insecticide while stirring continuously. Soak outerwear (shirts and pants), but not clothes that cling to the skin (underwear, socks and the like). Dry them outdoors, not in the clothes dryer. Store treated clothes until you reach your destination, then put them on. You'll have almost a week's protection against biting bugs.
Fleas on dogs can be controlled by putting a tablespoon of vinegar in the dog's food every day.
Hot weather also brings out indoor insects, including some you may not have seen before. To fight them, let the soil of a potted mint plant go dry for one day, then rewater. Put the plant overnight in a closet or pantry where unidentifiable pests have been seen. Repeated nightly closetings of the mint plant will drive most bugs away. For countertop and kitchen pests, brush dried, cut-up mint leaves into cracks and crevices.
Basement spiders are a blessing, feeding on other pests you'd rather not discuss. Leave the spiders alone.
Yellow jackets? Beware: Step on their hole and they attack like sharks. If you see yellow jackets flying around during the day, track them until they lead you to their nest in the ground. Let them be. Indoors, carefully open up an emergency highway fuse, add the sulfur powder in the fuse to a small bucket with a few ounces of water and mix. Gradually add two quarts of water to the bucket.
Once darkness settles, insert an open end of the garden hose into the yellow jackets' hole in the soil. Hold the other end of the hose some distance away. Insert a funnel into the end you're holding and pour the two-quart solution into the hose, followed by a quart or two of clean water to flush the sulfur out of the hose and into the nest. Lift the hose up in the air as you walk toward the hole and then withdraw the hose. Place a garden shovel of wet clay soil over the hole.
Tropical fish tanks are a great source of fertilizer for outdoor plants, especially flowers, herbs and vegetables. Dilute any water taken from the tank with an equal amount of pure water, then apply to the soil.
When you wash your clothes, where does the "gray water" go? Probably into the utility tub. Save some the next time you wash. Add it to your handheld mist sprayer (the one used for spray-misting house plants), then spray aphid-infested plants in the cool of the evening. One spray removes aphids. Reapply every 10 to 12 days.
NEXT WEEK: More hints for easy summer plant maintenance, propagating azaleas from cuttings and growing a better summer lawn.
Jack Eden hosts "Over the Garden Fence" Sundays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on WTOP Radio (1500AM).