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End of August garden tips

Friday - 8/26/2011, 8:33am  ET

Got a Stink Bug Trap? How's it Working?

A few weeks ago, I told you about a new outdoor stink bug trap that was showing up at supermarkets, garden centers and home stores all over our area.

Since then I've gotten reports on the trap's effectiveness from Courtney in Oakton and Marc in Great Falls; and I've had a couple of traps hanging on tomato cages in my garden as well. Now, these traps are brand new -- they were only just released in July -- and it's time to start gauging how well the pheromones, designed to lure the stinkers into the traps, are working.

So, if you've been using a Rescue brand stink bug trap in your garden, please send me an email at MikeMcG@ptd.net and let me know how it's been working for you.

(If you lose that address, you can always send me an email via WTOP. Just go to the "Garden Plot" section at WTOP.com by clicking on the tab that says "Living," and the email address is right there under my smiling kisser.)

Yellowjackets in public places

Susan, who works at the historic Melchers Home Museum in Fredericksburg writes: "We're having serious problems with yellow jackets nesting in our six acres of gardens. They're in the boxwood walk, the woodland trails, and the rose beds. What can we do to protect our hundreds of visitors?"

Because of their size and design, chemical insecticides don't destroy yellowjacket nests, Suz. Instead, run grounded extension cords to the areas at night (when these aggressive wasps aren't active) and place a bug zapper or shop vac hose next to each nest entrance. In the morning, turn the devices on; the aggressive wasps will destroy themselves attacking these "invaders."

Or, if it never stops raining long enough to use electricity, dump ice over the hole-again, in the evening to slow them down, cover the nest entrance with a tarp and seal the edges of the tarp with bricks.

In addition, you should warn your guests not to eat or drink while wandering the grounds. And make sure your trash cans have spring-loaded lids that keep them closed. The National Park Service discovered that yellowjackets thrive in areas with easily accessible trash cans, and switching to a different kind of trash can, one that stayed shut when not in use, cut yellowjacket problems in some large parks by 90 percent!

Tomato splits attract ants

Perry in Frederick writes: "We're growing a Better Boy tomato in a large cage. While we haven't had blossom rot, most of the tomatoes do get splits in the top as they ripen. This attracts ants, who then eat our luscious tomatoes. We've started picking before the splits get deep, when the tomatoes are just a light pink-but they don't taste as good, even though we ripen them for a few more days on the windowsill."

Splitting (or "cracking") is a common problem with Big Boy, Better Boy and similar varieties, Perry, especially when we get too much rain. That's why I grow several different types of love apples as insurance against a single type getting whacked by a specific summer's problem.

Early picking is the answer, but get them out of that windowsill! They'll ripen up to full color and flavor in a cool airy spot away from direct light. I don't know who started this "ripen your green tomatoes on a sunny windowsill" nonsense, but it's dead wrong. Sun is good for the leaves of plants; they have the power to use that solar energy to help the plant prosper. Fruits don't photosynthesize. The only thing sun and heat do for fruits is rob them of flavor.

Vinegar vs. driveway weeds

Mike in Loudoun County writes: "I want to spray the weeds in my driveway, but don't want to use a chemical herbicide. I recall you suggesting a vinegar-based weed killer; can you remind me of the name?"

There are several brands of high-strength "horticultural vinegars" labeled for use against weeds, Mike. "Burn Out" is one you see a lot, but there are many others, just search the words "horticultural vinegar," "vinegar herbicide" or "high-strength vinegar." And be careful -- you must use eye protection when working with these products, as their acidity is two to four times stronger than regular supermarket white vinegar.

But vinegar is just one of many non-chemical options. Also effective against weeds are organically approved herbicides whose active ingredients are specialized soaps, clove oil and iron. (Note: Like chemical herbicides, these safer sprays only work well when applied on a hot, dry and sunny day.)

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