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Garden Plot: How to beat back mosquitoes

Friday - 5/17/2013, 10:49am  ET

Lawns should always be watered in the early morning, ideally ending at around 8 or 9 a.m. (Thinkstock)

New idea: Put out treated water to prevent mosquitoes

WTOP's Garden Editor Mike McGrath.


WASHINGTON - Garden Plot Editor Mike McGrath answers all of your garden and lawn care questions. On the list this week: controlling ticks and mosquitoes, wise watering and rose bush care.

Outfox mosquitoes with breeding traps!

Tanya in Fairfax Station writes: "We just moved to a 5-acre lot and want the best possible advice for controlling mosquitoes and ticks. We have already bought Tick Tubes and a concentrated garlic spray. What else can we do?"

You have made a good start, Tanya. I think that Tick Tubes are one of the best ways to keep tick populations low over a large area. Guinea hens and other fowl are also great -- they love to eat ticks. And I have permethrin-treated clothing to wear when I have to cut brush or go into other tick prone areas.

Outdoor garlic sprays, like Mosquito Barrier, will keep backyards and other sprayed areas clear of blood suckers for at least several weeks. The other basic mosquito avoidance advice, of course, is to make sure you don't have any standing water for mosquitoes to breed in.

But now there's a new take on that: Use water to make mosquito breeding traps.

Instead of removing all your standing water, leave out lots of water-filled tubs, buckets, tin cans and such and treat them all with the granular form of BTI a naturally occurring soil organism that prevents the larvae from turning into biting adults. (Here's a big retail brand and here they are at Gardens Alive.)

Female mosquitoes will lay their eggs in the traps, but no adult mosquitoes will emerge. The more traps you use the earlier in the season, the fewer mosquitoes you'll have all summer.

If your lawn care company won't do it right

Patricia in Greenbelt has a warning for lawn care companies that turn a deaf ear to their clients. She writes: "I got tired of lawn services refusing to set their cutting blades as high as I wanted and whining when I wouldn't let them run their machines over the stressed grass during summer droughts. So I bought a mower that I can set to three inches high and am doing it myself. My neighbor even said he might buy a similar mower, now that he's seen how nice it leaves the grass. But he's still stuck in the past and wants to cut his grass short. Sigh. Mike: Don't these kinds of attitudes discourage you?"

Hang in there, Pats. We're winning hearts and turfs one lawn at a time. And when your neighbor sees how much better your grass looks when cut with the exact same machine, he'll ratchet his up to the correct three inches as well.

Wise Watering = A summer stress proof turf

Joe in Hagerstown writes: "We recently purchased a house that has an in-ground watering system for the lawn. You always say to water deeply and infrequently. Can you recommend specific suggested watering times?"

Absolutely, Joe!

  • Lawns should always be watered in the early morning, ideally ending at around 8 or 9 a.m. Never water in the heat of the day or in the evening.

  • The watering should be long and deep -- at least two hours a pop -- preferably closer to four and only once or twice a week. Never water more frequently than that and never water for short periods of time. Deep, infrequent watering helps lawns develop the deep roots they need to carry them through summer heat. Lawns that get short daily sprinkles burn up in the summer because of poor root growth.

  • Don't water at all in a week when nature provides an inch or more of rain.

Correct care will save this precious rose

Kerry in Cabin John, Md. writes: "I have a 1-year-old cutting from a 40-plus-year- old rose bush. Last year everything was going well. It rooted and even bloomed once at the end of the summer, but in the last week the leaves have developed white spots and are falling off. This rose is a cutting from a bush my late father cared for and has deep sentimental value. What can I do?"

Roses are pretty tough plants, and yours should be fine if it has decent airflow and gets morning sun. If it doesn't, dig it up and move it to a better spot now.

  • Prune off any infected areas. Don't worry if there isn't much left, roses regrow rapidly at this time of year.

  • Remove and trash any old mulch underneath the plant and replace it with an inch of high quality, black yard waste compost. Do not mulch roses with any kind of wood or bark.

  • Do not otherwise feed the rose or spray it with anything.

  • If rain is scarce, water it deeply at the base once a week. Don't wet the plant, just the soil and don't over water.

And relax -- this is the perfect time of year to give a rose a fresh start.

The perfect filling for raised beds

Lynn in Rockville writes: "I'm having several raised beds (8 inches high, 6 feet long and 3 feet across) made so I can garden more easily. They're going over very healthy, wormy, compost enriched soil. What do you recommend I fill the rest of the frames with? I have some compost available in my pile."

I've gotten the best raised bed results from a 50-50 mix of high quality screened black topsoil and compost, Lynn. Now, you sound like an experienced gardener, so I urge you to use your skills and personally inspect both topsoil and compost before you purchase. You want both to be fairly light and loose, with a rich black color and no off-smells of any kind.

In the future, just add a fresh 2 inches of compost to the surface of the beds every season. Don't till it in -- just lay it on top, where it will do the most good.

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