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  Mike's Gardening Tips

FOUR Pests Foiled! And a Non-Pest Protected!

Q. Mike: Last year, my husband's beloved eggplants fell prey to pestilence. I told him you said the best way to get rid of those flea beetles was to buy eggplant in the supermarket, but am hoping you have another suggestion. Thanks!
---Barbara Hagy; Malvern

A. Even after you steal my best line, Barb?!! Oh, all right. Italian gardeners swear that dusting wood ashes on the leaves as soon as you see those first telltale little 'shotgun holes' does the job. Or try insecticidal soap; spray the leaves early in the morning or late in the evening, then rinse them off an hour later; never spray in the heat of the day. Next season, keep rowcovers (like Reemay) over the plants till the flowers open.

Q. Is there an organic offense against gypsy moths? I knock down the nests and squish the caterpillars I can reach, but... Thank you.
---Carla Stangl; Boyertown

A. Nests?! Gypsy moths don't make no stinkin' nests! (If they did, they wouldn't be gypsies now, would they?). Sounds like tent caterpillars. Prune out and destroy the nests you can safely reach. For ones up high, you'll need a pressurized sprayer (or the local hook n' ladder). Get some "BTK", the basic, caterpillar-killing variety of Bt (one brand name is Dipel) and spray it up into the nests. When the caterpillars eat the sprayed leaves they'll die, but the Bt (a naturally-occurring soil organism) won't harm anything else.

Q. Every year our zucchini/summer squash grows great, and then some sort of bug eats up the stalk, and the fruits wither. What is it, and how do I stop them this year?
---John Wetzel; Boyertown

A. Vine borers--the scourge of summer squash growers! To prevent, simply wipe the stems of your squash with a damp cloth every morning--you'll destroy the eggs (laid by a moth) before they can hatch into destructive, 'boring' caterpillars. If you can already see holes with 'frass' (bug poop) outside, carefully slit the vine with a razor blade, capture and dispose of the beast ("hahaha! I've got you NOW!"), then cover the damaged part of the vine with soil.

Q. I transplanted a beautiful heirloom rosebush from my mother's garden to mine last year. Now it's FILLED with APHIDS!!!! I found a ladybug and put her on the bush, but she looked at me like, "now why did you do that?" Please help. Thanks,
---Beth in Emmaus, PA

A. Aphids are EASY! Cradle the infested part of the plant in one hand and blast the little rats off with a sharp, strong steam of water from one of those multiple-choice nozzles. It'll kill 80 to 90% of 'em outright, and the survivors will be too depressed to go on. Do this a couple of times and that Lady should be able to handle any stragglers.

Q. Dear Mike: I sprinkle dried, crushed pennyroyal around our stone terrace overlooking the Neshaminy Creek to deter spiders. But I now find it impossible to buy pennyroyal. (I believe it has been taken off the market.) What do you suggest I use? Or do you know where I can get some?
---Carol; New Britain, PA

A. Carol! Spiders are GOOD! They won't hurt you, but WILL destroy lots of pests that would cause you harm, like ticks, mosquitoes, biting flies, Green Goblins and Dr. Octopus! And pennyroyal IS dangerous stuff; this powerful herb is toxic to people and (especially!) their pets. Please just choose to share your outdoor space; those spiders are working for YOU!

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