caladiums arrive along with warmer weather
Look for heart-shaped, leafy caladiums in garden centers now. Known as "the geranium of the South," they're ideal as warm-weather bedding plants in shade or part shade locations. Choose from three types of starter plants: "Fancy Leaf" (18 to 22 inches tall), "Dwarf Leaf" (15 to 17 inches) and "Strap Leaf" (12 to 14 inches). Bulbs are cheaper, but always use the No. 1 bulbs, which yield more and healthier leaves per plant. Caladiums are biennial, which means they last two growing seasons (about April to December), although some plants continue even longer.
Getting rid of fire ants
Old-fashioned remedies such as grits, soap or wood ashes won't kill fire ants, but hot water and a shovel will, suggest experts at the Florida Cooperative Extension Service. Carefully pour about 3 gallons of boiling hot water on the mound. If that doesn't work, dig out the mound. First, take steps to protect yourself. Wear long pants and sleeves, closed-toe shoes or boots, and gloves. Sprinkle body powder on the handle of a shovel handle and on the inside of a bucket (so ants can't climb either). Then, on a cool morning when unsuspecting ants are surfacing (they stay deep underground during hot, dry weather), dig out the mound and place it in the bucket. Pour boiling water in the bucket to kill the ants.
Smother your lawn
If the drought has parched your lawn, why not consider a more drought-tolerant, environmentally friendly alternative? The easiest way to remove turf is smothering, using these steps from lesslawn.com: Layer newspapers 10 to 12 pages thick on top of the lawn to create a barrier that will kill grass and weeds. Overlap newspaper pages where they meet. Next, cover papers with up to 10 inches of mulch. It takes several months to completely choke the lawn, but you can plant right away if you dig planting holes through the paper, remove the sod, then replace papers up to the edge of the hole. Top with mulch.
Yvonne Swanson, Times correspondent