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Timely Tendings: Battle commences against drought, bugs

Even though we have had some rain lately, water restrictions are still in effect — and probably will be for some time. You can help your lawn by altering the way you mow, and by following the suggestions listed at tampabay.com/drought. • Gardeners, obviously, can't escape the drought, but some flowers do thrive in these conditions, and now is a good time to add them to your landscape. A variety of vegetables also can be started this late in the season. • Be mindful that what you eat, bugs do too. Early intervention can keep pests under control and out of your yard.

Pam Brown and Carol Suggs, Special to the Times

Keep your lawn

A good lawn maintenance program includes proper mowing, watering and pest control. Mowing grass at the proper height encourages deep roots, which increases your lawn's drought tolerance. Mow often enough so no more than one-third of the leaf surface is removed, and make sure the blade is sharp. Also, calibrate your sprinkler system to deliver three-quarters of an inch of water each time you water (for directions on how to do this, go to edis.ifas.ufl.edu/LH026 or call your extension office).

Easy on the fertilizer

If you fertilize your St. Augustine lawn this month, don't overdo it. University of Florida research shows that repeatedly using large amounts of water-soluble nitrogen fertilizer can set off a population explosion of Southern chinch bugs. Use no more than 1 pound of slow-release nitrogen fertilizer per 1,000 square feet of lawn.

Prune mums

Chrysanthemums do well in summer, but they become leggy — with tall, weak stems that produce few flowers — if not properly pruned. Small flowered varieties should be pinched when they are 6 to 8 inches high. After you pinch them, new branches will develop along the stems. Pinch shoots every two weeks until June 10 for early varieties and July for later varieties. Flowers will not form if you continue to pinch any later.

Grow, veggies, grow

Vegetable gardening should be in full swing this month. Keep a watch for insects and diseases and be prepared to treat at first sign of invasion. Vegetables are annual plants and will use a lot of fertilizer while growing. Keep side-dressing every five to six weeks and keep the plants well watered. There is still time to plant pole beans, black-eyed peas, lima beans, cantaloupes, okra, sweet potatoes and summer spinach.

Fight pesky pests

Spider mites can be a big problem during dry, warm weather. Signs of mite infestation are chlorotic (yellow or pale) spots on leaves, rusty needles on junipers and stippling of leaves. Spray with insecticidal soap or paraffin-based horticultural oil according to directions on the label. Neem oil is also an effective miticide.

Lubber grasshoppers have hatched, so it's time to take action. For young grasshoppers (black with either a red or yellow stripe), spray or dust Sevin according to label directions. Reapply as needed. Once the grasshoppers are large, the best control is to pick off the insects and drop them into a bucket of soapy water or smash them. They are harmless to humans.

Carol Suggs is with the Pinellas County Extension Center/Florida Botanical Gardens. Pam Brown recently retired from there. For more information, visit the extension Web site at pinellascountyextension.org or call (727) 582-2100.

Timely Tendings: Battle commences against drought, bugs 05/01/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 1, 2009 7:35am]
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