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CLEAN FOUNTAIN WITH DRIED BARLEY STRAW

If you don't want to use chemicals to keep pond and fountain water clean, there's a natural alternative: dried barley straw. When placed in water, the barley begins to break down, releasing chemicals that inhibit algae growth. Never use barley hay or fresh barley, which promote algae growth and suck oxygen from water. Look for it at garden centers and pond supply stores, or order online. A two-pack of Summit Clear-Water Barley Straw bales sells for $13.90 from aqua-mart.com.

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Boost your bug IQ and more at class

If you can't tell the difference between an aphid (shown below) and a spider mite, or sooty mold from powdery mildew, you're not alone. Join other gardeners from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Sept. 30 at Pinellas County Extension's course on managing common landscape problems, including insects, diseases and nutrient deficiencies. The program will be held at the extension facility, 12520 Ulmerton Road, Largo. Preregistration is required, and the class fee is $15. Register online at pinellascountyextension.org or call (727) 582-2100.

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Weighing organic gardening benefits

Are you really destroying the environment with each squirt of chemical weed killer? Or with that watering can filled with synthetic fertilizer? According to horticulture scientist Jeff Gillman, the bottom line to responsible gardening is using common sense, reading labels and following directions. His book, The Truth About Organic Gardening (Timber Press, 2008), outlines the organic and synthetic choices for improving soil and controlling weeds, insects and other pests with a handy benefits-drawbacks summary. The 208-page paperback retails for about $10 at bookstores and online.

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