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New Year's resolutions for your home and garden

Friday - 12/27/2013, 12:47pm  ET

A worker at an outdoor Christmas tree market prepares Christmas trees for sale in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

What to do with your old Christmas tree

WTOP's Friday Yard Warrior, Mike McGrath


Put your old Xmas tree to good use!

Have a cut tree in the house? Keep that water reservoir filled until you're ready to take the tree out. Then use a turkey baster to empty the reservoir when it's time to toss the tree.

Next, bring a small tarp or old blanket into the room, turn the tree on its side and carry the tree outside on the protective cover, which will catch most of those nettlesome needles.

If you have pansies growing outside, prune the evergreen boughs and keep them handy to cover those pretty plants if heavy snow or ice are predicted.

Or you can place the pruned branches around the base of azaleas, rhododendrons or other acid-loving plants. It's the perfect loose, light mulch for them.

Or stand the tree up in the backyard and cover it with suet feeders and/or big globs of peanut butter to create the most natural bird feeder imaginable!

The most important resolution a parent can make

It's New Year's resolution time, when we resolve to do some things better and smarter in the year to come - like using fewer and/or safer pesticides, especially if there are children in the home.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is urging pediatricians to be more aware that many symptoms that seem to be signs of illness can be indications of pesticide poisoning. That's why the academy is urging its doctors to directly ask parents about pesticide use in the home.

They especially want parents and physicians to be more aware of the possible effects of multiple pesticide exposures on children. Such exposures can include having your house sprayed for insect pests and your lawn sprayed for weeds; maybe your children play with pets that have been treated for ticks and fleas, or maybe the scent of mothballs overwhelms your closets.

Parents, please resolve to cut your pesticide use this coming year so that your child can someday make their own resolutions.

There's never a good reason to spray toxins indoors

New Year's-resolution time is when I like to remind all of our listeners that chemical sprays are never the answer to a pest problem, especially indoors.

The fact that pesticide sprays and "bombs" are easily available on store shelves does not make them safe. And you owe your children more thoughtfulness than to take the first recommendation you hear from a salesperson, especially when that person is suggesting you take home one of the highest profit-margin items in the store.

Fleas, roaches and flies are much better controlled by traps than sprays (light traps for fleas, the famous ‘Roach Motel' for what my grandmother used to call cock-a-roaches, and good old flypaper for the pest that shares its sticky name). Ant colonies collapse when lured to non-toxic boric acid bait traps. And structural pests like termites are much better controlled with outdoor bait stations and intelligent use of mulches than toxic trenches.

All pest problems have a non-toxic, common-sense solution. If a little bit of research doesn't turn up a safe and sane answer to what's bugging you, e-mail me before you spray. I resolve to get right back to you.

New Year's resolution No. 2: Have a safe and legal lawn

The single biggest garden topic I receive questions about is lawn care. And the details of your e-mails always remind me that the biggest problem your lawn has is you.

Luckily, the new lawn-care regulations coming into effect all across our listening area are going to make it easier for you to have a better-looking lawn and for all of us to have a cleaner, more sustainable Chesapeake Bay. Please resolve to follow these new rules, which are really only designed to prevent overfeeding, perhaps the worst problem that afflicts our turf grasses.

Want a great-looking lawn? Here's the plan, Stan:

  • Follow the new rules on the timing of lawn feedings and the allowed amounts.
  • Do not bag your clippings when you mow; it removes vital and natural food from your lawn. Always mulch your pulverized clippings back into the turf to provide a little natural food every time you mow and to help eliminate thatch.
  • Sharpen your blade or buy a new one before the first cut.
  • Never cut your grass lower than three inches unless it's warm-season (turns tan and dormant in the winter) zoysia or Bermuda grass, which get a 2-inch to 2.5-inch cut.
  • When you water, water deeply and infrequently and never more than twice a week. Daily watering equals lots of weeds.
  • Unless it's zoysia or Bermuda, never feed your lawn in summer. It'll just burn up the poor turf.

And that's it! Forget chemicals or organics. The secret to a great-looking lawn is simply intelligent lawn care.

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