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Garlic sprays and taming weeds with flames

Friday - 3/30/2012, 8:58am  ET

weed
If the hairy bittercress is pulled too late, it can "spit" seeds. Passing a flame carefully over it can also eliminate the weed. (Courtesy Berkeley)

Mike McGrath, wtop.com

Meet Mike at Willowsford Saturday April 14. Mike will give garden talks at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. and to give out free tomato or lettuce plants for listeners to take home as they tour this new garden-centric community in Loudoun County.

Garlic sprays beat gnats and skeeters

Terry in Chantilly writes: "I would like to reduce the number of pests like gnats, ticks and fleas in my yard in a safe way, and have seen garlic sprays advertised for this. Do you have an opinion on their effectiveness?"

Yes, Terry, garlic is one of the most scientifically verified insect repellants, and garlic oil sprays (available under a number of brand names like "Garlic Barrier," which is the original) are a great, non-toxic way to keep backyards temporarily free of biting pests.

Just spray the concentrated garlic oil on your yard as directed and it should repel bugs like gnats and mosquitoes for two to six weeks, depending on rainfall and coverage. Yes, your yard will temporarily smell like an Italian restaurant, but the aroma fades -- at least to our sense of smell - after a few hours.

Tick Control

In our last thrilling episode, Terry in Chantilly asked how effective garlic oil sprays would be against pests like gnats, ticks and fleas. Garlic sprays are highly effective at keeping outdoor areas free of flying biters like gnats and mosquitoes as well as reducing the number of ticks. But those nasty little suckers deserve special attention.

If you have pets that go outdoors, make sure they're treated for ticks with something like Frontline or Advantage. Keep grassy areas well-mowed because ticks prefer to wait for you on tall grass and weeds as opposed to well-kept lawns.

Consider spreading Tick Tubes around your property. These clever little inventions kill ticks carried by mice, which are the number one vector for the so-called ‘deer ticks' that transmit nasty diseases like Lyme.

Bite fleas before they bite you

I'm not aware of garlic sprays being tested against fleas, so if those aggressive ankle biters have been a problem in the past, apply nematodes to your yard after the soil warms up. These microscopic predators are shown to be highly effective at ending outdoor flea problems. Here's an example from "Gardens Alive". You'll find them for sale at many other natural garden suppliers.

Indoors, use flea traps like this one from "Gardens Alive" or this one from Victor, the mouse trap people.

To build your own, all you need is a light suspended over sticky paper. When you turn off all other lights, any fleas in the room will jump right to their sticky doom.

The weed that shoots seeds

"N. Ivy" in Gaithersburg writes: "I've searched the web but can't find a name for the crazy weeds that are literally popping seeds at me. The plants are about 6-inches high with white flowers and seeds that pop into the air when you try and pull them. They're everywhere, but I've never seen them in our area before."

A lot of people are acting like this weed is something new, "N. Ivy," but hairy bittercress has always been around. The white flowers early in the season are distinctive, so learn what the plant looks like and slowly pull it from wet soil before those flowers can turn into the explosive seedpods.

If you miss that window, wave a flame weeder over the flowers; any seedpods that have formed will snap, crackle and pop instead of shoot. Here's the flame weeder I rely on. I have two of ‘em!

The best way to 'kill weeds' is to stop killing your lawn

Bill down in Richmond writes: "I have weeds popping up everywhere - clover, crabgrass, etc. What product can I buy to kill them and not harm the sod?" Although the professional polluters would have you believe otherwise, Bill, there is no such product. And if there was, it would kill you along with the weeds. The answer is to grow grass well and, if you do, the weeds will vanish.

Clover, for instance, is the sign of an underfed and over-watered lawn. It's too early for crabgrass to be conspicuous, so I'm guessing you're seeing knotweed, a sign of severe soil compaction.

Clover, for instance, is the sign of an underfed and over-watered lawn. And it's too early for crabgrass to be conspicuous, so I'm guessing you're seeing knotweed, a sign of severe soil compaction.

To eliminate these and other weeds, give your lawn a light feeding now and a big one in the fall. Never cut your lawn lower than three inches and don't feed it in the summer. In the fall, aerate it to relieve soil compaction and water it deeply but infrequently.

Let us repeat: Daily watering guarantees weeds. A scalped lawn guarantees weeds. Compacted soil guarantees weeds. And summer feedings… Well, you know.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

Tags: weedspestsgarlicticksmosquitos