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Tips for heat wave grass care, fending off wasps and rabbits

Friday - 6/29/2012, 3:38am  ET

Mike McGrath,

WASHINGTON - Heat wave alert!

  • Do your harvesting and other light garden chores early in the morning. Everything tastes best when picked early in the day, and early morning temperatures are a lot more healthy for you. Better to get up early and then take a nap at noon than to risk heat stroke from being outside at the worst time of day.

  • Do not cut your lawn during a dry heat wave. Better to let it grow a little tall than to release all of its stored moisture and brown it out.

  • Never fertilize a cool-season lawn (bluegrass, rye and/or fescue) in the summer. The hotter the weather, the more summer feedings will harm a lawn. And summer feedings can never help a cool-season lawn, they can only harm. Cool season lawns should only be fed in the spring and fall.

  • You can feed Bermuda and zoysia now. Warm-season grasses are fed in the summer.

  • If temperatures stay high and rain remains scarce, you can water your lawn and garden as often as twice a week.

  • Water as early in the morning as possible, never during the heat of the day. The plants are closed up tight to retain moisture then, and evening watering leads to plant disease.

  • When you water, do so for a good long time - at least an hour at a pop, preferably longer. Short, frequent watering can be worse for lawns and gardens than no water at all.

  • Containers may need to be watered daily. The smaller the container, the more frequently you'll need to water them (that's a good reason to trade up to bigger pots.) To water containers effectively, give each pot a little water, wait 10 or 20 minutes, and then deliver more - this will lessen the amount that runs out of the bottom and help the plants do better between waterings.

  • Don't use saucers under outdoor containers - unless you want to be a mosquito breeder.

Tomato timing: Only early varieties fruit, well …early

Ed in Potomac Falls writes: "I grow tomatoes in pots on my deck (saves them from being eaten by the local wildlife), but this year I have an unusual situation. I have a Cherokee Purple and a Moonglow. Both plants are huge, very healthy-looking and have lots and lots of fruit, but it's all still green. Any suggestions on getting these guys to ripen? Or did I just not pick good varieties this year?"

You picked very good varieties, Ed. Cherokee Purple especially garners high praise for its flavor - but you did not pick early varieties. Tomatoes like Early Girl and Fourth of July are bred to produce ripe fruits, fast. On average, these varieties ripen about 50 to 55 days after they're planted - those types of plants are producing ripe fruit right now.

Your (much better tasting) heirlooms (and just about every big tomato) take about a month longer than the early varieties to ripen up - 80 to 90 days from transplant. So just be patient this year. Next year, plant an early variety if you want tomatoes in late June.

Yellow jackets in the ivy and Woodsman: Spare that Tree!

Argery in Alexandria writes: "My backyard is full of trees and ivy. I just discovered that there are yellow jacket nests under the ivy, but it doesn't seem feasible for me to try to wade through the ivy to find where the nests are and cover them with plastic, as you recommended last week. I had a couple of workers come by to give me an estimate on trimming some of the trees, but they got stung multiple times. Is there a safe way to get rid of these wasps at a distance? Or do I just let nature run its course and take care of the tree trimming later in the year?"

Great news, Arg - that tree trimming should wait until winter or next spring, wasps or no wasps. The trees would suffer severe heat stress if they were trimmed now, and nothing should ever be pruned in the fall, as it interferes with their going into dormancy. The ideal time for big tree pruning is when they're fully dormant in the winter. Second best is two weeks after they break dormancy in the spring.

As to the wasps: Place multiple yellow jacket traps around the area to cut their numbers over the summer. The traps are available commercially at virtually all hardware stores and home centers. The more traps you use, the more wasps you'll take out of the picture and the less chance you'll get stung. And this is a great time to reduce their numbers, before they become hyper- aggressive late in the summer.

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