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Corn gluten time has arrived

Friday - 8/22/2014, 4:44am  ET

poisonivy.jpg
Garden Editor Mike McGrath has tips to get rid of poison ivy and hornets without getting a rush or stung. (Thinkstock)

Get down with your gluten

Leslie in Frederick writes: "Is it time to place the corn gluten?" (Leslie apparently used to write telegrams for a living.)

Anyway, yes. Corn gluten meal applied to your lawn anytime during the next month will provide a perfect fall feeding without the harsh chemical fertilizers that are destroying water supplies all over the country. Bonus: If you get it down in the next week or so, it also has the potential to prevent the germination of cool- season weeds like dandelion, clover, plantain, henbit and common chickweed.

(Although Sue in Laurel wrote to say that she objected to the inclusion of clover in a similar list of weeds last week. "When I was a kid," she writes, "clover was considered a natural component of healthy lawns. There was even a certain percentage of clover mixed in with grass seed. Plant biology has not changed -- so what happened?"

People became obsessed with creating lawns that look like Astroturf, Sue. But there is hope. I've been getting a lot more questions about how to plant clover than kill it!

Team up to take out poison ivy

Shara in McLean writes: "We recently purchased a home and found poison ivy covering a line of boxwoods. What is the best way to eradicate it? It looks as if it's coming over the chain link fence from the neighbor's yard."

That would make sense, Shara. Fences are very common sites for poison ivy vines. Birds eat the berries that these nasty plants produce in the fall, roost on tree branches and fence lines, and then deposit the seeds that will grow into future vines on takeoff.

Now, removing it from just one side of a fence would be useless. You'll have to coordinate a cleanup with your neighbor. Small amounts can be easily and safely pulled from soaking-wet soil by a patient person wearing heavy plastic bags over both hands. (Deposit bags and vines into a trash bag after each pulling and repeat with fresh bags until you're done.)

If the vines have gotten big and woody, either hire a professional or buy a disposable Tyvek suit and do it yourselves. In future seasons, it'll be easy to pull any small new vines with heavy plastic bags over your hands.

Do not use herbicides on poison ivy! Yes, the chemicals will kill the greenery, but the dead, browned-out plants will still give you a rash.

Be smart when yellowjackets are in your lawn

Maggie in Gaithersburg writes: "My son was cutting the lawn last week when he was stung by yellow jackets. He is fine, but does not want to cut the lawn again until we get rid of the yellow jackets, which are flying in and out of a two-inch hole in the ground. I bought a can of yellow jacket spray, sprayed it into the hole late in the evening and ran inside, but the yellow jackets are still swarming around the hole. How do I eradicate these wasps without exposing my kids to the danger of toxic pesticides?"

Well, you'd have to go back in time to achieve that goal, Maggie, because you've already sprayed. And I don't care what the label says; no spray will eradicate an underground yellow jacket nest.

Luckily, your situation -- a flat lawn with a visible hole -- is ideal for their easy, safe destruction.

Approach the hole in the cool of the evening, when they're all inside the nest, carefully place a big glass bowl over the hole and then just avoid the area for a week or two. These highly aggressive wasps are unable to dig out and will cook in their underground nest.

Seek immediate medical help if a sting affects your breathing

The tragic death of a Virginia wife and mother this week is shining a spotlight on what physicians call a "bee sting allergy."

Most summer stings just hurt a little. But people who have been stung previously may have unknowingly become allergic to the venom, and the next sting could provoke a serious, body-wide reaction.

Native bees such as bumblebees are harmless; they don't sting. Honey bees, which are not native (they're originally from Africa), do sting. But most summer stings are delivered by wasps (like mud dauber and paper wasps), yellow jackets or other members of the hornet family.

If you encounter a hornet's nest (they're very distinctive looking) or see yellow jackets going in and out of the ground, back away and arrange for safe removal. I repeat: You do not need to do anything right away and you should not try to do anything right away.

If you were stung during your unpleasant discovery, a cut onion, slice of garlic or meat tenderizer containing papain (papaya) to the site of the sting can provide surprisingly effective relief.

But rush to an emergency room or to your emergency injector if you have had an allergic reaction to stings in the past.

And be ready to seek immediate medical attention if you feel shortness of breath or any symptom other than pain at the sting site, even if you haven't had a previous reaction. Don't delay. Like allergies to peanuts and shellfish, reactions to "bee stings" (more properly called venomous insect stings) can be fatal.

And if you know you're allergic, keep an emergency injector such as the EpiPen nearby. These spring-loaded devices deliver a life-saving shot of epinephrine that instantly gets into your blood stream. If you're allergic and don't have one (or your device is old) have your doctor prescribe one. And make sure everyone in your home knows where it is!

Ode to a chigger

Chuck in Herndon writes: "Your recent segment on chiggers brought back some raw memories of my childhood. When I was growing up during the '40s and '50s in Arlington and Fairfax counties, they were a major source of discomfort.  I returned to the area in 1993, but have yet to encounter them again, despite spending a lot of time in brushy areas outdoors. They are clearly less of a problem now than back in the past -- when a friend of my family, originally from Iowa, would often repeat this little poem:

The chigger, the chigger
It isn't much bigger
Than the head of a small sized pin;
But the welt that it raises
It itches like blazes
And that's where the rubbing comes in.

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