In the Garden:
Northern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
Caterpillars can do serious damage in the summer months.
Summer time and the living is easy, except in the garden. Summer means gardeners are away on vacation, summer means mosquitoes and yellow jacket wasps bombard any outdoor dining, and summer means hot afternoons and foggy mornings -- a deadly combination if you have plants susceptible to powdery mildew.
Preparing Plants for Vacation
First, let's tackle the first problem of vacationing away from the garden and indoor plants. First of all, water everything just prior to departure. Place all hanging plants on the ground. Air circulating around the pots makes them dry out faster. Group container plants together so they create their own humidity -- sort of like a miniature jungle environment. Of course you should set automatic sprinkler controls to come on while you are away. Place container plants where they will be hit by the sprinklers if possible.
Don't fertilize before you leave on vacation. The faster a plant grows, the more water it uses. No pruning prior to departure either since pruning encourages new growth. The same holds true for the lawn, let it grow. It will be a handful to mow when you return, but at least it will be alive. Place all of your indoor plants in a bathtub with a damp towel on the bottom. Close the drapes near large plants you can't move -- less light means less growth.
Mosquitoes thrive in damp places, so don't overwater. Tip out any standing water from saucers, use a Bacillus thuringiensis dunk (available at garden centers) in ponds to kill larvae, and if you are planning to dine outdoors at the mosquito hour, set up a fan. Mosquitoes don't like moving air. One thing I have luck with is citronella. My sister-in-law gave me some cuttings last year and the plants are doing very well. Citronella is nothing more exotic than a scented geranium. I take clippings and use them in flower arrangements on the outdoor dining table. People think I'm chic, when actually I'm merely practical.
Yellow jackets are a real pest, and you might need to bring out the big guns to control them. There are traps available, but if you use them, place them away from the outdoor seating area since they actually attract the pests to the area. Keep pet food indoors during the summer months so that the wasps don't frequent your home for regular meals. Garbage cans should be kept tightly covered and compost piles in good working order so that there is no free lunch.
When it comes to controlling another summer pest, powdery mildew, don't water in the late afternoon and try to keep water off the foliage. Plants such as zucchini and zinnia are very susceptible to this unsightly fungus disease. If, or rather when, it appears, control it by spraying 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda and 1/4 teaspoon of oil mixed in 1 quart of warm water every 10 days. This concoction won't kill the fungus spores, but it will prevent the next generation from germinating.
Enjoy your summer, it flies by so quickly!
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