New townhouse already has unwelcome occupants

BACKYARD Q&A

November 28, 1999

Q. I just moved into a new townhouse and there are bugs and spiders everywhere. Do I need an exterminator so early in the game?

A. Your indoor-wildlife problem does not require the services of a pest-control company. Nor do you need to buy a can of bug spray. The pests are entirely harmless. Simply vacuum or sweep them up.

They probably came in during the construction and moving-in. Make sure that cracks around doors and windows are sealed and dry out any damp areas you notice.

Q. After the growing season, I usually throw out the potting soil from my outdoor container plants because a friend said to do otherwise would invite plant diseases. Could I be saving money by reusing the soil?

A. If your plants had no disease problems or insect infestations, you can safely reuse the growing media. However, the nutrient content will have leached out over the past growing season so you'll need to fertilize the plants as soon as they go into pots next spring.

Alternatively, you could simply incorporate the used potting soil into a garden bed at this time.

Q. I have a couple of 3-year-old lilac bushes that developed brown splotches on the foliage late in the summer. The affected leaves started to crack and lose small pieces. We've watered the bushes religiously over the past three droughty summers and they seem to be growing well in all other ways. What could be the problem?

A. Sounds as if a couple of fungal leaf spot diseases are producing the symptoms you describe. The important thing is to rake up and remove as many leaves and leaf fragments as possible. (A mulching mower with a collecting bag is helpful.) Removal of the leaves will help to reduce disease incidence next year.

These are not very serious diseases and you may not even see them again. If you do observe a significant leaf spot problem next spring, spray the foliage with a copper fungicide.

THIS WEEK'S CHECKLIST

1. Run engines on gas-powered lawn equipment until they are drained of gas, and lubricate the spark-plug hole. Change the oil if you didn't do it over the summer.

2. If you plan to buy a live Christmas tree to plant after the holidays, dig the hole for the tree now. Fill the hole with mulch or cover with landscape fabric to prevent soil and water from filling in.

Garden tips are provided by the Home and Garden Information Center of the Maryland Cooperative Extension. For additional information on these questions, or if you have questions of your own, call the center's hot line at 800-342-2507, or visit its Web site at www.agnr.umd.edu/users/hgic.

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