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Break up this mosquito party

Question: I like to use captured rainwater on outdoor plants, but mosquitoes use my container to breed.

Is there anything I can add to the rainwater to prevent this that won't hurt the plants I'm using it on?

S.B., Dallas

Answer: Toss pieces of Bti (Bacillus thuringiensis 'Israelensis'), available at garden retailers as mosquito dunks, or lemon into the water. Neither will hurt plants, pets or even beneficial insects.

Question: What do you know about the use of Dimilin to control crickets?

L.K., Dallas

Answer: Dimilin (diflubenzuron) is a synthetic chemical product that interferes with the development of the insect's chitin (outer tissue).

Its label says it works only on larvae and nymphs, the immature stages, not adult crickets.

What I have found to work better is Nolo Bait (which contains Nosema locustae spores, natural diatomaceous earth and orange oil sprays. Any one of these three works well.

Question: What is the organic treatment for gray leaf spot fungal disease in St. Augustine grass?

I've used the recommended high-nitrogen fertilizers in the past, but I'm ready to try natural remedies.

N.L., Dallas

Answer: Apply horticultural cornmeal at a rate of 20 pounds per 1,000 square feet and switch to an organic fertilizer.

As with many insect pest attacks and diseases, high-nitrogen synthetic fertilizer creates weak plants that attract pests.

Question: How do I make cherry laurel leaves greener? I have tried Ironite.

R.P., Dallas

Answer: Assuming the planting was done correctly, try improving the soil with compost, cornmeal and Texas greensand.

Cherry laurels are not completely happy with the black and white soils of North Central Texas, but they grow OK in an organic program.

The best iron product is natural Texas greensand because it contains many available trace minerals as well as iron.

Other organic amendments also will help the health and color of the plant. As with all plants, make sure your cherry laurels are not planted too deeply.

If the root flare is below ground, remove excess soil, and the trees should respond immediately.

Question: Our church playground has a gravel base. We need to know of a safe way to remove grass that is coming up through the gravel.

J.M., Dallas

Answer: Vinegar-based herbicides work well in this situation.

Several commercial products are available, but the homemade version to use is 10 percent or 20 percent vinegar with 1 ounce of orange oil or d-limonene and 1 teaspoon of liquid soap per gallon of solution. The best soaps are low-phosphate varieties such as Neo-Life Green, Shaklee's Basic-H, Simple Green or, my favorite, Dr. Bronner's Peppermint Pure Castile Soap. Do not dilute the vinegar. Ten percent vinegar is strong enough and is considerably less expensive than 20 percent vinegar.

In this mix, it seems to kill weeds a little more slowly but more completely.

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