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Safer solutions to control garden pests

QUESTION: I have several tomato plants growing about 2 feet apart in the garden. On some plants, new leaves are curling, but I don’t see evidence of aphids or leaf miners. The plants are growing in rich soil with a light layer of cypress mulch. The tomato plants share a bed with lilies, thyme, oak leaf hydrangeas and other plants. I planted the tomatoes, mixed Miracle-Gro in water and used that to water the plants. J.T., Frisco

ANSWER: Stop using Miracle-Gro and cypress mulch. Miracle-Gro is a synthetic fertilizer that contains no carbon and is not beneficial for soil. Cypress mulch doesn’t decompose in the garden and doesn’t transmit oxygen very well. Find a farm store or a garden center that sells compost, organic fertilizers and shredded native tree trimmings or pine needles. Dry molasses can be used as a fertilizer. Other choices include cottonseed meal, alfalfa meal and fish meal. Gently mix one of these products and compost into the soil around the plants. Then, spray the plants with Garrett Juice and PureGro. You can make Garrett Juice using a formula on my website. Bottled Garrett Juice also can be purchased at a garden center that stocks organic products. Coffee grounds can also stimulate beneficial fungi in the soil. Your tomatoes should do much better after you convert to an organic gardening program.

QUESTION: I used to spray crape myrtles with a fungicide to get rid of powdery mildew. However, I’d prefer not to do this anymore. What do you recommend? D.T., Spring

ANSWER: Spray the plants with Garrett Juice and PureGro. This combination will foliar-feed the plants and kill powdery mildew spores and insects. Homemade cornmeal juice can be used. Cornmeal juice is a natural fungal control for use in any garden sprayer. Make it by soaking 1 cup of horticultural cornmeal per gallon of water. Put the cornmeal in a nylon knee-high stocking, a cheesecloth drawstring bag or something similar to soak the particles while containing them. Fill a sprayer with the full-strength solution and spray plants well. Cornmeal juice also can be mixed with compost tea, Garrett Juice or any other natural foliar-feeding spray.

QUESTION: Spider mites have infested my flower beds. How can I get rid of these insects quickly? I tried releasing ladybugs to eat the mites, to no avail. L.P., Fort Worth

ANSWER: Spray the plants with Garrett Juice and PureGro. Spider mites usually are a result of improper watering, so examine your irrigation habits, too. You can read more about spider mites and proper irrigation on my website.

QUESTION: Should vinegar be added to pet drinking water as a treatment for fleas, or should it be added to the rinse water when bathing dogs?  How do you feel about using Frontline and other flea-control products? We have always used beneficial nematodes in the yard and never had a flea problem until this year. B.H., Universal City

ANSWER: I don’t recommend Frontline because, in my opinion, it is toxic. Consider using Revolution instead. This liquid, applied to a dog’s back, must be purchased from a veterinarian. Another option is Comfortis, a chewable tablet that contains spinosad, an organic insecticide derived from fermented bacteria. Comfortis also must be prescribed by a vet.

Vinegar is a good additive for pet drinking water as a tonic and to repel fleas. Add 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar to each gallon of drinking water.  Rinsing a dog’s fur with vinegar and water would be helpful, too. Vinegar helps to repel fleas and to remove soap residue from a dog’s fur after a bath.

QUESTION: Do you approve of spraying grape Kool-Aid on blueberry bushes to repel birds? K.T., Tyler

ANSWER: It sounds harmless if it works.


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