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Posted: August 03, 2007

Have a friend harvest the vegetable garden while you're away, so that when you return more will be ripening for you.

Sow fall crops in the vegetable garden, planting seed a bit deeper than in spring. If rain is scarce, turn on the sprinkler. Lettuce and spinach can wait a few weeks.

Limit fertilizing to the vegetable garden and annuals you have cut back for a second flush of bloom.

Hold off pruning shrubs till late November. Late pruning induces new growth that may not have time to harden off for surviving winter.

Prepare to redo or create a lawn. Late August is the best time for growing grass from seed. Have the soil tested beforehand to determine how much lime you will need. Remove weeds and loosen compacted soil. Fine fescues are recommended over Kentucky bluegrass.

Combat powdery mildew - gray discoloration on leaves of phlox, sunflowers and so much more - with a concoction of 2 tablespoons baking soda and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil mixed well in 1 cup of warm water, then diluted in 1 gallon of water. But overlooking it is OK; though unsightly, it usually doesn't affect plants severely. To lessen recurrence, give plants more space next year to improve air circulation.

Order fall-blooming bulbs such as lycoris, colchicum and autumn crocus. Supplies run out early, and they should be planted as soon as possible.

Know the difference between a good tomato hornworm and a bad one. A bad one is a smooth, vibrant green caterpillar with a little hook of a tail. A good one has what looks like rice kernels on its back. These are the eggs of the parasitic braconid wasp, a friend of gardeners. Let the hatching wasp larvae do the job of killing the hornworm, and they'll turn into more wasps to do it all again next season.

Keep deadheading annuals. But if you wish to save seeds to grow next year, the following are good candidates for leaving some seedheads to ripen for collection: cosmos, tithonia, bachelor's buttons, bells of Ireland, hollyhocks, daintier salvias, moonflower vine, cardinal climber. Let poppies self-sow. Store dry, cleaned seeds in marked paper envelopes that are then sealed in a zipper-style plastic bag and placed in the refrigerator.

Deadhead phlox the smart way. Many cultivars of P. paniculata rebloom from the same flower cluster. When the first flush of flowers has finished, wait to let the second set come into bloom. But immediately remove the entire cluster after the second bloom is over, for the seeds of the first will be ripening, and seedlings of even pure white varieties can result, so lamentably, in magenta.

- Michael Martin Mills

Next week, answers to gardening questions. Write to Michael Martin Mills, The Inquirer, Box 41705, Philadelphia, Pa. 19101 or gardenqanda@earthlink.net. Please include locale. Read his recent work at http:// go.philly.com/michaelmartinmills.

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