SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

April 25, 2014

North Shore Gardener: What plants keep mosquitoes away?

North Shore Gardener
Barbara Barger

---- — Q: There is a ferny plant in advertisements that speaks of a plant that will keep mosquitoes away — can that possibly be true?

A: Well, not exactly. The plant is a citronella-scented geranium. With a good-sized plant, you might keep an area of 10 square feet relatively clear, but an area of 10 square feet is hardly enough room to have a picnic. Ever heard of a scent called citronella grass? The oil from this grass is used in many scented candles that are said to keep bugs at bay on your porch or yard. But there are many more fragrant plants and herbs that are said to repel mosquitoes, including all the mint family, such as catnip and kitchen herbs; and flowers and veggies like marigolds, onions and tomatoes. For most effectiveness, crush the leaves and rub on your arms and clothing. But remember, these scents do not kill, they only repel, so keep the can of Raid handy.

Q: I suddenly have a lot of ladybugs in the curtains in the dining room. They seem be staying in the same place in the house. How did they get in, or did they get in on a houseplant? More importantly, how do I get rid of them short of calling an exterminator?

A: Ladybugs usually come to find a warm place out of the cold — you may not be able to find them — then they reappear as the weather gets warmer in the spring. They probably came in through a crack in the wall or siding, or around the framing of a window.

How to get rid of them: Don’t squash them as you might do a housefly. We need ladybugs in the garden — they are a beneficial insect and eat the bugs that will destroy your plants. Think of them as a small army. If squashed, they will stain your walls, and they smell terrible! Instead, get out your hand vacuum and vacuum them away without a touch. Don’t forget to empty the vacuum after use. The bugs should be dumped outside in the garden where they will help rid plants of aphids, mealy bugs and other small bugs.

Q: After the holidays were over, I put away some table linens, only to discover some large brown/orange stains on the tablecloth. The cloth was stained by a lily, but the stain simply didn’t budge. I brushed it off, then threw it in the washer — twice! How can I get the stain out? And what can I do if it ever happens again?

A: That brownish stain is from the pollen of the lily — probably your Easter lily. All lilies have these pollen sacks. The easiest thing to do to prevent stains in the future is to remove the pollen sacks very carefully by hand, or ask your garden center or florist to do it before you take it home and take it in the house. Having said this, the stain is already there, so there is not a lot you can do. Whatever you do, don’t try to brush the pollen off — you’ll just make it worse. Take it outside and shake the garment or linen as hard as you can, then wash with an enzyme stain remover added to the wash water. Examine the garment carefully. If the stain still exists, rewash it once or twice more. Whatever you do, don’t machine dry it until the stain is gone. Machine drying heat will set the stain forever.

Q: When should I add lime to my lawn? I see several neighbors out with their spreaders. How much lime should be applied to the lawn?

A: Before using any soil additive or enhancer, you must test the soil first, every three to five years or so — it will vary. Buy an inexpensive test kit at any garden center. New England soil is naturally very acidic, and much of the soil in our area requires lime every few years.

Apply about 50 pounds of limestone for each 1,000-square-foot patch of lawn in the spring. You will probably need to apply lime every three years.

Q: I’m seeing all sorts of “zone maps” on seed packages in books and magazines, and they are in such small print I’d have to carry around a reading glass to every nursery I visit this spring. Are they accurate enough for the novice gardener?

A: You’re told you live in Zone 6, but do you really know where you live? You live in a very unique zone all your own. You will want use the maps only as guides to tell approximately where to grow a plant. Many mini-zones exist within your very own backyard. They’re spots of heat and cold, wet and dry, and everything in between. Every garden has its own mini-climate.

What is a mini-climate? Have you got one in your garden? Of course. Tell me, where is my very own mini-climate? Look along a stone wall that holds and radiates early spring warmth — it’s the place where the snowdrops and crocus appear first. Or, look in a swampy area where the skunk cabbage arrives in late winter and turns to a field of wildflowers within a couple of weeks. Peek behind a fence that protects your garden plants from the wind and allows a hydrangea to bloom with vigor. Could it be beneath a faucet that drips, making a cool and humid, almost boggy, swampy place? Or a low spot where the frost settles early in the fall and kills tender impatiens weeks before the rest of the garden plants? It’s the shady, low spot in the lawn where the snow pack lingers the longest and the grass molds every year. And it’s the warm window box over the front door where even annuals can sometimes overwinter. It’s the warm spot next to your garage wall where daffodils bloom first and tomatoes ripen early. And it’s the spot where absolutely nothing will grow. These are all mini-zones within your own garden that you consider when you plant. You live on your own little planet — zones are just a guide for gardeners old and new. It won’t hurt to try a plant from a lower or higher zone if you can bear to occasionally lose a plant.

This week’s dirt: The very next cool, rainy day, go out and cut moist vines like bittersweet and grapevine for wreaths and decorations for next fall. Bend and tie them into wreath and heart shapes, and keep them tied until they’re dry and can hold their shape. They can even be wound around flower pots or a favorite vase and then allowed to dry.

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North Shore Gardener by Barbara Barger of Beverly is a feature of Friday’s Lifestyles section. Reach Barbara by email at nsgardener@comcast.net or write to her c/o The Salem News, 32 Dunham Road, Beverly, MA 01915. Previous North Shore Gardener columns can be found at www.nsgardener.com.